Primary Stages sat down with Mary Bacon, currently playing Christina in The Tribute Artist, to chat about inspiration, the neuroses of her character, and her fondness for director Carl Andress.
What is your role in The Tribute Artist?
I play Christina, Adriana’s niece. She shows up thinking Adriana has been trying to sell the town home that Uncle Lou specifically left her in his will. She discovers Rita and Jimmy, who she thinks is Adriana, living there. Christina’s arrival with her kid Oliver throws a wrench in the friends’ scheme to impersonate Adriana and sell her seemingly unclaimed home, kicking off the obstacles in the play our heroines have to conquer.
What have you learned while creating this role?
What’s been new to me is being in a Charles Busch play – he has a certain comic sensibility, that is so very specific to him. I’ve been finding a way to create a character that makes sense to me, that is a real person, but also lives in his comic world. I explored that with director Carl Andress, and by taking cues from the brilliant text, and from observing how Jonathan Walker, Julie Halston and Charles approached the play and their characters. They have all worked together many times – I watched the masters.
So how did you approach the play and your character? Have there been any surprising discoveries about Christina during the rehearsal process?
I really approached her through what she says about herself, her circumstances, what others say about her – basic acting 101 clues. For this character, her defining faults are a little more heightened. She’s not just a little insecure or has low self esteem. She actually prefaces everything she does with a reference to herself as a hard luck victim, unwanted and “in the way.” But what surprised me was that she’s also quite guileless. When I worked on the hope in her, it became easier to play. If she’s just an angry neurotic, she gets pretty boring and unlikable. So that was a nice discovery. Christina has to focus on what she wants, not on the idea that she won’t get it. Everyone is motivated by their dreams.
As an actor, what do you look for in a director?
I admit, I like directors who make you feel like you were the absolute best choice for the part. Carl Andress is like that – he gave us a hug everyday, thanking each of us for our contributions. Isn’t it wonderful when your boss expresses appreciation everyday for your work? I mean, we are creating art, and I think we all need as much support as we can get… Carl really does it so well. He creates a safe space for you to create. I dig that.
What else inspires you artistically?
You know, I love those who persevere, in anything. Humility inspires me. Hope inspires me. I guess people who don’t complain and pick themselves up again and again after great discouragement or adversity. And those who can make others laugh. Humor is so important. It’s been so awesome to be in this show that really makes people LAUGH big belly laughs. I know I myself don’t laugh that hard very often. It’s a gift – anyone who can help remind us not to take life so seriously.