As in her breakthrough performance a decade ago in Prelude to a Kiss, Parker creates a heroine who doesn't pretend to be perfect, doesn't have the rest of her life figured out, and doesn't seem to realize how beautiful she is. And, as in her heartbreaking performance three years ago in How I Learned to Drive, she never pushes herself on the audience--yet it's difficult to look anywhere else when she is on stage.
"I read new plays all the time, always hoping to find something that I want to do, and I got really excited about this one," says Parker, who was urged to explore the role by Manhattan Theatre Club artistic director Lynne Meadow. "I tend to play people who are uninhibited emotionally, and I was amazed by how unapologetic this character is. I liked the fact that she is deeply unhappy and yet somehow hopeful; she has an amazing sense of irony about her situation." The deal was sealed when Daniel Sullivan (A Moon for the Misbegotten, Dinner With Friends), a director Parker had always wanted to work with, signed on. In turn, Sullivan followed his leading lady's suggestions in casting the play's take-charge older sister and father: Johanna Day, who played several supporting characters in How I Learned to Drive, and Larry Bryggman, who played Parker's dad in Prelude to a Kiss.
"It never stops amazing me that 10 years have gone by since I worked with Larry," she says. "In this play, I'm playing the age that I actually was when we worked together last time." Though Parker has no trouble believably portraying a 25-year-old college dropout who is romanced by her father's former student (Ben Shenkman), she quips: "Up close, I'm starting to fall apart."
Like Cherry Jones and Audra McDonald, Parker speaks of her talent with reticence and modesty; she's most at ease talking about anything other than herself. Always up to date on the New York theater scene, she praises Jennifer Ehle's performance in the current Broadway production of The Real Thing and declares that Eileen Heckart's work in The Waverly Gallery "was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. I was weeping five minutes into the show, and it wasn't even sad yet."
Asked to explain her devotion to the theater, Parker pauses for several seconds before saying, "I think you either love it and you get it, or you don't. When it works, there's just nothing better. It's like life--it's happening then, you're experiencing it then, and it's never going to be the same again. If you see videos of theater [performances], they're completely static; it doesn't look like anything, because you can't capture theater on film. Once it's gone, it's gone. That's what makes it magic."
Personally speaking, she adds, "I just read something that [Lincoln Center Theater artistic director] Andre Bishop said about Dan Sullivan, which was, 'He knows exactly who he is in a theater. Outside, he's not quite as sure.' I kind of feel that way, too. [In the theater], I have confidence; I feel really passionate and I feel like I have worth. I certainly don't feel that way on a movie set. I just love theater, and I can't imagine not doing it. Sometimes it rips me up and spits me out, but I don't even mind that part of it."