At the end of our read through of The Glass Menagerie back in August, Patti McCarthy put her script down and shook her head. "These are a lot of lines!" she exclaimed. "Amanda never stops talking!" The high line count is just the beginning of the difficulties an actor faces when taking on Amanda Wingfield, Tennessee Williams' domineering matriarch character. Based on his own mother, Tennessee wrote the character of Amanda with such depth and range of feeling that she joins characters like Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Maggie (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as one of the plum female roles written by Williams that many actors dream of playing.
There is no one more suited to playing this complex character in the North Metro than Patti McCarthy. She and her husband, Tom, are the writers and producers of the material performed at the Seasons Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks Golf Club in Ham Lake, MN. Patti also makes time to perform at Lyric Arts, and has been cast in such juicy roles as Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt: A Parable. A seasoned (pardon the pun) actor, Patti is well loved by Lyric Arts, and by her cast members. Here she talks about the challenges of playing Amanda, and lets us get to know her more personally.
PM: Hi! My name is Patti J. Hynes-McCarthy. I am originally from a small town near Brainerd, MN called Pillager... population 450! It was in my tiny high school, among a class of 36 students, that I grew a love for acting and went on to the University of Minnesota Morris and received a degree in Theatre/Speech, as well as a secondary education certificate. I then went on to North Dakota State University, where I received a Master’s Degree in Speech with an emphasis in Theatre. I met my husband at NDSU who was also getting his Master’s degree. We married and moved to Coon Rapids, MN and Tom began his teaching career at Anoka Ramsey Community College. I began a career in Human Resources, and we both became involved with community theatre.
In 1988, we had our first son, Christopher, and began performing and directing theatre at The Seasons at Bunker Hills where we soon became the owners/producers of The Seasons Dinner Theatre. Fast forward 26 years and we are still producing two shows a year at The Seasons Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake, MN. We had a second son in 1992, Jonathon, and adopted a daughter from China in 2007, Josephine Mae McCarthy (Joie).
I enjoy family, great friendships, entertaining, gardening, travel, movies, pets and watching/supporting my children in their endeavors.
EP: What other shows have you been in at Lyric Arts?
PM: I had the good fortune of playing Sister Aloysious in Doubt, and Ethel Banks in Barefoot in the Park.
EP: What attracted you to this production?
PM: Glass Menagerie is classic, and I will try to perform in as many classics as I can! What actress wouldn’t want to say they have played Amanda Wingfield? Any Tennesee Williams play is worth the work. Other William’s works I’ve been fortunate enough to do in college/grad school: Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Mrs. Venerable in Suddenly Last Summer. It was so interesting to go from the sexy, restless, young Maggie, to the old, stroke ridden Mrs. Venerable! Ha! I loved it!
EP: You've got a lot of experience as both a director and an actor. What attracts you to each job? If you had to pick one to pursue for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
PM: I am by nature an actor, but became a writer of scripts for our dinner theatre. It was baptism by fire, and I have learned to love it! Directing is not my preference, but have done it. It seems a bit overwhelming to me to be ‘in tune’ to all the working parts of a show as a director must. I much prefer to just concentrate on one aspect of it, such as developing a character. However, running a small dinner theatre has totally taken me out of my comfort zone, performing the roles of choreographer, props, set decorator, marketing, business leader, costumer, stage manager... you name it. This has been very good for me and stretched me to do things beyond what I ever thought I’d be able to do. I’d still prefer to be an actor, but I have to say that writing scripts ranks right up there!
EP: Let's get right to it. Give me a three word summary of the production.
PM: Tragic. Dysfunctional. Sad.
EP: Talk to me about playing one of the legendary women of Tennessee Williams. What's the hardest part about playing Amanda? What's the best part?
