The Broadway production of Tartuffe, at Circle in the Square, in 1978 was something that set me on an unthinkable trajectory of success.
John Wood and Tammy Grimes were the stars, along with Patricia Elliot, Swoosie Kurtz, Stephan Gierasch, Peter Coffield, and Mildred Dunnock. The production was directed by Stephen Porter. John had had tremendous success in England at the Royal Shakespeare Company and turned New York on its heels with his performances in Sherlock Holmes and Travesties. I was an enormous fan.
He was an intimidating, brilliant man, with edges that could cut deep. The production of Tartuffe was successful, and although John and I had little to do together in the play, he was always kind to me backstage. We weren’t buddies.
One night he handed me a script backstage, after the bows, and asked me if I would read it. He’d been offered a new play and wanted to know what I thought. I was shocked, flattered, and when I rushed home and started reading it, I realized he must be considering me to play Clifford in Ira Levin’s thriller, Deathtrap. My head was spinning. Did I make this part up? But why else would he ask for my opinion? We’d never even had dinner together.
When I returned to the theatre and knocked on his dressing room door, he immediately asked me what I thought. I remember immediately insisting that he must play Sidney Bruhl. It was a fantastic role for him, never insinuating the possibility of my playing Clifford. He paused, something he did to great dramatic effect, and said, “Of course you must play Clifford”. I’m sure I blushed, something I did often, and he asked me if he could read with me for my audition. I blushed again, and said that would be great.
Soon afterwards, we read together for Robert Moore, the director, and Alfred de Liagre, the legendary Broadway producer. I’ll just say, that was a moment. Over the year, we worked together, John and I had many ups and downs. My unconditional love and support came from the incomparable Marian Seldes, who played Myra until the end of the 5 year run.
I will always be grateful to John for choosing me to play opposite him. That production definitely had an enormous impact on my career. I just wish we’d been able to find a way to be closer.