WILLIAMSTOWN -- Twelve years after her last Williamstown Theatre Festival performance, the Berkshires' stage darling and WTF veteran Blythe Danner is back on the Williamstown stage in a world premiere about the struggle of life, loss and family relationships.
Danner, under the direction of Bob Balaban, will star in "The Blue Deep," by up-and-coming playwright Lucy Boyle, running on the Nikos Stage at WTF through July 8. The new play returns to WTF after success with Danner as the leading lady during a sold-out reading last summer in the festival's Fridays @ 3 series.
"For us it feels like a great gift to have Blythe back here and in this very special play," said Jenny Gersten, artistic director at WTF.
The Emmy- and Tony-award-winning actress will play the leading role of Grace, a mother "perpetually in motion" who is faced with the return of her daughter Lila, a lost 20-something who returns to their family home in the Hamptons with a plastic bag and a broken heart. Together, Grace and her daughter, played by Becky Ann Baker (WTF's "Our Town,") navigate the recent loss of Grace's husband and Lila's father while learning how to have a relationship without him.
"Grace lost her husband not long before this, and the daughter lost her father," Danner said. "The play targets the struggle that they are trying to work through. Somehow they find some relationship again. It's the struggle."
Danner -- who is most recognizable for her role in all three "Meet The Parents" films but also has a long career on stage, including WTF credits "The Sea Gull," "If We Are Women," "The Royal Family" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" -- said the play was what really brought her back to Wil liamstown after all these years.
"I read the play and I thought, ‘What a great role and wonderful play. I just have to do this," she said.
Danner said her life has shaped her approach. Danner lost her husband, Bruce Pal trow, in 2002 from complications while battling oral cancer.
"It's inevitable," she said, considering the parallel situations. "There are certainly traces of my own journey in the play and in my interpretation I find it a source of strength for the role. I didn't think that would be something I would look forward to delving into each time, but I find it cathartic."
While the play does pick a part the difficult theme of love and loss, Balaban ("Bernard and Doris," "Tennessee and Me") said humor can also be found in the struggle.
"I read it and I loved it, but I had no idea it was funny," he said at a press conference while seated between Danner, who nodded in agreement, and Gersten. "Now that we're working on it, some things are demanding it. It's a great pleasure to work on something that is very, very funny and very, very serious, because I happen to think real life is like that."
For Danner, coming back to WTF has been "bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter."
When she made her first appearance on the festival's stage in 1974 as Nina in Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull," her daughter, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, was just a toddler. Every day Danner gets emotional remembering her family's time in the Berkshires, she said.
"Everywhere I look there's a memory," said Danner. "There's the house we lived in when children were very small, my husband in his tennis clothes going down to the court. Life is just that way. If you've had full experience, you have to be able to ride the rocky part of that. You have to savor both the bitter and the sweet."
Audience members will run the gamut of emotions with "The Blue Deep," Danner said, but will come away from the production understanding themselves and their family relationships in a deeper, more honest way.
"I have a ritual before I go out (on stage)," Danner said. "I say, ‘let the play wash over me' and let me reach out to those people in the audience who will understand this character, the many graces in the audiences. People will really understand this play, and some will have lived the message of the play."
What: ‘The Blue Deep' by Lucy Boyle, directed by Bob Balaban, starring Becky Ann Baker, Blythe Danner, Jack Gilpin and Finn Wittrock.
Where: Nikos Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival
When: June 27 through July 8, opening night June 28.
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