Five Burning Questions with Present Laugher Star Kristine Nielsen
April 26th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Kristine Nielsen is cracking up audiences at Broadway's St. James Theatre co-starring opposite Kevin Kline and Kate Burton in the acclaimed revival of Noel Coward's Present Laughter. The Tony Award nominee brings infinite joy and warmth to the role of Monica Reed, the personal assistant to Kline's Garry Essendine.
Highlights from her long, varied stage career include You Can't Take It With You, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Iceman Cometh, and frequent collaborations with Christopher Durang, such as her epic phone call scene in the Tony-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. She also appears on Amazon's new series Zelda. BroadwayBox caught up with Kristine to talk about her comedy idols, finding and perfecting a physical joke, and taking on Puck in Midsummer.
1. What’s your process for finding a joke, especially a nonverbal one? Is it something that’s discovered and perfected in the rehearsal room, alone, during previews?
I believe finding the perfect way to physicalize a joke is with your fellow cast-mates in the rehearsal hall, and then let your director shape its trajectory. The final arbiter is always the audience. You will know immediately if you've been barking up the wrong tree. Most of the time, for me, my physical responses are all reactions to something said or done to me by other actors. A solitary attempt at a bit usually ends in disaster for me. The one exception in Present Laughter for me might be my reaction in discovering Joanna in the morning. That is totally based on the script analysis of how disapproving Monica is of her and how far Gary has fallen. They collide in a look of horror and a complete breakdown of Monica's efficiency.
2. Who were your comedy idols? How did they shape the actress we see today?
I have so many great comics to thank, starting with Lucy and Ethel, Carol Burnett, Zazu Pitts, Eve Arden, Claudette Colbert, Dorothy Loudon, and, of course my idol, Maggie Smith. Also Burns & Allen, Peter Sellers, Cary Grant (he and Maggie Smith have rival triple takes—his in Arsenic and Old Lace and hers in a staged Private Lives I was privileged to see in Chicago!), Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters, Paul Lynde, and the great Jack Benny. I could obviously go on and on and on! They were all brave, full-throttled and shameless. But they also shared a great humanity. I can only try to follow in their giant footsteps.
3. What’s a smaller moment in Present Laughter that you enjoy immensely but audiences might miss on the first view?
My most precious moment I don't really want to highlight too much. It occurs in the last scene with Kevin Kline when I'm saying good night and goodbye before he heads off to Africa. I hope you'll see how dear he is to her and grateful she is to have been rescued from a humdrum life filled with loneliness and dinners with that sinister old Aunt. All of that attempted in a glance!
4. After this run, you're starring as Puck in Shakespeare in the Park's A Midsummer Night's Dream. How did discussions begin for that? What excites and scares you most about that?
The director Lear deBessonet asked me to do a reading of Midsummer for a few people at The Public. I kept thinking I'd heard wrong when the role offered was Puck. My agent had a good laugh with me and said he'd had to ask twice as well. Well, it was a lot of fun. I loved her energy and ideas—fairies of a "certain age"....and the thought of playing Puck scared me to death. So, of course, I must do it!
5. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stay brave—Tell good stories—Keep curious—Be terribly wrong—and don't let them put you in a box. The sky is still the limit.
Don't miss comedy queen Kristine Nielsen in 'Present Laughter' at Broadway's St. James Theatre through July 2.