Marian Seldes on Kate Mulgrew: A Thread in the Tapestry

Kate Mulgrew and Marian Seldes in the 2004 Los Angeles production of The Royal Family.

Interview with Marian Seldes
Conducted by Marian Seldes
New York City

I enjoyed a friendship and a consistent conversation with Marian Seldes for more than three decades. Her generosity and patience and wisdom were without equal, and I will miss her terribly. However, there are notes and there are memories.

I frequently complained about things--all things--but particularly plays and books and the people who created them and the people who claimed to support them. Marian often agreed with what I said--sadly--but she was always quick to remind me that I could not agree with the truth: I needed to change it. She liked to paraphrase Ruth Gordon, who always exhorted people to never, ever face the facts of things. "Love," Marian told me, "is the only thing that can really allow us to see things and change things. So first you must love."

In the latter part of 2008, Marian offered me a challenge of sorts: When I would come to her with a complaint or, most egregiously, yet another moan about how things were once better, she would counter with evidence that things were still possible, things were still good. Marian loved to remind me of Maureen Stapleton and her claim that, during the so-called Golden Age of the American theatre, everyone sat around and bitched and thought it was all such shit. "Oh, God," Maureen told me, "you didn't want to be up at night with us trashing everyone and everything, and now I get calls from people like you who have wet dreams about it all. You just don't know until you get a distance from things."

Love and distance, Marian told me. Look into them. 

One afternoon in 2009, I was again on a rant about the state of things, and wondered who might be suitable for profile or a round of study. Here is what Marian told me:

Tennessee or you or both of you spoke of threads within fabric, and the fabric was life and the fabric was theatre, and these threads, these women, to whom he sent you, made a tapestry, and it is on this tapestry that we place our work and our hearts and our feet. The theatre is a tapestry, and the threads are our dreams, our contributions. The family is a tapestry, and the threads are each member and the gifts they bring. My family, my church, my life has been the theatre. It is not a job, a temporary means of employment: It is how I think and believe. I guess the theatre is a scrim or a sieve through which everything passes. I don't know if this is healthy--people often think it isn't--but it is how I have lived. It is how I am happiest

Kate Mulgrew is a thread in my theatrical tapestry. She is not only a peer, an actress with whom I have worked and dreamed in closeness, but an actress and a family member with whom I have dreamed from a distance--in my theatre seat watching her dream with others. I am bound to her because we share so much--in what we love and in how we express it. We are both very full in our expression, and I think we give most of ourselves to our work. I could be wrong, but her work feels as if she expresses all she has within it. And I think she leaves the theatre world and returns to her family and gives fully to that. What I want you to know and what I want you to feel is that if you go and see her in the theatre, you are seeing work that is as good, at times better, than that past to which you often cling and to which you will never belong except in spirit.

 It is good to remember [Katharine] Cornell and [Lynn} Fontanne and other great performers. It is great that you got to know and speak to Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page, but these women are not in your life, not in your line of vision, not a part of your experience, and Tenneesse was right to tell you that nostalgia is a disease of the mind when it prevents you from appreciating what is present, and what is present is imbued with the past, and Kate is imbued with the past: You can feel in her work and her flesh the great acting she has seen and subsumed. 

You may ultimately find that you don't like the theatre: I don't believe this will happen because I know your heart, too, but you have to know that seeing some of these women I have told you about, who are working right now, are as good as they get, even as they are so frequently let down by the profession to which they give so fully. You have committed your life to the study and the love of the theatre, and the memory and the reputation of a great playwright, so you are a thread in the tapestry that we must keep strong and pass along. You are connected to Kate Mulgrew as you are connected to me. Study her and then tell me how you feel about acting, about life, about the theatre.

 ©  2014   James Grissom


Popular Posts