In When the Rain Stops Falling, Mary Beth Hurt plays Elizabeth Law, a 56-year-old Londoner trying to communicate with her 28-year-old son, Gabriel, and grappling with alcoholism. A younger version of Elizabeth Law, portrayed by Kate Blumberg, is also in Rain, so when I sat down with Hurt backstage the other evening I immediately asked: What's it like to have another iteration of your character onstage?
"I've never been in a play with this kind of character split." Hurt replied. "It's just one of the many unusual things about the piece, which I've loved ever since I did a reading of it. It's like no other play I've ever read." As for the character split: "It's wonderful. Sometimes, I look at Kate and think, 'It's me.' I've tried to take on some of her mannerisms, without overdoing it."
Hurt singled out for praise the playwright Andrew Bovell's use of repetition. "I like the fact that certain phrases keep coming up throughout. Because people do that - families have phrases that recur through the generations." Hurt mentioned Bovell's use in the script of constructing dialogue with a phrase. And then a period. And then a phrase. And then a period. "That captures the rhythm of how most of us talk in life."
I asked Hurt, who grew up in Iowa and lived in Chappaqua, New York for many years with her husband, the writer/director Paul Schrader (they are now buying an apartment in Manhattan, to go with their upstate place in Putnam County), to describe a sequence in the middle of Rain where the sets' turntables are in full use. At this point, her character is sitting alone, at a table, in her London apartment, staring at a glass of wine. Characters in other times and places are talking.
"That section lasts about 20 minutes," Hurt replied. "I do relate a couple of times to other things going on onstage. But mostly I don't want to distract from the action; I think of myself as what, in a film, would be called the second unit." (A second unit is a team that shoots footage which is of lesser, or at least different importance, than that involving stars: typically, it includes scenery, close-ups of objects, inserts.)
Hurt added that sometimes, as she looks at the wine, she wonders what it would be like to really want a drink: "What would that do to your body?"
I tell Hurt, whose most recent LCT credit was Wendy Wasserstein's play, Old Money, that Rain's treatment of alcoholism, and myriad other problems, didn't really depress me, and that, unlike some of the play's describers, didn't strike me as especially bleak or "dysfunctional."
"I agree," she answered. "What goes on in the play's families isn't that different than what goes on in many of our families. It isn't all that different from what's gone on in my own family." She added, with a smile, "and we've turned out pretty well."
"From what I can see of the audience during a performance," Hurt said, "I don't think that they think of the story as so bleak. I often notice people in the front row, crying or holding hands. It's a beautiful, emotional play."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.