As a native of North Carolina, Penny Fuller has had a life-long fascination with fellow southerner Tennessee Williams. She even came up to New York as a teenager to see the original production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but "I didn't understand one word of it," she says with a laugh. In 1985, she played the part of Mae in a PBS production of Cat opposite Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones, earning her one of her six Emmy nominations.
Now, Fuller is part of Manhattan Theatre Club's Five by Tenn, appearing in two of the evening's playlets: "Adam and Eve on a Ferry" and "Summer by the Lake," the latter a precursor to The Glass Menagerie. She starred as Amanda in a production of that classic a couple of seasons back at Charlotte Rep but is determined to differentiate her portrayals. "Mrs. Fenway, my character in 'Summer,' is also a mother who smothers her son," Fuller tells me. "I think it's Tennessee's early way of working out his relationship with his mother, Edwina, but I try not to play her as what Amanda would become; it's really up to the audience to see how the character morphs into Amanda. This production is a very special experience, because of the language, the depth, the paradox in these works. Too much of what we have on stage today is just television -- it's all black and white."
Best known to many theatergoers for playing Sally Bowles during the original Broadway run of Cabaret and for her unforgettable, Tony-nominated role as Eve Harrington in Applause, Fuller has had one busy year. She co-starred in the National Actors Theatre production of Right You Are, the controversial Beautiful Childat the Vineyard, and this summer's touring production of Auntie Mame, not to mention a spring run of her cabaret act at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles. "This is the career I always wanted, to be like an English actress in America," she says. "Of course, I've had to stop taking taxis because of all the money I'm not making."
The chance to finally work with old pal George Grizzard was just one factor in Fuller's taking the role of the bitter, alcoholic mother of a pedophile in Beautiful Child. "The real thrill of doing that play was to know that the audience wasn't going to sit there impassively," she remarks. "To hear them gasp and to know they were engaged was terrific." And while Auntie Mame was a far from glamorous experience, Fuller would do it again in a second. "Charles Busch taught me some great makeup tricks I've never known," she jokes. "And I loved playing Vera because playing someone that big is something I haven't done before. I wouldn't mind taking another crack at it -- but if any producer is asking, I'd rather do Mame. I really understand her." (And if any other producer is asking, she'd also love to finally take a crack at Margo Channing.)
Though Fuller made her Broadway debut in Barefoot in the Park, she has no advice for whichever actress is cast as Corey Bratter in the upcoming Broadway revival of the early Neil Simon comedy. (Rumor has it that it will be film star Amanda Peet.) "I really can't imagine what the play will look like to today's audience," Fuller says. "Corey was really a wild child back then, but she's so tame by today's standards. I do hope that whoever plays her mother never saw Mildred Natwick's performance; this is an imperfect business, but she was absolutely perfect."
IF YOU BELIEVE
One of my favorite benefit galas of last year was Only Make Believe -- and this year's edition, to be held on November 1 at Show, promises to be even more spectacular. Brad Oscar and everyone's childhood sweetheart, Hayley Mills, will host the event, which will feature performances and appearances by some very busy people: Harvey Fierstein, who's been tinkering with his script for the soon-to-open revival of La Cage aux Folles; Euan Morton, who will also lend his talents to an October 25 benefit for VH1's Save The Music Foundation at the Triad and the November 6 edition of Jamie deRoy & friends at the West Bank Café, a benefit for the NYC Police Foundation; Alix Korey , who will soon head to Chicago for the pre-Broadway run of All Shook Up; Kate Shindle, who's appearing in the North Carolina Theater production of Jekyll & Hyde through October 31 and co-producing the much-awaited Pippin in Concerton November 29; Isabel Rose, who brings her cabaret show to Helen's on November 16, 21, and 23; and the lovely Christiane Noll , on her night off from the revival of Mack & Mabel, now at the Goodspeed Opera House.
If you think you get a lot of e-mails, just talk to British comedian Dave Gorman. He receives as many as 300 missives daily, most of them from total strangers. It was one of those messages that led to his new show, Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure, which begins previews tomorrow at the Village Theater. According to Gorman, "Some guy, I think from Australia, sent me an e-mail that said, 'Do you know you're a Googlewhack?' " Gorman, who was trying unsuccessfully to begin writing his first novel, quickly responded to the writer, who explained that a Googlewhack is a combination of two words that leads to only one hit on Google; in this case, the words "Francophile" and "namesakes" led only to Gorman's website.
"If you're sitting at a computer when you find this out and you don't try to find another one immediately, you're not human," says Gorman. "Plus, the first thing you do as a writer is try to find things to do so you're not writing, and this was the perfect displacement activity." Within a few hours, Gorman found his first Googlewhack -- but you'll have to see the show to discover what that combination was and how it caused him to travel around the world.
Gorman admits that, even without that mysterious e-mail, he still would never have written his novel. "It was going to be about a man who can imagine a color that doesn't exist," he says. "As you can see, another reason for my abject failure as a novelist was that I was going to write about something that can't be described by words."
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
You might not think of Reckless as election-year fare; but Craig Lucas has another view of his 1983 work, which is currently being revived on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club. "I'd forgotten how much of the play is really about America and about our propensity to run away from our problems or not tell each other the whole truth," Lucas told me recently. "We did a screening of the film version in Seattle over the summer, and when it was over, one young guy -- who obviously didn't realize when it was written -- asked me if it was really about the war in Iraq."
ONE MORE WALK AROUND THE GARDEN
This week marks the 49th anniversary of the Broadway opening of Enid Bangold's classic drama The Chalk Garden. As it happens, New Yorkers have a number of ways to commemorate this occasion. The first is to attend the latest production of the play, starring the redoubtable Jacqueline Brookes, at Center Stage through October 31. The second is to help salute original cast member Marian Seldes , who will be honored by The Acting Company with their John Houseman Award tonight at Gotham Hall. Option number three is to head over to the Promenade: That's where the original production's male lead, Fritz Weaver, is giving a master class in acting in Trying, playwright Joanna McLelland Glass's, engaging two-hander about her real-life working relationship with one-time attorney general Francis Biddle.
PARKER ON A ROLL
Sarah Jessica Parkermay have put her music behind her, but her brother Toby (aka Timothy Britten) Parker, who appeared in the original cast of Rent, will be singing out loud for the next four Saturday nights at Opia on East 57th Street. The swanky club is also playing host to the fantastic Klea Blackhurst, who returns on November 5 for eight more performances of her aptly named new show Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke's Broadway.
[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at BSL@theatermania.com.]