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Concetta Tomei Reaches Higher Ground

The stage and television star discusses her work in Carey Perloff's new play at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. logo
Concetta Tomei in Higher
(© Kevin Berne)
Concetta Tomei has offered many notable performances in film and television, such as tough General Lila Garreau on the Vietnam drama China Beach, chain-smoking ghost Lynda Hansen on Providence, and her current gig as Angela on the USA Network series Necessary Roughness.

Right now, however, she's returned to the stage as widow Valerie Rifkind in the world premiere of Higher, a new play by Carey Perloff being presented by the American Conservatory Theater at The Theater at Children's Creativity Museum in Yerba Buena Garden in San Francisco through February 25. TheaterMania recently spoke to her about the show, returning to A.C.T., and why she enjoys her television work.

THEATERMANIA: How are you enjoying being back on stage?
CONCETTA TOMEI: It's fabulous. Carey has been working so hard on this play and listening to what the actors need and what they don't need in the script. It's a wonderful cast to work with; I have fabulous costumes by David Draper; and our director Mark Rucker is such a lovely person. He loves actors, which is half the battle with a director. I even have a divine apartment. I just can't say enough about being with such a terrific group of people every day.

TM: So who is Valerie?
CT: Valerie could have run two or three of her husband's businesses, but she took a back seat. She's cunning. She's strong. She's manipulative. She's funny. It's really important that she is in control and you do things her way. There's also a part of her that's very lonely. You know people like her and wonder when do they lose control? When do they break? There has to be a breaking point otherwise the characters don't seem human. That's what I'm reaching for with her.

TM: This is something of a return engagement for you, isn't it?
Yes, I was here 14 years ago for Mrs. Warren's Profession. In fact, David Draper did my costumes for that show, too. The kind of professionalism at A.C.T. that I experienced doing Shaw on their main stage at the Geary is just as fine and detailed as it is here in this 140-seat house.

TM: You move regularly between television, film, and theater. Does one medium feed you more than the other?
CT: I'm grateful to do television, because it allows me to do theater and because I've had some wonderful roles on TV. But I learn so much as an actress in every single performance on stage. It's a great teacher. I'm still learning so much about the craft of acting, and every play and every person you create teach you something different.

TM: So what draws you back to television so regularly?
CT: The paycheck is certainly the icing on the cake. And if you're on television as a series regular, you do get some fun perks like big soirées and limos picking you up and stuff like that. However, the really great thing is if you work in a really good series, you work with really good directors and many fine, fine actors. For example, the cast of China Beach -- Michael Boatman, Dana Delany -- are real pros. A series like that becomes like doing a play for four years because you get to know the cast that well. When the camera rolls, it's a really tight feeling.

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