Sandy Duncan
(© Tristan Fuge)
Sandy Duncan
(© Tristan Fuge)
Sandy Duncan, long one of America's most beloved actresses, says she didn't have any second thoughts about taking on the role of Marty, a small-town acting class instructor, in the George Street Playhouse's current production of Annie Baker's acclaimed play Circle Mirror Transformation. But what's remarkable about the statement is that she had never read the script nor seen the play when she agreed to artistic director David Saint's offer.

"I've worked with David before and I trust him -- I knew he wouldn't ask me if he didn't think I was right for the part," says Duncan. "But I also felt there was some karma I had to clear up. I had agreed to do this play Creating Claire with him here earlier this year, and I ended up bowing out because I got Vitamin D poisoning because of a misprint on the bottle. I wound up being rushed to the ER and spending a week in the hospital."

Once she read the script, however, Duncan went to work on how to approach Marty, who has to deal with a variety of personalities in her class -- including her own husband, an introspective teenager, and a former New York-based actress. "I think there are number of ways you can go with Marty. I spent a week of table time with our director, Anders Cato, and we chose to make her this very nurturing person," says Duncan. "I think she was possibly a hippie in earlier life; she actually reminds me of this dear friend of mine from high school in Texas, who ended up living in Berkeley and came down to help take care of me all those years ago when I had a brain tumor."

Sandy Duncan (right) and companyin Circle Mirror Transformation
(©: T.Charles Erickson)
Sandy Duncan (right) and company
in Circle Mirror Transformation
(©: T.Charles Erickson)
Duncan is also proud to be playing an acting teacher, given how many of her teachers influenced her. "I had this one teacher at Mt. Morris College in Texas named Zula Pearson -- she also taught Tommy Tune -- who was way ahead of her time in her approach to acting and having all of us figure things out on a personal level," she notes.

"And my greatest inspiration was Wynn Handman," says Duncan. "He didn't do the kind of theater games that we have in the play, but he taught me how to be totally in the moment and not second guess myself. To this day, whenever I work with someone whose technique I really admire, it turns out to be one of Wynn's students."

The play comes with a unique set of challenges, adds Duncan, who has long been considered one of Broadway's best dancers and is well known for her work in such musicals as Peter Pan and Chicago. "The way Annie has written the play, with all these ums and ahs, is hard to memorize. It's almost like choreography," she says. "And when you don't use the memorization muscle, it atrophies."

Duncan also admits she's not completely sure how audiences will react to the work. "I certainly think it's a funny script, and things like having the audience watch the actors putting make-up on stage or change clothes is something I think they'll find fascinating," she says. "But it's a very internal play, and in an era when we're so bombarded with talk, it's almost dangerous to have these areas of silence that Annie has put into the play. It may be unnerving to people -- we're all so used to texting and talking on the phone that asking people to sit and be still might be impossible. But it will fall where it does -- we're not trying to please the audience."