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Interview: Patty McCormack Returns to the New York Stage for 1st Time Since The Bad Seed

McCormack co-stars in the new revival of Morning's at Seven off-Broadway.

It's been a long time since Patty McCormack was on a New York stage — 66 years to be exact. As a child, McCormack made her mark on the theater industry, and later, indelibly, the film industry, with her turn as the murderous child Rhoda Penmark in Maxwell Anderson's The Bad Seed, a performance that went on to earn her an Oscar nomination. A plethora of screen gigs followed her through young adulthood and well into adulthood — Anne Brooks on The Ropers, Pat Nixon in Frost/Nixon, and Adrianna's mother in The Sopranos, and the New York stage went further and further into the distance.

Until now. McCormack is part of an enviable cast of actors in the new ensemble of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven at the Theatre at St. Clement's. It's a passion project for her and all of them — they're doing this for the love of the game. And McCormack is just thrilled to be there.

Patty McCormack in Morning's at Seven
(© Maria Baranova)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Judith Ivey, Lindsay Crouse, Alma Cuervo — what a cast.

And a wonderful actress, Keri Safran, who's great. We have to not laugh when she's on. John Rubinstein, Tony Roberts, Jonathan Spivey, Dan Lauria. It's amazing. I think we're a nice group and a lot of silly things happen and we laugh a lot.

How's it going so far?

It's fun! I'm particularly excited to be on a New York stage again. I haven't been since childhood.

Your last show was The Bad Seed in 1954-55?

The Bad Seed was the last time I did a show in New York. The closest I got since was when we rehearsed the tour of Neil Simon's Rumors with Peter Marshall at the theater. Anyway, it was a long time ago, so this feels big. And then we have to do Covid tests twice a week, so I get mine at the Music Box Theatre, which is where I did my first play, Touchstone, which was a total flop. I felt like, "This is so weird."

What made you want to do Morning's at Seven?

That's a great question. Because how old I am, number one. And it had a lot to do with Covid and the things that occurred to me in that time about what you can't do. Sometimes, you spend a lot of time not doing things you choose not to do. But there was something about realizing that life literally stopped...

All of that, and the fact that my grandkids are not babies anymore. I was really involved from day one with the first one in 2000, and the youngest is 13. They have their lives, they like me around, but they can always call me, you know?

I don't know, I just wanted a change. And I was scared. You're supposed to do that once in a while. And it wouldn't have happened at all if it hadn't been for Dan Lauria, who's in the cast and is a friend of mine, who threw my name into the mix. It was just the strangest turn of events.

Did you go in with any sort of preconceived notions about what you wanted to get out of this?

Nah. I just wanted to be here. I've done so much television and film stuff, although I did do theater as an adult, I swear. It's not like it's foreign to me. But I've spent a lot of time self-taping for shows, where you sort of have to come up with a final product before there is one. It's a different craft. And I remember loving so much the comfort of being on stage, when you've had a couple of weeks to really know what you're doing and the lines are not hard coming to you. The other actors haven't lost the step by step by step of the process. They aren't a finished product as they walk in. That puts you at ease.

Can you tell me one Bad Seed story from when you were doing the play?

I don't believe I've ever told this one. I hope not. It's a bad story on mom. My mom used to braid my hair before each show. She was out one day with my new stepfather and got a little sidetracked and didn't show up to braid my hair. I was probably 9 or 10. So I was like "uh-oh" and I thought, Rhoda Penmark style, "I could do this," and I did a mish-mosh of the braids but I felt very proud of it. And she came back saying "Oh, I'm so sorry," but from then on I didn't let her braid my hair. It was a real step in growing up. I'm sure she has guilt about it to this day, wherever she is.

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