TV Actress Takes to the Stage in Good People
by michael ventre
Jane Kaczmarek takes the leap from sitcoms to the stage.
Fortunately Jane Kaczmarek is not the road-rage kind, or there might have been serious trouble on her daily Pasadena-to-Westwood trek. Rehearsals for the play Good People at Westwood's Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse began in early March. On April 3, the Tony Award-nominated play by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire made its West Coast premiere with Kaczmarek starring in the role of Margie Walsh. A seasoned actress is trained to stay calm, select some good tunes, run lines in her head, and resist making unseemly gestures at other drivers.
But what made this veteran of the small screen commit to the commute? Why did she pass on pilot season and return to her roots on the boards, even if it meant enduring the extended freeway shuffle to and from her home in Pasadena? "My agent said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'" says Kaczmarek. "Being kind of a commodity in the TV comedy department, having done Malcolm in the Middle for six years, they're always eager to help you find the next project. He said, ‘This takes you out of contention for a lot of parts.' But I said, ‘It's worth it.'"
Her friend Jeanie Hackett, also an actress, saw the play in New York, and was so taken with it—and the thought of Kaczmarek someday playing Margie—she e-mailed Kaczmarek at intermission, then gently badgered her until she read it. "I'm happy she was so insistent," says Kaczmarek. From there, she asked to be considered for the West Coast production, and, of course, ultimately snagged the role.
Good People takes place in South Boston, Margie's hometown and the place from which the desperate single mom would like to escape. She tracks down and confronts an old boyfriend who left the area and made good. The play explores issues of choice and opportunity, and how they often lead to more questions than answers.
"She's such a scrapper," says Kaczmarek. "She sees [her old boyfriend] has a wonderful life, and she wonders if she deserves part of that. Audiences walk a tightrope of not knowing what the truth is. People will talk about it and have varying opinions [about] the choices made."
For this play, Kaczmarek is working for the first time with director Matt Shakman, founder and artistic director of LA's buzz-worthy Black Dahlia Theatre as well as helmer for scads of television, including It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and House M.D. And he's a fellow Yale School of Drama alumnus, although he and Kaczmarek only met when Good People came together.
"We met and talked a lot about Chekhov," she says. "We talked about our favorite references and plays. He has tremendous enthusiasm.
"In TV you work so quickly. The work in theater is much more detailed and more satisfying," says Kaczmarek. "In theater, you get to tell a story from beginning to end. In TV you show up; you shoot scenes out of sequence; you're talking to guest stars you don't know."
One of the common threads between the two, of course, is that either way, you have to drive to work in LA traffic. "I'll be hearing the same ‘All Things Considered' twice," she says with a laugh.
Good People runs April 3-May 13 at the Geffen Playhouse. 10886 Le Conte Ave., LA, 310-208-5454
photography by cheyenne ellis; hair by louise moon for exclusive artists management/batiste; makeup by sonnia lee for exclusive artists management/dior
LAC celebrates the women of its May/June 2013 issue at Palihouse in West Hollywood.