5 Questions with Mary Testa

Barrington Stage Company’s latest smash hit musical revival on the Boyd/Quinson Mainstage is very special indeed. It is “A New Brain” by BSC Associate Artist William Finn (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Falsettoland”) and is directed by BSC Associate Artist Joe Calarco (“Into the Woods,” “Ragtime”). It has been 25 years since its off-Broadway debut, which has music and lyrics by Finn and a book that was also directed by James Lapine. “A New Brain” tells Finn’s own story of life-threatening head trauma and his battle to survive with the support of his friends, family, and art. It was produced at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center by Bernard Gersten, who is the father of Jenny Gersten, the Interim Artistic Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival, who is co-producing the production with BSC in a first-time collaboration between the two Berkshire theater companies of this size. All very notable, newsworthy items about this sterling show, which is being given a dynamic, creative, and very moving production, but can we talk? It features Mary Testa!!

Mary Testa

Mary Testa is a three time Tony nominee, most recently for playing Aunt Eller in Daniel Fish’s radically re-imagined “Oklahoma!” Her career has been intertwined with William Finn’s for a long time, since appearing in Finn’s “In Trousers” at Playwrights Horizons in 1979. She is now revisiting “A New Brain” which she was in the premiere of 25 years ago in a different role. She started playing Lisa, a woman who is unhoused and is now playing Mimi Schwinn, the lead character Gordon’s (Adam Chanler-Berat) solicitous, engaged mother. Testa enters to applause and strikes a commanding figure on stage always risking all as she faces a mother’s greatest fear while successfully walking a fine line of the caricature of the overbearing mother. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to catch a Mary Testa performance and especially one in which she builds on her great history with the legendary William Finn.

PW: You have a long history with William Finn, first performing in his “In Trousers” in its off-Broadway premiere in ’79, what about his work sparks your imagination? 

MT: It comes directly from the gut, and is, in a way, primal. It affects me that way. He is funny, quirky and deep, all at the same time, and I love that. 

PW: What is it like revisiting this show in a different role? Is it Deja Vu? Were you ever tempted in rehearsal to bring up the original production? 

MT: Interestingly enough, this time it is more emotional for me. And I didn’t really talk too much about the original production. Just a few tidbits. 

PW: I loved how this production moved, which I’m sure must have taken a lot of work in rehearsal, can you talk about how Joe Calarco and the cast approached the staging? 

MT: Joe definitely had a concept for this production. The original production was a lot more still, and this one really swirls. Since we rehearsed out of order mostly, putting it together was interesting. It took a minute to coordinate backstage traffic!

PW: Do you have any stories from “The Rink,” a favorite memory? 

MT: One of the first times I went on, while I was performing, Chita leaned down and whispered in my ear “Pick up the pace!” Yes Ma’am!  I complied!

PW: What is a play or musical that changed your life and how? 

MT: “Queen of The Mist”. Written specifically for me by Michael John La Chiusa. It was probably the greatest role I ever had. Took every ounce of energy, passion and focus. I loved it. 

“A New Brain” runs at the Boyd/Quinson Mainstage through 9/10 in a co-production by Barrington Stage Company and Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Tickets: www.barringtonstageco.org or 413-236-8888

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