May 13, 1985
New York Magazine
Right Time, Right Place
By Eric Pooley
“I know about the gut stuff,” says writer and actress Mary Kay Place, rushing to explain why she’s so excited about her stage debut in Juno’s Swans, which will open May 22 at Second Stage. “Communicating without words, sparking off the other actors, letting the unconscious start pumping stuff out and … so … what was the question again?” Place sighs and smiles her bashful, squinty smile, apologizing “for being so durn tired.”
Place, 37, perhaps best known for her performance as Meg, the aspiring single mom in The Big Chill, has every right to be tired. On a Sunday evening just five days before Juno is to begin previews – and just three weeks after it began rehearsal – she’s studying her lines in an Upper West Side restaurant and talking about her very funny, very nervous role as a eccentric actress groping for rapprochement with a disapproving older sister. The play is the first written by actress E. Katherine Kerr and the first that actress Marsha Mason has directed in New York. With all those firsts, it’s not surprising that Place’s pressure-cooker preparations and “wired to the hilt” reaction to New York City have robbed her of sleep: Staying at the apartment of a friend, Big Chill co-star JoBeth Williams, she’s still not used to “the major gang wars, kids yelling ‘I’ll kill you!’ outside the window all night long – and on a school night!” She shakes her head in disbelief, playing the Oklahoma kid who still gets floored by the big city.
Place arrived in Los Angeles in 1969 fresh out of the University of Tulsa, and worked her way up through the ranks of some of TV’s better sitcoms. She appeared in and co-wrote scripts for such programs as “M*A*S*H” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and then won hearts (and an Emmy) in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” as country singer Loretta Haggers. After a string of small, glowing performances in movies like New York, New York and Starting Over, she captured something important in The Big Chill about women trying to beat the biological clock (Place herself has never been married).
That film was acclaimed for the actors’ almost telepathic communication, and Place is trying to make that happen again with Betty Buckley and Daniel Hugh-Kelly, her co-stars in Juno’s Swans. After the play closes in June, Place will be seen in a film adapted fro a Joyce Carol Oates story and in a comedy special with Martin Mull. She’ll also return to her house in a “Leave It to Beaver” part of West L.A.,” to complete a screenplay. None of this, however, before finding a small Manhattan apartment, “a tiny nest to work in, with A.C. and six of those white-noise machines so I can work in peace. ‘Cause honey, I’ve got stuff to do.”