Catching Up With Marsha Mason, Now Starring in All My Sons at Hartford Stage

Mason is also gearing up for A Little Night Music in concert.

In 2019, Marsha Mason worked as an associate director on the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Now, the four-time Oscar nominee is getting her chance to be in the show, playing Kate Keller in Melia Bensussen’s new production of the drama, running through May 5 at Hartford Stage. Once that run ends, Mason will start rehearsals for the upcoming concert version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, in which she’ll play Madame Armfeldt with a 53-piece orchestra (June 27-29). In a recent phone call, she shared details about both.

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Marsha Mason as Kate Keller in the Hartford Stage production of All My Sons
(© T. Charles Erickson)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You worked with Jack O’Brien on the Roundabout production of All My Sons from a few years ago. Did that spur your interest in this?
I was an associate director on that. It was wonderful, and it has always resonated with me to maybe play this role at some point. Melia Bensussen, our director, loves the play and it’s exciting because it’s so relevant. There are so many lines that resonate today.

You’re a regular at Hartford Stage, doing Lost in Yonkers there recently. What is it like to work there?
I codirected and starred in Lost in Yonkers. I had a wonderful experience there, and Melia is just a super person to work with. She came to me with the Miller play and I said yes immediately because I wanted to work with her as an actor, and not try to do both.

Tell me about your approach to Kate Keller in this production. Did you glean any sort of actorly insight into the play from working with Jack?
I decided to approach Kate in a slightly more assertive way, in terms of her strength. Michael Gaston and I work extremely well together as a couple, in a completely different way from the way that Annette Bening and Tracy Letts worked so well together. Michael’s interpretation of Joe Keller is very different from Tracy’s. I think it says something about the play that no matter who is doing it, it stands on its own from a textual point of view.

Michael and I had worked together years ago at Williamstown. I’ve always admired his work. It was one of his big wishes to play Joe Keller, so it was a personal thing for him, as well. It worked out perfectly for both of us.

And you’ve got A Little Night Music coming up in June. What can you say about that?
We have really great singers like Susan Graham and Cynthia Erivo, and John Doyle is a wonderful director. I did the Terrence McNally play Fire and Air with him at Classic Stage. He strips everything down to its bare essence, you know? It’s an exciting way to work.

Is this your first Sondheim show as an actor?
Yeah. We shared holidays together, with Jack O’Brien and a whole bunch of wonderful people that live here in Connecticut, like Mia Farrow, but I’ve never done one of his shows before.

I know you’re just as passionate about directing as you are acting. What have you learned from folks like John Doyle and Melia?
Well, everyone has their own approach. But I started from trying to find a way of communicating with an actor. Actors work differently. Everybody has their own kind of process so you have to constantly be finding the vernacular that works for them. The other thing that really informed me, strangely enough, was all my years in New Mexico operating an organic farm.

How so?
Nature taught me patience, and I had to become a businessperson, an entrepreneur, a manager, and a farmhand. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different people in very different ways. Designing the farm, because it was raw land, gave me a visual picture. That’s what usually attracts me to a play, if I can see it in my head. By doing all of that and being responsible for it, I think it really helped me become a better director.

What do you think Sondheim would say about you playing Madame Armfeldt?
Oh, I don’t know. But I hope he would be ok with it!

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