One of the first times Lindsay Crouse performed on stage was when she was seven-years-old. She played a shepherd in her second grade Christmas show.
During the performance when her shepherd self was onstage seated on a rock watching her flock at night Crouse’s friend, Lizzie, came on as the angel Gabriel. “I must have known that angels were full of light, because as she approached I threw myself on my back and shielded my eyes with my arm,” recalls Crouse. “No one had told me to do that. I can still remember the feeling in my body. It was real to me. I remember the sensation, the joy of doing that.”
Looking back, that moment helped set her on the path to performing. “My whole body knew,” says Crouse. Theater was part of Crouse’s DNA. Her parents and grandparents were legendary theater artists. Her mother, Anna Erskine Crouse, was an actress, author and key force at The Juilliard School. Her playwright father, Russel Crouse was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team Lindsay and Crouse whose credits include The Sound of Music and Anything Goes. Her grandfather was a longtime president of Juilliard.
“Growing up surrounded by people creating in the theater meant that I witnessed the bravery of invention,” she shares. “I saw that the process was very, very difficult at times, with a lot at stake, but ultimately beautiful. The theater inspired me again and again. How rewarding it would be to inspire others!”
What really sealed the deal was studying with the great acting teacher Uta Hagen. “When it’s a joy to work really hard, and even to be critiqued by the best, you know you’ve met your true destiny,” says Crouse whose vast and eclectic credits includes House of Games, The Verdict, The Insider, The Homecoming, All The President’s Men, Places in the Heart, for which she received an Academy Award nomination, and on and on. She has also been nominated for Emmy and Grammy awards.
Crouse is currently performing off Broadway in Morning’s At Seven at Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City. Written in the 1930s by Paul Osborn, the play centers around four sisters who have buried their inner most longings. In addition to Crouse, who plays one of the sisters, Dan Wackerman, artistic director of The Peccadillo Theater Company, directs a cast of acting heavyweights including Alma Cuervo, Dan Lauria, Patty McCormack, Alley Mills, Tony Roberts, John Rubinstein, Keri Safran and Jonathan Spivey.
“It’s a play set in the 1920’s in the Midwest, about a family of four sisters in their later years who’ve live next door to each other,” says Crouse. “As the play unfolds, their deepest desires rise to the surface. The sisters are in their 60’s, moving towards the last part of their lives, a fact that creates internal pressures that set the play in motion.”
Crouse relishes the opportunity to do live theater, especially now. “How amazing to get all these fine actors to do an Off-Broadway run for the joy of helping open the theater after a long period of darkness,” she says. “I was delighted to join them.”
Jeryl Brunner: Throughout Morning’s At Seven your character, Cora, is willing to fight for what she believes in at a time when women were supposed to go along with their husbands. Why do you think Cora has that fire inside her?
Lindsay Crouse: Cora has paid her dues, housing her younger sister for years, always wondering whether her own husband has divided loyalties. In the course of the play she says to him “We haven’t got many years left ahead of us, have we?” and she acts on that, telling him the truth of her own suffering. To me this shows the great gift of getting older. You know there is little time, so you’re aware of what life is worth. That awareness can elicit strength you never knew you had.
Brunner: If someone were to ask you, “Why should I see Morning’s At Seven?,” what would you say?
Crouse: It’s a play about the full human journey, offering wisdom and humor on all fronts. It’s not just “an old chestnut” as some describe it. It’s a significant play—well crafted and insightful—and offers wisdom to every generation. Yes, it’s charming and and funny, but it contains a warning: it fully displays the tragedy of suppressed yearnings as they deepen through the years.
To me the play says, don’t hide your heart’s desire, don’t be defined by social norms. Above all, by creating characters of a certain age Osborne is saying don’t wait, live the truth of your life now. That is an important message especially for women. It’s sad to say how true it is, even so many years after this play was written.
Brunner: What an inspiring cast of actors. What was rehearsal like with these acting titans, like you?
Crouse: It makes me laugh to be described as a titan. I’m 5’4”. Rehearsals were a lot of fun. We love each other and respect each other. (Don’t tell them I said that!) Like many brothers and sisters we spend a lot of time insulting each other. It’s a very funny group.
On a serious note, this play can be directed in different ways. Making choices as actors is fascinating, a process we all love. It’s difficult and challenging, but exciting when you go through it with such a gifted and intelligent group. (Please, please don’t tell them that.)
Brunner: Can you share more about how all these incredible artists in your family helped shape you to become an actor?
Crouse: Oh my goodness, everybody in my family was a writer. I wrote stories when I was young, but I found it hard to sit still. I had to get up and move. I turned to dance. Soon, however, I realized I wanted to to fully express my feelings about things—all my feelings. I wanted to speak all those magnificent things others in my family were so beautiful articulating in writing, so I turned to acting.
My favorite fairy tale for many years was Rumplestilskin about a woman imprisoned and told to turn straw into gold until she finds out Rumplestiltskin’s name.
Of course it seems impossible. Straw is dead grass. In the story it symbolizes all the deep unconscious, including the jumble of feelings in a person that that has been rejected, suppressed and never articulated. It’s also where all poetic archetypes reside. “Rumpeln” means to make a noise. And she does.
Brunner: How did that story impact you?
Crouse: That story spoke to me. It’s symbolic of the rehearsal process, of any creative act. As an actor you start with not knowing how you are going to play a part. And in the search you are forced to discover that you possess something of value to play it. What an amazing profession—to be able to take every form of expression you possess and turn it into gold. For this you need a kind of baseline faith in yourself. It’s different from ego. It’s just the capacity to step up.
Brunner: What role are you aching to perform or is it yet to be written?
Crouse: Anything and everything. What comes up when I think about it is “toss it my way and let’s see.” I have ideas for things I’d like to create. Who knows? I’m a character actor, so anything’s possible. I’ll never stop. They’ll have to carry me off.