Theater News

Quick Wit: Kate Buddeke

The actress, currently doing double duty as identical twins in The Mineola Twins, wits it up with Jonathan Abarbanel.

Actress Kate Buddeke,currently starring inPaula Vogel'sThe Mineola Twins
Actress Kate Buddeke,
currently starring in
Paula Vogel’s
The Mineola Twins

Kate Buddeke made her Off-Broadway debut in 1974 at the Westside Theatre in a pair of one-act jazz-rock operas based on classic commedia dell’arte scenarios, Isabella’s Fortune and Pedrolino’s Revenge. The composer, William Russo, had been one her principal teachers at Columbia College (Chicago), from which she’d graduated just months before. You can see a picture of her as Arlecchino, complete with moustache, on page 65 of the John Willis Theatre World annual for 1974-1975.

Despite this semi-auspicious start to a performing career, it would be more than a decade before Buddeke returned to theater. Instead, she pursued a career as a rock singer; a venture that took her to London for a time, earning her a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-talking party girl. Returning to Chicago, she took acting classes at the Actor’s Center and began her career in earnest in 1988 in the Irish drama Ourselves Alone, directed by the then-unknown Kyle Donnelley.

Since then, Buddeke has received three Joseph Jefferson Awards for her numerous appearances at the Goodman, Northlight, Bailiwick, Apple Tree and Marriott theaters, among others, and she’s appeared in New York twice more, both on Broadway in Tony Award-winning shows. First, she played Mrs. Mullin, owner of the merry-go-round, in the Nicholas Hytner-directed Lincoln Center production of Carousel in 1994. More recently, Buddeke appeared in the Goodman’s 50th anniversary production of Death of a Salesman.

For a decade she’s also been an ensemble member of the American Theatre Company, for whom she currently plays identical twin sisters Myrna and Myra in Paula Vogel’s The Mineola Twins, running through May 27 at ATC’s warehouse-turned-theater.

I first met you when you still were a student at Columbia College. What did you think you’d be then?

I thought I was gonna be a housewife. I was gonna be a drug addict, and then a housewife.

You were a founding member of the American Theatre Company (ATC), weren’t you?

No, but I was the first female in the acting ensemble. I joined the company in 1990.

And now you’re playing identical twins at ATC. What’s the trick to that?

I grew up with a sister who’s a year older than me, and she stayed back a year (in school). She’s just the opposite of me. I’m playing her, I hope. It’s their politics, not their beings, that makes them different.

Exactly. Myrna is a straight-laced right-wing talk show host, and Myra is a lesbian leftist. Which do you like more?

I like them both a lot–because I have to. Myra’s easier for me to get a grip on. Myrna’s a real victim of the eras they live through, the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Myrna is like Doris Day; Myra is like Jack Kerouac.

You’ve done one show Off-Broadway and two on Broadway. What do you think of New York?

The money is good. I think Broadway is confused, (but) getting better. Their regard for straight plays–I’m talking about the producers–is not very high. I had a much better time with Death of a Salesman than with Carousel. Maybe I had a better time because it was all Chicago people…and the fact that we really kicked Broadway butt.

You are, of course, a Chicago actor. How did you get cast in Carousel anyway?

I met the Lincoln Center casting director at a party and I was drunk. I told him that there were great people in Chicago, and he shouldn’t just work with New York people. He remembered me–I guess I made an impression–and he called me in for Carousel. At the audition, the first thing I said to [director] Nicholas Hytner was that I hate f–kin’ musicals, and especially this show. He said, “So do I.” And I said, “F–k, I’m going to be in a musical!”

Are you ready to make the big bucks–playing the raspy, frowzy neighbor on a sitcom? You know, do a Laurie Metcalf sort of thing?

Yeah, sure, why not?

Who was your most influential teacher?

Kyle Donnelley, at the Actors Center. I was doing rock ‘n’ roll, and somebody told me I should take a class with her, because it would help my music.

What was your most valuable lesson?

It’s not about who’s in the audience; it’s about having fun and making the show work. If you’re not having fun, don’t do it.

And what was your best experience in theater?

The first show I did was the best, in 1988, Ourselves Alone, directed by Kyle. And Death of a Salesman–what a great experience.

And your worst?

I think Carousel, and not because of the people. It was a wonderful company. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad onstage experience. I had a problem with Lincoln Center and their politics.

Do you still like to drink? And where?

Beer and Jameson’s. A shot and a beer, still. I feel like I get most of my work in bars. I like the Four Moons Tavern on Roscoe Street, Benedict’s–right by the ATC–and, of course, O’Rourke’s (the legendary Chicago writer’s bar).

And are you still a smoker?

Marlboro 100’s. I did quit smoking once, and I gained 50 pounds in a week.

Featured In This Story

Mineola Twins, The

Closed: May 27, 2000