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by Tim Treanor
She could probably have her name legally changed to “Helen Hayes Nominated Holly Twyford” without offending accuracy, though it would probably look awkward on the program. She has 16 nominations (she’s won four times), including for last year’s Orestes: A Tragic Romp, and she has played everything from Juliet to a tap-dancing pig. Now, for the first time, she’s gracing a Shakespeare Theatre Company production—as Anna, the enigmatic visitor in Harold Pinter’s Old Times. I asked her how she’s going to do it—and why.
Tim Treanor: What is there about acting that compels people to do it despite the financial challenges?
Holly Twyford: The benefit is it’s an opportunity to get back to your imagination, an opportunity to explore somebody else’s world and leave yours at the stage door. There is something about these characters who are larger than life, and whose problems are larger than life. And whose joys are larger than life, also. So I think I must walk away from that having learned something. And if somebody in the audience can see that and maybe see a little bit of him or herself, that’s another kind of payoff.
TT: Tell us a little bit about Anna. In an interview with Joel Markowitz you said that to be able to play a character you have to fall in love with her, you have to “find the love in the scene.” Have you found something about Anna to love?
HT: Oh, there’s so much. I love her—I mean, she’s got a great wit, and she’s clearly got love of life, and I love the way she tells a story. If you’re going to get into a character, it’s not that hard to find the love in there somewhere. Even the real baddies. It was a professor of mine from college who told us to find the love in the scene. I’ll never forget it and it’s served me well. Because I think that’s where truthfulness comes from. If you comment, and judge your character, you’re not coming at it from the right way, also, if you’re concerned about how your character is going to be perceived, then you’re also not coming at it the right way.
TT: Is there anything about Anna which sets her apart from the other characters you’ve played?
HT: I think one of the things that struck me was her stillness. And I’m interested in exploring that more as an actor…I usually play characters that are very expressive. I’m thinking back to Diane in The Little Dog Laughed (Signature Theatre). She had a loud way of moving through the world. And Bella in Lost in Yonkers (Theater J) had a certain energy. And so, I’m really interested in exploring the opposite of that, with Anna, because I think it would be interesting for me as an actor. What I can turn off.
TT: You’ve appeared in virtually every theater in Washington. But this will be the first time working with the Shakespeare Theatre Company. So what about this play or this production drew you to STC?
HT: To have Michael Kahn call you on the phone is rather flattering. So that’s how it began. And then when I read the play, it was a no-brainer. There’s something amazing about Pinter. There’s something magic about his words and his rhythms, his rhythms especially. You know, the joke of Pinter is about the Pinter pauses, and the key to the pauses is that they are sometimes as full as the words. And I’m fascinated to explore that. There are so many factors but sometimes you read a play, and you think, “I gotta do that.”
Tim Treanor is the senior reviewer for DC Theatre Scene (DCTheatreScene.com) and has written more than 350 reviews of Washington-area professional theatre productions over the past six years. He is a member of the American Theater Critics Association. By day, he’s a trial lawyer for a Federal Agency.