From D.C. to Curious Incident, Nancy Robinette Reflects on Her Favorite Regional Roles
January 13th, 2016
by Josh Ferri
Nancy Robinette has been dubbed "the Meryl Streep of Washington theatre", having cultivated a 35+ year career in the nation's capital that includes five Helen Hayes Awards. Now, at long last, Robinette makes her Broadway debut as Mrs. Alexander, the kind neighbor to protagonist, in the Tony Award-winning Best Play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
[On the night of my Broadway debut] I remember taking a bow and having to pinch myself. I thought, 'Oh my Gosh, I'm at the Barrymore.' I had seen a couple shows there years earlier and I just had to pinch myself to believe it.
BroadwayBox sat down with Robinette to discuss her acclaimed, near legendary D.C. stage career.
Well at Arena Stage
This was directed by Kyle Donnelly, one of my favorite directors, and we had Lisa Kron there for a couple weeks to help us understand the play and how it breaks down—the play within the play—and just talking about her mother made it so real to me. I finally did meet her [mother]; she came to see it. It was wonderful to do a play about someone who was so beautifully captured in the play and then to meet her. I was just flattered that she came.
Fat Men In Skirts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre
Howard Shalwitz, who runs Woolly Mammoth, was a big inspiration in my life. He was one of those people who really got me going and who I learned a lot from. Nicky Silver was there behind the scenes during this production and his energy was fantastic; it just permeated the process.. That's also one of my very favorite roles I’ve ever done. The mother and son had survived a plane crash and lived on an island for five years where they had become savages, and she was this high society lady before the crash.
Savannah Disputation at The Old Globe
I ended up at The Globe because Samantha Berry was the casting director for The Globe at the time and she grew up in Washington and remembered me from D.C.
The Little Foxes at Shakespeare Theatre Company
That is one of my favorite experiences ever. Doug Hughes directed and he directed it in a way that just brought it to life. He made it seem so present and relevant. Then to watch Elizabeth work was exquisite. It was great to do a classic play and to see why it’s a classic; that's the thing you look for. These plays keep being done for a reason and putting your finger on that pulse is exciting.
Way of the World at Shakespeare Theatre Company
This is Lady Wishfort waking up in the morning, and boy was that a tricky play—to even understand the plot. It’s so intricate. That was a great challenge to trust that the text would do things for you and you didn’t have to put a spin on it.
Heir Apparent at Shakespeare Theatre Company
I love the mix of actors and directors at the Shakespeare Theatre Company—people from New York, but also many different places, and a lot of us locals. It was a nice mix of talent, and I think it has to do with this idea of uncovering a classical text. Michael Kahn was particularly encouraging in terms of his scope, the quality of the productions, and what he wants to do.
The Rivals at Shakespeare Theatre Company
I always hear about The Rivals a lot, which is maybe the role that is my quintessential role. It was a great role to be able to inhabit. I have played a lot of clueless dowagers.
Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Theatre Company with McCarter Theatre
For Maria in The Twelfth Night I had a different idea for the character when I came through the door, and the director Rebecca Bayla Taichman wanted the four rascals to be people who haven't made very good choices in life. She directed Toby to be a true alcoholic and show the true ramifications of that in this context; and I didn’t quite understand it because I thought they were comic relief, but I actually came to love it. It was exactly what I was teaching in class: comedy is serious business.
An Ideal Husband at Shakespeare Theatre
That is a grande dame character. I got entrance applause in that show, and I realized later it was the costume. It’s so gorgeous, and I have to say that was the first time I really completely understood how much design works for an actor.
Souvenir at Studio Theatre
Studio Theatre is somewhere I worked a lot since the ‘70s. I took acting classes with Joy Zinoman and I ended up doing a lot of shows there over the years.
Frozen at Studio Theatre
For Frozen there was so much to draw from in terms of building a character. And Andrew Long, who is also in Curious, was in that with me. He played the criminal and I played the mother whose child he killed. We’ve done six or seven plays together.
Solid Gold Cadillac at Studio Theatre
Paul Mullins directed this on a rotating set and we filmed a couple of scenes on the steps of this grand Masonic building with columns to represent a government building and at an airport in Virginia, and he mixed the filming with the play and it was great fun.
The Play About the Baby at Studio Theatre
I think I’m more a comic actress. I suppose it goes to my basic view of life, I enjoy the challenges and absurdities of life. I have a fondness for people who are eccentric or neurotic. I taught comedy and I thought it always required a realistic base of dedication and relaxation—a sort of lightness of approach. If you attempt, the audience is not going to laugh.
Afterplay at Studio Theatre
It was fascinating to really look at these photos of myself out of context. I loved in Washington the variety of the big spectacle show and the small bare bones, two-chair play that also has a beautiful design. Really Washington is a wonderful theatre town because there is so much variety of plays that are produced. They can take risks that are interesting to do.
See Nancy Robinette's debut performance on Broadway in 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' at the Barrymore Theatre.