Gayle Rankin, who plays Charlotte in The Mystery of Love & Sex, is very clear about the importance of the title’s subjects to Bathsheba Doran’s play. “Love and sex,” she told me backstage the other day in between a matinee and evening show, “are a huge part of being human.” But Rankin, who last season made an impression as the accordion-playing prostitute Fraulein Kost in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, thinks the Doran play has at least one more pressing theme.
“The play is also about the expectations that parents have for their children, and that children have of their parents.” She added: “No kid wants to disappoint her parents, and my character, Charlotte, is worried that she will cause disappointment.”
Rankin said that part of her work with the Doran play is “to separate the ways in which my character is different from me personally. That process is sometimes emotionally confusing for an actor.”
Rankin’s relationship with her own parents has been smoother than that between the parents and daughter in Doran’s play. “I have the most supportive parents in the world,” Rankin said. “They gave me great opportunities.”
For example: when she was 16, the Rankin family came from their home, near Glasgow, Scotland, to New York on a holiday, a vacation that proved pivotal. “We took one of those red-bus tours,” Rankin said. “The guide pointed out the Juilliard School, and I was immediately curious about the possibility of going there.” Amidst her training at a performing-arts school in Scotland, Rankin auditioned for Juilliard and got in.
“At Juilliard, I had to construct a solid American version of myself,” Rankin said, adding that she sometimes feels as if she has to keep this persona going offstage. “I’ll be in a taxi, or on the phone, and I feel that I have to speak with my American voice, so that I fit in, or so that I’m not being taken advantage of.”
Right out of Juilliard, Rankin got her Actors Equity card by appearing in The Illusion, Tony Kushner’s adaptation of a 17th-century play by Corneille. And she worked with The Lake Lucille Project, in upstate New York, for three years on a production of The Seagull. “That’s the play to end all plays for me,” Rankin confessed.
Rankin said that Doran’s drama has overtones of great works. “It’s very classical in its emotional demands. In many plays these days, actors are asked to make our emotions smaller.” Speaking familiarly of Doran and of the production’s director, Sam Gold, Rankin continued: “Sam and Bash have asked us to do this play to the hilt. It’s hard, but wonderful.”
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.