TV’s Marcia Cross Talks About Returning to the Stage and How Her Juilliard Teachers Were Right

The daytime soap and Melrose Place star appears off-Broadway in Pay the Writer.

Bryan Batt as Burston Fischer and Marcia Cross as Lana Holt in Pay the Writer, directed by Karen Carpenter, photographed by Jeremy Daniel crop
Bryan Batt plays Burston Fischer, and Marcia Cross plays Lana Holt in Tawni O’Dell’s Pay the Writer, directed by Karen Carpenter, at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

For four decades, Marcia Cross has been a staple on television, from her early days on the soap operas The Edge of Night and One Life to Live, to her career-defining roles in primetime as Kimberly Shaw on Melrose Place and Bree Van Der Kamp on Desperate Housewives.

Still, Cross is no stranger to the stage; she studied at Juilliard and has performed on Broadway and in regional theater, including such plays as The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.

Now, she returns in Tawni O’Dell’s Pay the Writer, as Lana, the still-loving if slightly embittered ex-wife of celebrated writer Cyrus Holt, which begins a seven-week run on August 13 at I Alice Griffin Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center.

TheaterMania recently caught up with Cross to discuss the show, why she’s returned to the theater, and her dream role for the future.

This story has been edited for length and clarity and has been conducted in accordance with current SAG-AFTRA guidelines.

Why return to the theater now?

As much as I love LA and my current life, I have always wanted to return to the theater. In fact, about two days before I got the offer to do a reading of this play in California last year, I had lunch with an old agent and the words “I want to do stage” just popped out of my mouth. I guess it’s true about putting what you want out in the universe.

You have to give up your life in LA to do this show? Is it worth it?

Yes, but I love that’s it a short run since it really is hard for me to be away from family. I hear my husband and teenage children in the background whenever I call, and I think, “Aww.” But I also thought this play was a great opportunity for me. It’s great not to be the lead since it’s my first time back on stage in a while. And I love that it’s a new play; it’s a living, breathing thing that we can cut and mold. I really feel like I am home now – that I am back with my people and in my universe. It’s a wonderful feeling and I wasn’t sure it would ever happen again!

What specifically drew you to the role of Lana?

I love that she follows her impulses. She’s flawed, passionate, and lives her truth. She gave up her career for her husband and her children. I think so many women will be able to relate to her.

Marcia Cross and Ron Canada appear in Tawni O’Dell’s Pay the Writer, directed by Karen Carpenter, at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

All of your scenes are with the show’s male leads, Ron Canada, who plays your ex-husband Cyrus, and Bryan Batt, who plays the couple’s longtime friend and Cyrus’ literary agent, Bruston. Tell me about working with them?

I am so lucky to be onstage with these men. I just love them! I feel like their processes come from their wealth of experience; they know what they’re doing, so they can use every moment onstage to make the show and their parts better. I am so happy that people will see Ron, because he’s one of those incredibly fine actors who never got that one big role that puts them in the spotlight and this play is his moment.

On top of being entertained, what do you want audiences to take away from this play?

This play is about a man who is coming to the end of his life, and that’s an unavoidable conversation I know I have in my head. Every day is a gift, and we should all try to make the most of it. We like to pretend we’re constantly moving forward, but it will stop some day!

Are you hoping to do more stage work. whether in NYC or LA? And if so, any dream roles?

If I get to do theater again in NYC, that would be a joy! Honestly, I am happy to do any work of value, but I could never do the kind of crazy TV schedule I had when I was younger. As for dream roles, when I was at Juilliard, I did Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard and I would love to do that part again now. They used to tell us at Juilliard that you don’t know how to act until you’re in your 30s, and that made us so mad. But now I realize I have a whole wealth of life to choose from in creating a character — and I can use it all in the work. I’d love that chance!

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