Robert Boswell's The Long Shrift, now playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is a bold choice for Hollywood star James Franco's first foray into directing for the stage. The play focuses on the rape of a teenage girl. It also deals with themes of suicide and perjury. But for Ally Sheedy, who plays Sarah, the angry and unforgiving mother of a 17-year-old son accused of violent rape, the opportunity seemed like exactly what she had been looking for.
"It was something for me to explore onstage that's very different from anything I've really played before," Sheedy explained. It must be noted, however, that the actress is certainly no stranger to dark characters — her breakout role was as brooding misanthrope Allison Reynolds in 1985's The Breakfast Club. Nevertheless, Boswell's dark and multilayered play is providing a host of new challenges. Sheedy revealed to TheaterMania what drew her to Sarah's personality, whom she sees as the play's primary offender, and how she thinks two people can move beyond betrayal.
What drew you to The Long Shrift?
It was a strange confluence of things because I have been wanting a play to show up, something with a character that's somewhat dark…and then of course the opportunity to work with James Franco. I found that really compelling.
Is the ambiguity of the play difficult for you to deal with?
No, because I have my own take on a few things in the play, but my character is not ambiguous. What she thinks and what she feels are present for her and real for her. So there are shades of gray in the play — there are different ways of looking at the same moment in time or somebody's action or a decision that they made — but one of the things that I like about Sarah is she doesn't exist in that realm. She really feels that she knows what happened and she doesn't stray from her position.
I like her edge. I like her darkness. I like that she's complicated. I like that she's not particularly sympathetic — she's not, I mean she can't [even] forgive her kid.
What are your own feelings about what's happening in the play and who should be taking the blame?
My personal take is that in this specific situation, I think Beth is right. I think she's standing in the truth in the play the whole way through. This was a moment that there was a very intimate betrayal that happened between two characters who really cared about each other, and that the only way for each character to be able to move forward with their lives is actually to resolve it between the two people who were in the room. That takes an enormous amount of courage for her. I think there's some real truth in that. I really don't have any idea how people move on with their lives when they get stuck or frozen in a painful tormenting moment in time.
Tell me about the experience of being part of an ensemble like this.
I like being part of a group. I like being part of a cast — the unified energy of a cast, you know, where everybody's playing their part.
That probably goes all the way back for you to the Brat Pack days.
It goes pretty far back. I've always liked to be part of an ensemble. I've done things where I was and where I wasn't [part of an ensemble], but at this point in my life, this is really where I like to be.
How has James Franco's acting background affected his new role as a stage director?
He's a brilliant actor and he's been working onstage [costarring in Of Mice and Men], and he came into the room being able to look at what a member of his cast was doing as far as exploring a character and developing a character. He let everybody just explore. He could understand what they were doing. I think he's a wonderful theater director. If he wants to keep directing on stage he very well should. It was an amazing experience for me. I loved it, actually, every moment of it. I think it's something that comes naturally to him.