On February 8, she begins previews as Nettie Cleary in Frank Gilroy's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Subject Was Roses, about a soldier readjusting to life with his unhappy parents after World War II, at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. TheaterMania recently spoke to Zimbalist about the show and her career.
THEATERMANIA: Was this a play you had always wanted to do?
STEPHANIE ZIMBALIST: No. I've never seen it on stage, read it, or saw the movie; And I think it's always an advantage to come to a play fresh since you're not trying to repeat someone else's performance.
TM: So what made you want to do it?
SZ: I love being back east - even the cold and ice; it's coming home for me. I love David Saint, who runs this theater. And I have all of these friends who have worked here, like Dan Lauria, who said you have to come work at George Street. So when they offered it to me, I said sure.
TM: Now that you've started rehearsals, what do you feel about the play and the character?
SZ It's oblique at first, but I think more will come to the surface once we get it on its feet in front of an audience. It's definitely a story about family dysfunction and coming of age. And while I think war is a big element of the play, I don't think of it as an anti-war play. As for playing Nettie, the challenge for me is that I have to find the love between these two people or the audience won't care about them. It's important to me that the audience feel engaged.
TM: Do you think Nettie is similar to anyone you've played before?
SZ: She's not all that different from Terry in Side Man.True, she's not an alcoholic; the damage is more hidden.
TM: This play is set in 1946; Tea at Five was the 1930s. Do you enjoy doing these "period pieces"?
SZ: I do have fun in period pieces, but it's harder and harder to wear the shoes. My motivation becomes the pain in my feet. But I look great in this kind of period clothing, since I have a long torso and broad shoulders. I actually change before every rehearsal and put on a dress, because I think it makes you move differently.
TM: Your father, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., is a wonderful actor. Did he give you much advice about acting?
SZ: We've worked together several times over the years, but he didn't give me a lot advice on acting -- although he taught me a lot about the business.
TM: Did anyone give you useful advice when you were starting out?
SZ: Chuck Heston gave me a lot of great advice. And the best piece of advice was given to me by an acting teacher when I was about 14. She said you have to decide to be a giver or a taker and it will influence all your choices and the work you do. So I decided to become a giver, and that was the right decision. I don't like my life being in the spotlight. I am an actor, that's what I do, and right now, that means going where the work is, which is theater. And if that includes doing plays in New Jersey, then I just hope people come to that theater and find themselves engaged. And if they like it, they should tell their friends, and if they don't, they should just keep quiet.