Angels in America

Cutting Loose

Kate Goehring Cast Herself Adrift To Do The National Tour Of `Angels'

Author: Michael Killian; Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON — It is raining. As I gaze at the water-thickened panes of the window, I am thinking of all the people who--like cats--are out there, somewhere.

Kate Goehring is out there, somewhere--I think this week in L.A., which is truly, truly out there. She is that endearing Chicago actress of Victory Gardens, Northlight, Wisdom Bridge and Goodman Theatre fame remembered for "Hunting Cockroaches," "The Rover" and her luminous and illuminating presence in "Dancing at Lughnasa," among many splendid roles.

You might remember her better were you in a Chicago audience for the national company production opening of "Angels in America" there last fall, as the daft, weirdly dressed and irrepressibly unsuccessful Mormon bride Harper Pitt, who serves as the heroine of that multi-Tony Award-winning "fantasia." Kate came to Chicago directly from Oberlin College seven years ago, and commenced a swiftly improving theatrical career, rising from school auditorium productions to equity player to stellar roles at the Goodman.

But now she's cut loose, adrift, become theatrical flotsam. To do "Angels" on the road, she not only left the city, her mother and her day job as a writer of fundraising proposals for the St. Joseph Children's Center; she gave up her apartment.

When she was cast in "Angels," it must have seemed she'd died and gone to heaven, as the principal character does in the play's most spellbinding scene. But, instead, she has gone to Minneapolis. Also, Boston, New Haven, Miami, Saratoga, Pittsburgh and Washington. "What I've found out is, sitting and not knowing, how much knowing is an illusion. My permanent residence. Who among us really has a permanent residence?"

Before the "Angels" tour ends, or she decides to leave it--both events about as precisely determined in time as the melting of the polar ice cap--she also will have trod the boards in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Denver, Tucson, Tempe, Palm Desert, Iowa City, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Schenectady, Cleveland, Durham, Lincoln, Neb., and Lawrence, Kan., among myriad other places without Ritz-Carlton Hotels. And in February, unless there's a change, Kalamazoo.

"I gave up my apartment in Chicago, and I did that very deliberately," she said, during a recent lunch while the show was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. "It wasn't because I wanted to go," she said. "Not because I knew where I wanted to go. But because I knew I wanted to live. I knew there wouldn't be so many times in my life I would be at so much liberty. To not know. Not know! I wanted to not know! This from a lady who as an infant was noted for her supreme contentment wherever she was placed and whose first theatrical role was as a rock. "I was the third rock under the bridge in `Three Billy Goats Gruff,' " she said. "I was a great rock. It was different from a stone. I knew that in 3rd grade. Not like a stone at all."

She wanted to be an actor, and went, not to chase auditions in New York or L.A., but immediately to Chicago. She came prepared not with Method or tricks she picked up watching Julia Roberts, but with "Moby Dick."

In "Moby Dick," they go out in small boats onto a tossing sea in search of an elusive great white whale. Kate has gone out onto a sea of hotel rooms.

In the meantime, there's Schenectady

St. Joan

Alive and Kicking

Author: Robert Trussell; The Kansas City Star

Kate Goehring was reflecting on how often actors die. Once she appeared in an episode of "The Untouchables," a short-lived revival of the series about 1920s gangbusters, in which she was blown up in a car.

When she appeared in "Machinal" two years ago at Missouri Repertory Theatre, she died in the electric chair. Now, playing the title character in the Rep's production of "Saint Joan," she is led off stage to be burned at the stake.

"Every time I come to Kansas City I die horribly," she said one afternoon at a sidewalk coffee shop in the Country Club Plaza.

It was not, strictly speaking, an accurate statement. As writer Ayn Rand in "Work Song," an adventurous play about Frank Lloyd Wright, she was allowed to live.

Classic to modern

…The Connecticut native who at Oberlin College studied not theater but American romantic fiction now is making her third appearance before Missouri Rep audiences. But she has performed widely in regional theater, including several productions in Boston when Peter Altman, the Rep's producing artistic director, ran the Huntington Theatre there. Among her credits are performances in the world premiere of Tony Kushner's "Slavs!" at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., and the national tour of Kushner's "Angels in America."

In Shaw's version of the story of Joan of Arc, Goehring said she finds remarkable relevance to modern society. In the play, Joan is depicted as an innocent whose belief that she receives messages directly from God challenges the authority of the 15th-century power structure in France and England.

"One of the great things about Peter Altman - I've worked with Peter over the past 14 years - he's committed to the classics," she said. "You'll never ever see a production of a classic in his theater that belongs in a museum. And I think that choice, in and of itself, is a very political choice - and radical."

Unpredictability and toes

Goehring has a restless intellect, and a conversation with her meanders through mountains and across valleys, touching on politics, the media, TV commercials, her 1996 guest-star shot on "ER," her favorite films (they include Julie Taymor's "Titus"), the importance of critics and the excitement of working on a new Tony Kushner play.

