Maura Tierney's Devil of a Summer, Starting Witch and Ending The Affair

As her latest TV drama ends its five-season run, Tierney returns to the stage for the first time in six years.

On Sundays for the next month, you could see Maura Tierney live onstage, and make it home just in time to watch her on television.

Theatrically, Tierney is starring at the Geffen Playhouse in Jen Silverman's Witch. This dark tragicomedy, running through September 29, riffs on the Jacobean drama The Witch of Edmonton and casts the Golden Globe winner as Elizabeth, a town outcast targeted by the Devil incarnate, who wants to buy her soul.

Meanwhile on TV, Tierney is wrapping up her run as the long-suffering Helen on Showtime's The Affair, which kicked off its fifth and final season on August 25. As viewers have come to expect, Helen is really going through it — her partner is dying, she's picking up the pieces, and it's unlikely to get easier as the show comes to a head.

It's all in a day's work for one of the industry's most respected performers, who is excited to be working on challenging material, even if it's a little scary.

Maura Tierney stars in Witch at the Geffen Playhouse.
Maura Tierney stars in Witch at the Geffen Playhouse.
(© Jeff Lorch)

What was it about Witch that caught your eye? Did you know Jen Silverman's work beforehand?
I met Jen when she asked me to do a reading of a different play she wrote last year, and then after we worked together, she sent me the script for this play. I liked the humor a lot. I also find it to be feminist in a way that is not overblown. It has confidence in its feminist views, and I like that.

How different is the experience working on this play from the more devised theater work that you primarily do with the Wooster Group?
Witch falls in the middle of the two mediums I work in. The Wooster Group is experimental and performative and technical. In television, the goal is to be very realistic. This isn't a play with a couch and four people sitting around talking. It's in the middle. It's contemporary and raw, but holding onto a thread of the Jacobean period. That's the cool and challenging part of what we're doing. It's in that time and place, but it's also in a nowhere time and place.

Speaking of your TV career, where can we find your character Helen in this new season of The Affair, which premiered this past weekend?
Helen is right where we left her. Her lover, Vik [Omar Metwally], is very ill, and he's had sex with the neighbor, Sierra [Emily Browning]. Eight months later where it picks up, she's heavily pregnant and Vik is heavily dying, and Helen is quite literally physically running from one situation to another — Sierra giving birth and Vik dying. There's a metaphor in that, but it's also about what it means to be a caretaker, which is a hard thing to do.

Maura Tierney last appeared on Broadway in 2013.
Maura Tierney last appeared on Broadway in 2013.
(© David Gordon)

What can we expect on the whole from the new season, since it doesn't have the multiple perspectives of Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson's characters?
Lots of people get new POVs, and I don't think I'm allowed to say whom. There's one that definitely everybody knows — Anna Paquin plays Joanie, the grown-up daughter of Ruth and Josh's characters. That takes place 30-40 years in the future, and I know nothing else about that one because I wasn't in it. I wasn't even on set, so I don't even know what it looks like. I'm excited to see it.

Do you watch the shows that you're in?
I did watch ER in the beginning. I watched ER because I felt like I was jumping into a show with people who were really f*cking talented and I really wanted to keep up. You were also expected to keep up in order to play with the team, and I don't think that was a bad thing. I would watch it almost like going to acting class, to watch myself and find tics or bad habits, or to see what I could do better. For the first year, I would take notes.

But I also really liked that show. I watched it before I was on it. The longer I was on the show, the less I watched it, because it was eight years and I got to feel more confident. I became part of the group, so it was more collaborative. I don't watch The Affair as much, because it's just harder for me to watch.

Having finished shooting a full season of television, is it nice to get back to theater?
Previews are harrowing for me, but I hope mostly nice for the audience. It's scary finding that groove again. But I have a lot of faith in the play, and audiences have been crackerjack. People who come to see previews are — and I say this in the most complimentary way — theater geeks who want to see process. It doesn't feel like anybody has their arms crossed. They're tracking it. They're present. That's been extremely helpful to me. I don't want to jinx it, so I'm gonna touch wood right now.