Famed stage and screen actress Laurie Metcalf takes Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater stage this month, when she stars alongside Alec Baldwin in the production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller through June 28.
Inspired by true events, the play is set shortly after World War II and details the lives of two families as they struggle to come to terms with the effects of the war. Metcalf plays Kate Keller, the wife of Joe Keller, who was exonerated after being charged with shipping faulty aircraft parts during the war. Joe Keller’s accomplice, Steve Deever, is serving prison time for the act, and Deever’s children become deeply entwined in the Kellers’ lives. Kate lives in denial that her husband is guilty, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that her son Larry, who has been missing from the war for three years, is dead. The play is noted for its criticism of the American Dream, a philosophical position that earned Miller a trip before the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the communism scare.
This will be the third time that Metcalf has undertaken the role of Kate Keller. “I got a call from Alec Baldwin asking if I would be interested in doing a play, and I didn’t even have to think twice about it,” she says about what drew her to the East End. “One of the reasons I wanted to do the play again is because I have experienced doing it in front of a live audience,” she says. “I know the power of it and know what a ride it is for the audience.”
Despite the personal call, Baldwin and Metcalf had never met prior to beginning rehearsals. “It’s great to get to know somebody in the rehearsal room, to see someone else’s process and how they attack a play,” says Metcalf on working with Baldwin. “He’s terrific, on- and off-stage. He’s a perfect fit for this role at this exact time. I love to be in a room with somebody who enjoys the work so much.”
A prolific actress with a number of Broadway productions to her name, including two Tony nominations and two Obie Awards, Metcalf’s trip to Guild Hall for rehearsals was the first time she had been out east. “[June 2] was the first time seeing the theater,” Metcalf says. Though she hasn’t had time to explore the village yet, Metcalf was sure that her costar, East Hampton’s favorite son, would provide some expert touring tips.
Born and raised in Carbondale, Illnois, Metcalf began her professional career as an original member of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. From there, she landed the part of Jacqueline “Jackie” Harris in the television series Roseanne, playing the titular character’s younger sister. For her performance, Metcalf won three Primetime Emmy Awards and was nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress.
“We were working in a bubble,” says Metcalf of her perception of Roseanne’s runaway popularly. “I didn’t understand how big it was until I went to a zoo or something and people would recognize me. It was the biggest thing that had happened in my career.” The show was also Metcalf’s first screen credit. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she says of how she landed the role.
Metcalf has gone on to star in a number of other movies and television shows, including roles on Getting On, Desperate Housewives and The Big Bang Theory. But, she still prefers stage acting to screen acting. “I’ve always preferred theater, because that’s where I began and learned about acting and my own process,” Metcalf says. “I don’t feel like I switch into a different acting mode between the two, but there’s a difference between projecting to the back of a large house versus a television camera.”
Metcalf still looks forward to opening nights, largely because she knows that the audience can appreciate all of the work that goes into a production. “Something that looks realistic and believable and true doesn’t just come out that way,” she says, and opening-night theatergoers know that.
After the production wraps on June 28, Metcalf is looking forward to returning to Los Angeles to film the next few seasons of Getting On for HBO. She says, “It’s one of my favorite shows. The writing is exceptional. The characters and ensemble are great.”
All My Sons opens at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton on Saturday, June 13, at 7 p.m. Previews began June 9. Showtimes are Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. except Sunday, June 28, at 3pm. There is no performance on Wednesday, June 17. For tickets and more information, visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-0806.