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Going to Extremes

May 31, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 20
Photo: Ari Michelson

Photo: Ari Michelson

by Rebecca M. Alvin

When actress Dana Delany first came to public consciousness it was on the ABC show China Beach back in 1988. It wasn’t how it is now, when television was a highly regarded medium full of exciting innovations in storytelling, great acting, and all the glamour of Hollywood. It was back when television was still considered inferior to movies. But Delany saw something there: good roles for women.

“It goes in cycles. I’ve always thought that television was better for women,” Delany says. “People were really looking down on television, so I felt like I had this little secret that allowed me to continue to work and have really interesting roles. Now, of course, the secret is out and everybody wants those roles, so I feel like, wait a minute, this is mine!”

Of course, she says, it is the theater that has always had a great tradition of excellent women’s roles, especially for older women, which is why Delany, who remains active on the screen with a lead role in the Amazon series Hand of God, says she’s particularly drawn to theater these days. Given the fact this year’s Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival will pair Williams with Shakespeare, Delany, who performed as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing in 2003 as well as just this past season in Night of the Iguana at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., seems a perfect choice as this year’s guest of honor for the festival’s annual gala this weekend.

“It’s funny because when I heard that, I said, ‘Oh, my god, that’s so perfect.’ And I don’t know of anybody who’s done it before, but to me it just makes so much sense,” she says. “Shakespeare also writes about people who are in an extreme time in their life. These are life and death situations, and even in the comedies of Shakespeare, there are very big choices that these characters are making in their lives, and I think that’s what Tennessee Williams does,” Delany explains. “It’s not melodramatic, it’s dramatic. It never goes into the melodrama, I don’t think, in either writer.”

With Williams’ key works written many decades ago, in a period of time when the male and female positions in society were quite different than they are now, in many respects, somehow the work still remains relevant to many people, and to women, in particular.

Dana Delany as Maxine in the A.R.T. production of Night of the Iguana. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography

Dana Delany as Maxine in the A.R.T. production of Night of the Iguana. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography

“They’re just so human,” Delany explains. “As an actor, it’s so rich to bite into one of his roles. I wish that theater was more like that these days…there’s a boldness to his writing, and it is heightened and it’s big, but it’s so well written and it’s such a great balance between the two poles, because he had such extremes in his life. And for an actor that’s a great contrast to play.”

Delany’s interest in Williams goes back to her college days. As an undergraduate theater major at Wesleyan University, she says they did a whole semester on Williams. “I just remember I really reacted to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, especially his females characters. They were just so vibrant and so sexual and bold and emotional, and not afraid of being impolite, which I respected,” she says with a laugh.

Although she never got to play Maggie from that play, she says she just loved playing Maxine in Night of the Iguana, a role originated by Bette Davis on the stage and later played by Ava Gardner in the film.

“For me the challenge of the character was finding the balance between her earthiness and her sexuality and her vulnerability and need for some kind of poetry in her life, because she’s not a poetic person in the play—that’s Hannah’s role, who has incredible scenes of poetry… But I think she is capable of poetry, but it’s a different kind of poetry; it’s more of a natural, ‘of the elements’ poetry, you know, the sea and the sand and the beach and Mexico.”

Delany is excited to be returning to the sea and sand of Provincetown this week, as she grew up in New England and went to summer camp in South Orleans, where they took many day trips to Provincetown. Her last visit was in college. “I did the requisite romantic ride on the back of the motorcycle with your boyfriend to the end of the earth,” she laughs. Having recently read John Lahr’s biography of Williams, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, Delany says, “I’m really interested in re-investigating [Provincetown] and seeing the places that Tennessee Williams lived.

Dana Delany is the guest of honor at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival’s annual gala at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. on Saturday, June 3. The evening begins with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by the dinner and gala at 7:15 p.m. Delany will participate in a moderated conversation about her work and a live art auction will also be  held. Tickets are available for the cocktail hour only ($100), as are reservations for seats ($175 – $500) and full tables ($1250 – $2500). For information call 866.789.TENN or visit twptown.org.