For more than five decades, Marsha Mason has triumphed as an actress in every medium, earning four Oscar nominations and two Golden Globes for her film work, an Emmy nomination, and endless accolades for her stage work, which includes plays by Tennessee Williams, Terrence McNally, and Harold Pinter.
A longtime resident of New Mexico, Mason moved to Litchfield County in 2019 and is finally working on her new home turf. This April, she brings her talents to Hartford Stage, where she will co-direct and star in their production of Lost in Yonkers, written by Mason’s late ex-husband Neil Simon.
She recently spoke to Connecticut Voice about why she relocated, her reasons for working on this play, and why she has found fulfillment in becoming a director.
V: Why did you choose to move to Connecticut after your time in New Mexico?
MM: I chose it to come back east after 20 years because I really wanted to focus on working in theater; I love everything about it—from the process to the sense of community. But because I had spent all those years in a rural area, I was indelibly attached to nature, which is one reason Connecticut made sense. And I have a lot of close friends in the general area of where I live now. So first, I rented a barn on my friend Jack O’Brien’s property and then I found this hayfield where I was able to build this house. I just love everything about it!
V: How did the pandemic change your life and your thinking?
MM: It made me want to focus even more on just doing theater. In New Mexico, I built a business selling medicinal herbs, and I had thought about starting another business, but I realize I’m not sure I want to split my time doing more than one thing. I want to simplify my life. And because the world is so uncertain, it made it even more important for me to find what’s within. So, I do a lot of meditation. I think it’s so important to just create time for ourselves and tune out the outside world.
V: Even though Lost in Yonkers was written by Neil, this is your first experience with this play. Tell me about playing Bella?
MM: First off, it’s really beautiful writing. And as you get older, it’s harder to get challenged as an actor. I feel like I really have a lot to offer at this point, but so many people don’t think about what older people possess, such as wisdom, experience, and a history of moral living. Other cultures are much better at revering their elders.
The part of the grandmother, who I play, is just so wonderful. And because of all the migration and
immigration issues that are brought up in the play (Grandma is a German immigrant), there’s a kind of prescience in doing this now. And there’s also the lesson in the play of the need to have warmth in your family and the need to be loved, which matters to me. Grandma is tough, and in preparing I thought a lot about my maternal grandmother from Lithuania who was a lot like her.
V: Was there a specific reason you wanted to also direct the play?
MM: I wanted to direct it to make sure the material had depth. With Neil’s work, too often people just go for the laughs. But I am so grateful to have Rachel Alderman co-directing because I need someone to direct me. And finally, we have an all-female creative staff, which is so exciting. We have to find more work for women. The parity is still not there.
V: How does being an actor influence your directing?
MM: I think one thing I bring is that I understand what the actor is going through. I understand how to help them when they’re stuck, or when they need to play. I think a lot of the success I had in Cinderella Liberty, was because I was directed by Mark Rydell, who was an actor.
Also, the 20 years of managing a working farm and handling all these men working for me, and then becoming an entrepreneur. That all means I can make decisions quickly easily and quickly. I am not an ambivalent person. That really helps in directing.
V: So, we’ll see you directing more, especially in Connecticut?
MM: I really hope this is beginning of ongoing relationship with Hartford Stage. At the end of the day, I’ve discovered I find directing more fulfilling than anything else I’ve done. I feel like I am a big engine, and I am firing on all pistons!
Lost in Yonkers runs from April 7- May 1 at Hartford Stage. Find complete show information at hartfordstage.org.