PM: I have to be honest about this one... Amanda Wingfield talks... a lot! Just getting lines down for this show has been a bigger challenge for me than any other role I’ve played! But, beyond that, Amanda is not much of a sympathetic character, and my challenge has been first to find sympathy and compassion for her myself so the audience might be inclined to find some, too. In order to understand Amanda in the present of the show, one has to understand her past. In no way did her upbringing prepare her for the future. She was, after all, raised in the old South with plenty of servants around her, which in and of itself, makes her a less than sympathetic character to many people. She was fooled by a handsome stranger, which I gather she hardly knew who moved her far away from the home she loved, had two kids, and was then abandoned by a drunkard of a husband. In her day, her marriage was a mistake. She couldn’t atone for that embarrassment. Outside of Tom, her son, she’s had no help. Quite a leap from her childhood upbringing.
No matter what, Amanda loves her children. That is her most redeeming motivation. I simply try to use every opportunity I get to show that. She has her nice moments, and a bit of a sense of humor. She is very vulnerable, being a single mother, especially in her day and age with no hint of extended family around to help. I wonder who knows that her husband’s been gone that long. Since they keep his picture up in the house, she obviously still hopes and prays he’ll return home someday. I believe it must be kept on the wall for appearances sake. She’s had no divorce, therefore she can’t move on.
EP: How do you balance Amanda's determination and hope and desire to make the future better with the part of her that's stuck in the past?
PM: The part of Amanda that is stuck in the past is her flaw because she cannot see any future for her children, except through the eyes of her own Southern upbringing, and her children simply do not conform to her norms. Out of complete fear, she cannot stop comparing her son to his father, which is driving him away... the thing she fears the most! Out of fear, she cannot accept her daughter as having anything wrong with her when it is so painfully obvious that she does, and yet, Laura is not a hopeless cause. Laura is challenging, but not a hopeless cause. She needs love and patience, not a mother who pushes her so hard. Amanda cannot make changes because she refuses to accept what is. She refuses to see what she doesn’t want to see. She wants her children to be successful, but on her terms of what she deems successful.
EP: Has anything surprised or challenged you about this experience?
PM: As I mentioned, the lines have kicked my butt. But previously, I’ve seen her played like a babbling idiot, and I’d like people to understand her motivations. Also, I think Amanda is an ‘entertainer’ in her style of conversation. So, I’m hoping I can make her entertaining, too, so the audience is not just wishing she’d shut up! Ha!
EP: What's next for you, after The Glass Menagerie?
PM: I’ll be writing our Christmas show, Waiting for Mrs. Claus, for The Season’s Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks and then directing Forever Plaid for our Feb/Mar show!
EP: If you were an animal in Laura's glass menagerie, what animal would you be?
PM: Mamma Kangaroo.
EP: What's your favorite line from the show?
PM: “Little bird-like women, without a nest... forced to eat the crust of humility all their lives.”
EP:You have to switch roles in the show! What character are you going to play now, and why?
PM: I’d want to be Tom... that is a very challenging role and challenging roles are what we as actors should aspire to.
EP: Let's have some fun now. These aren't related to the show, just help us get to know you. Optimist or pessimist?
PM: I wish I could say optimist, but I’m far too pessimistic. I hate that about myself...
EP: Favorite book?
PM: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Because I have an adopted daughter from China and I learned so much from this book).
EP: Favorite music?
PM: Carol King/James Taylor/Melissa Manchester/ Simon and Garfunkel/Carlee Simon/Jim Croce
EP: Favorite play or playwright?
PM: Les Mis (musical) The Foreigner (comedy) Doubt (drama)
EP: Star wars or star trek?
PM: Star Trek.
EP: Pizza topping of choice?
PM: Veggie Pizza.
EP: Coffee or tea?
EP: Chocolate or vanilla?
EP: Favorite charity?
PM: Right now it’s the ALS Challenge as a good friend of ours died this summer of ALS at the age of 51... please donate to stop this horrifying fatal disease.
EP: Horror or romance?
PM: Romance. I hate horror movies!
What are your dream roles?
Anything Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith have ever done!
EP: You're going to teach a college class on any subject of your choosing. What class would you teach?