Sunday, January 20, 2019

Actress/director Barbara Brownell has numerous credits as an actress. Broadway: Play it Again, Sam and The Ballad of Johnny Pot.  King Lear at the Actor’s Studio, NY.  Touring: Oklahoma, On a Clear Day.  Regional: Zing!, Barefoot in the Park, Star Spangled Girl.  L.A.: Happy Birthday Wanda June, Dylan, A Case of Libel, Early Cabaret, Chicago, Dull Pain. She won the 2017 Broadway World award for Best Leading Actress in a play, LA . T.V. shows include Mad Men, Big Love, Night Court (3), Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, L.A. Law, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, and recurring on Webster and MASH.  Films include Behind the Candelabra, Going Home, Hearts of the West, Someone to Watch Over Me, Ants, Mark of the Witch, and The Master. 

In this interview, Brownell discusses acting and directing Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star at The Group Rep, set to open this Friday January 25.

When and where did you first become interested in being on stage?

Probably when I was cast as Goldilocks in kindergarten in Bound Brook, New Jersey! My first focus, however, was dancing. In high school, I auditioned for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour and got on the show with a ballet from Giselle.  (Unfortunately, I lost to a contortionist.)  When I told my high school counselor that I hoped to work on Broadway sometime or maybe become a Radio City Rockette, she told me that was a one in a million chance, and that I should set my sights on something more realistic…perhaps I should think about being a social worker. I thought, to heck with that, I’m going to New York. 

What was your first professional role on stage or screen, and what did you learn from that experience?

My first professional job was at the Gristmill Musical Playhouse in Andover, New Jersey. I earned my equity card there in summer stock, hired primarily as a dancer and singer. But when I got the chance to play Mazeppa in Gypsy, whose gimmick is playing the bugle while stripping, I fell in love with acting. Dancers don’t usually get laughs. Mazeppa was a hoot. Knowing that a dancer’s career is often short lived, I was determined from that point on to pursue acting, and I moved to New York. 

Is there a professional job that you are most proud of that stood out as a benchmark in your career?

There is nothing like being on Broadway and I have to say that doing Play It Again, Sam at the Broadhurst Theatre for a year with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton was a dream come true.  But the production that really catapulted my career was an Off-Broadway show called the Ballad of Johnny Pot with Betty Buckley. I played Desiree which allowed me to dance and sing the blues and play a strumpet with a heart of gold. That show got me a choice of any agent in New York, a movie with Robert Mitchum, and a TV series, “The David Frost Review.” 

Tell us about the McLure plays and what attracted you to them as a director?

When I first read James McLure’s two one acts, Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, I was immediately drawn to the wit, humanity, and emotional depth of his work. While these two plays can certainly be presented individually, they are also insightful companion pieces that resonate with one another, and I feel playing them together only enhances their power. They’re each set in Maynard, Texas in the late 1970s. Two characters in each play have spouses in the other. The timelines are similar but are not meant to suggest they occur on the same day. Although they are unabashedly gendered pieces (all female in Laundry, all male in Lone Star) what they share is a strong testament to the value of familial ties, loyalty, and friendship, and the universal healing power of true companionship and, above all, humor, to blunt the pain of heartache and loss. 

What do you want the audience to take away from having seen the plays? What might they remember?

That often the best thing we can do for each other is simply listen and be there for one another.  Friendship helps us all through the toughest of times.  And humor is the ultimate elixir. 

What’s up next for you?

I had originally planned to put together an entire evening by women (tapping our feminine power from the tech booth to the stage—songs, monologues, stand-up, etc) to accompany the production of Laundry and Bourbon.  But the chance to do both plays and work with the talented men in Lone Star put the ladies’ night on hold, for now.  I’ve also been tinkering with a one woman show idea, triggered by the recent discovery that the man who raised me was not my true father after all, which has caused me to ponder the nature/nurture phenomenon in a brand new light.  One happy consequence is that I’ve found and fallen in love with a whole new family I never knew existed. 

The Group Rep is proud to open their 45th Season with two James McLure one-act comedies, LAUNDRY AND BOURBON and LONE STAR, directed by Barbara Brownell, produced by Lloyd Pedersen. January 25 – March 3. Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 pm, Sundays 2:00 pm. General Admission: $25. Students/Seniors with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. Buy tickets and information: or (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. 

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