“…And then, after this interview I’ll be going over to the Antaeus Company to teach a four-hour class on ‘dream roles’. Then I’ll be teaching audition techniques at AMDA [the American Musical and Dramatic Academy]; that’s a two-hour class.
“I’ll go home happily wrung out,” she concludes, “but luckily my husband [Todd Waring] is an actor too, so he’s very empathetic.”
“Working with Bob is like playing tennis at Wimbledon,” she says. “Wherever I hit the ball, I know he’s going to hit it back. He’s really alive on stage; he’ll try new things every time.”
She, on the other hand, describes herself as “accidentally Method. I become my character after a while. While I was doing [Antaeus Company’s double cast] Peace in Our Time in 2011 [she was one of the two women who played Nora, proprietor of the pub where the action took place], I was fretful, bewildered, and emotional.
“Then, when I played the ditzy artistic mother last fall in You Can’t Take It With You [also at Antaeus], I had a bursting, shining heart. I hugged everybody all the time. I was like a 13-year-old girl skipping down the lane.”
She also stars as a talk show hostess in an online three-minute comedy series called Versailles (pronounced Versales) with William H. Macy, Fred Willard, and Patricia Heaton. In sitcoms, she is perhaps best known for having pepper-sprayed Charlie Sheen on a 2008 episode of Two and a Half Men.
“In this current play, Open House, I’m going a little crazy because it’s full of damage and devastation,” she admits.
The play deals with real estate agent Chuck (Cicchini) and his efforts to sell a “difficult, emotional house” to Martha (Gordon) who suspects that something terrible has happened there. Even worse, the house has only one bathroom!
Gordon admits to an abundance of emotion. “I cry at Hallmark commercials,” she says, “and even though I’m considered a funny person, I’m terrified at the thought of doing stand-up. I need the mask of a character to act; I don’t like walking around like an actress. I’m an artist, not a model. Vanity isn’t one of my values.”
Gordon speaks with pride about a role she played with her husband in an episode of the TV series Scandal last year. “We played a strait-laced, church-going couple who are grieving over their missing daughter,” she says. “And because it was Todd I could act as real husbands and wives do. I could support him during the emotional scenes — reach out and touch him — which I wouldn’t have thought to do if I were acting with a stranger.”
For a long time she played the femme fatale. “If you’re young and attractive you have to be sexy,” she says, “and you stand around and watch helplessly when something terrible happens. It’s the damsel in distress writ large.”
But being a femme fatale gave her an opportunity to play a part that was “my dream come true,” she admits. “I played Marilyn Monroe in [the 1991 mini-series] A Woman Named Jackie. I auditioned for the Jackie part, but they cast me as Marilyn. I always felt that if I didn’t get a chance to play Marilyn at least once, I would die unfulfilled. I had an enormous affinity with her.”
Gordon sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” (mimicry and singing are two of her additional skills), and she says she wrote Marilyn’s death scene for the production [the credited writers are C. David Heymann and Roger O. Hirson].
“The producers had a jumble of suicide, accident, and other factors thrown in,” she says, “but I wrote it as a suicide.
“Perhaps she didn’t intend to commit suicide — she was talking to Peter Lawford on the phone when she took the pills and she was saying things like ‘Say goodbye to Bobby,’ and ‘Say goodbye to Jack.’ Perhaps she thought he would get the message and send an ambulance to save her, but apparently he didn’t figure it out and he hung up and went back to bed.”
Now that Gordon has matured a bit (her own two daughters are 20 and 17), she is often cast as “either a clueless concerned mother or a bitch,” she notes.
In any event, it’s a long way from her undergraduate days at Brown, where she graduated with honors in history and was bent on being a lawyer or a historian. “I love doing research,” she says. “You pile it up and move on, but it’ll always be there waiting for you.”
She went on, however, to get an MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama, where she played Ophelia in “a famously bad production of Hamlet. They wanted me to look wan and pale, I guess,” she explains, “so they covered me with flour and when I came out for the curtain call I was scattering giant puffs of flour all over the stage.”
She is excited about her current adventure in Open House. “Shem is not defensive and he listens to suggestions or questions — he’s an actor as well as a playwright and he sees no special preciousness about actors — but I’ve lost every argument I’ve had with him,” she says with a laugh.
“I would compare him to Pinter, whose characters don’t always say what they mean. They say what people say when they don’t want to say what they’re thinking.
“Bob Cicchini and I have to create tension and suspense every night. That’s paramount. There’s a lot that hangs in the air between us — need, grief, desperation, anguish — enormous emotion that leaves us shattered by the end.
“It has a big effect on both of us. We both are losing sleep, and both of us have driven miles out of our way without realizing that we’ve missed our exit to the theater.”
Let’s hope she makes it to the theater for opening night!
Open House, Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont, LA 90027. Opens Saturday. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Through August 25. Tickets: $29-34. skylighttheatrecompany.com. 702-582-8587.