Wettig, although perhaps most famous for her television roles, is hardly a theater rookie. She got her start as a member of the Circle Repertory Company in New York and has worked as a playwright, too; her play “My Andy” was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2005.
In “The Normal Heart,” a play about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City, Wettig plays Emma Brookner, a physician whose childhood bout of polio left her wheelchair-bound. The wheelchair was tricky to master at first, she said, “like learning to drive a car. . . . But it actually becomes second nature.”
It’s a good thing she has that part on autopilot because Wettig needs all her energy for the theatrical task at hand. “You’re like a little soldier,” she said of working on the production. “You have to come ready for battle.”
“The Normal Heart,” is just as much a call to arms as it is an anthropological study of a place and a panic that many audience members won’t remember or recognize. For that very reason, Wettig said, “I hope we get a young audience. . . . People that are really moved and rocked by this play [are] really young audiences. . . . It wasn’t that long ago, but it hasn’t been in their lifetime.”
Even given the passage of time, “I don’t find it dated,” Wettig added. “I actually feel that the play, when it was first done, was more like a polemic. It was a battle cry. . . . I think it’s evolved to be a more artistic piece. And it has a profound message, not just about AIDS, [but] about compassion for people that are different, for people that are suffering.”
Through July 29 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org.
Breakdown, then a big break
Alyssa Gagarin was sitting on the side of highway. Her hair was in curlers, her dress was on a hanger, her car — her beloved gold Saturn, the vehicle in which she learned to drive, in which she’d road-tripped in last summer when she made a cross-country trek to Los Angeles — was, in her words, “completely dead.” She was stranded an hour outside her destination, New York City, where the Shakespeare Theatre Company was holding callbacks for “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” She didn’t even have a smartphone to search for the nearest gas station. And she was bawling.
The then-Penn State senior had a callback for “Merry Wives,” which would be her first professional gig ever. There was only one thing standing between her and her big break, and that was a broken-down car.
Gagarin called her parents. She was, by her own description, “a sobbing mess.” “I don’t want to go to this audition,” she said. “Just, someone come get me now!”