Olympia Dukakis flies solo for a reading of ‘Rose’ at Strathmore


Olympia Dukakis is the one woman in one-woman show “Rose.” (Christian Oth)

Olympia Dukakis is best known for her work as a member of movie ensembles — her Oscar-winning turn as the matriarch of an Italian-American family in “Moonstruck,” or her role as Clairee, one of the beauty parlor patrons in “Steel Magnolias.” Thursday at Strathmore, though, Dukakis will go it alone for a concert reading — it’s just her, her script and a bare-bones set — of “Rose,” the one-woman show she’s been performing off and on for nearly 15 years.

You opened this show on Broadway in 2000. Why keep coming back to it for so long?
Well, first, when I started, I had never done a one-woman show before. I liked working with other actors. But then [“Rose”] was offered to me, and I did it, and it really changed me, to be honest.

Changed you how?
First of all, just the memorizing — I thought, “I don’t even know if I can do this.” Then I had to sit the whole time. I wasn’t able to move, I couldn’t even get up, and I had to talk to the audience directly. Literally all my concerns as an actor, they all had to be confronted, they all had to be gotten through.

Has how you approach the character changed?
First, the play is quite a political play; it’s about an American Jewish woman sitting shiva for a Palestinian girl that her Israeli grandson shot. One of the things that’s happened is the dialogue around what is happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Israelis and the Arab nations has changed. At first I would have American Jewish audiences yelling at me that the play was anti-Semitic. Since the climate has changed, people come to it and want to have dialogue about it afterwards.

But have those external factors affected your performance?
Oh, no. No. The audience, they have a right to act any way they want, but that doesn’t mean I have to accommodate them. And that’s one of the things I’ve learned, that the audience can have whatever experience it wants. Laugh when it wants, leave when it wants, grow when it wants — but that means I can then take over the play and move through it in a way that makes sense to me and feels important to me.

That must be very freeing.
It is! And that was something I didn’t necessarily understand and know fully before I did this play. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. It would have been nicer if I came to it when I was in my 30s, in my 40s. I was in my 50s when I came to it. I guess I should be glad I learned it at all.

Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; Thu., 8 p.m., $26-$70; 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor-Strathmore)

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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