The role she played in Kushner's "Slavs!" had not been written, so all the actors read the opening speech of Kushner's "Perestroika," the second part of "Angels in America," by a character identified as the World's Oldest Bolshevik. As it turned out, that speech also opened "Slavs!

Kushner, it appeared, was feverishly writing even as the actors were being selected for the show.

"When we got there for the first rehearsal, the script was so hot from the photocopying," she recalled.

Just as the creative process can be unpredictable before opening night, it can be just as variable in performance with a set script, Goehring said. She was thinking of the trial scene in "Saint Joan."

"That's a scene I would love to tell students about - the joy of that creative process," she said. "The way that scene evolves. The ingredient you can't control. The mystery of when it starts to fly…

"I think that's the thing I love most about theater, that it's not a static art. It is constantly evolving until the day you take it all apart and throw it in the dumpster ... "The shows I've done here have all been technically big, big shows - state-of-the-art design elements - and short runs. We do these things and then we take them all apart and they're gone, which I think is thrilling."

Theater, Goehring believes, can free people, heal them, change their lives. The stage, she said, is good for our "neuro-transmitters." But there's a healing aspect for the actors as well. Theater folk have a way of pulling together in times of crisis, as evidenced by the support she received during a recent on-stage injury. Goehring is barefoot in the trial scene and she caught her foot on a piece of scenery as she made her exit.

"When I broke my toe, it happened at the end of the trial scene, and I could not make an entrance or an exit the night after that without feeling hands on either arm basically carrying me," she said. "I didn't know where they came from."

The break remains painful, but as of late last week she had missed no performances.

"I got caught on some stuff," she said. "It was really gross because my toe was like headed west when it should have been heading south. And what really made me mad about it was: 'Well, if you're such a saint, why don't you heal your toe? You can raise the siege of Orleans and you can't heal your toe?' "

Little Foxes

Taking the road to greed and evil




It's Labor Day week, and most of Charlotte's live theaters seem to be taking a holiday.

Across the region, though, some illustrious stage villains are hard at work. These baddies make it a good time for a theatergoing vacation to Greensboro ("The Little Foxes"), High Point ("The Crucible"), or Flat Rock ("Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure"), where, as that immortal crime-fighter likes to say, the game is afoot. Here, with help from three gifted actors in those plays, we talk with characters who seem to be operating under their own rules:

New York-based actor Kate Goehring of Triad Stage speaks as REGINA Giddens in "Foxes," a classic Southern melodrama in which a family matriarch sabotages her relatives' business interests.

Charlotte actor Graham Smith of N.C. Shakespeare wears the cloth of Deputy Governor DANFORTH, judge of the notorious Salem witch trials, in "The Crucible," Arthur Miller's drama inspired by the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

And Asheville-based actor Michael MacCauley, of Flat Rock Playhouse, channels Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, MORIARTY.

Q: As different as you three are - and these plays are - your stories all illustrate the corrupting influence of power. What's driving you? Is it just a power trip, or are there deeper motivations at work?

REGINA: Corruption is a symptom of bad taste. I avoid it whenever possible.

DANFORTH: There is a moving plot to topple Christ in this country. The voice of heaven is driving me.

MORIARTY: What drives me is an innate sense of responsibility to provide a kind of balance in the lopsided equation that is this world; a world of good and evil, where one does not exist without the other. I provide the latter.

Q: Are there moments when you question your motivation - or feel regret for your actions? Can you describe those feelings, and how you cope with them?

REGINA: There is that one thing I do. Well, it's kind of - oh, you'll just have to come and see.

DANFORTH: I stay the course.

MORIARTY: Every move I make is carefully planned and precisely executed, with no room for error or doubt. As to whether or not I feel regret for my actions, I feel certain you must be joking, so I shall refrain from responding.

Q: Do you expect you'll ever pay for your misdeeds, in this life or the next? What, if any, would be a fair punishment, in your view?

REGINA: I believe you have a tune written in the latter part of your 20th century stating that girls just want to have fun. Women actually insist on it. Punishment is never fair.

DANFORTH: Fortunately, my job entails judging others.

MORIARTY: Punishment? For what? For doing what is necessary? For fulfilling my destiny? The only retribution in this or the next life is that which we create ourselves. I am master of my own universe, and at certain advantageous times, master of yours as well.

Q: Of the three of you, who do you think is the worst (or best, depending on your outlook) villain?

Editor's note: This question drew only bafflement from the characters, as each said they'd never heard of the other two. REGINA, though, expressed an interest in meeting the two gentlemen and sharing notes.

Q: What might we mortals in the audience - people who at least try to be good, most of the time - learn from your adventures?

REGINA: Don't try this at home.