When she was a young stage actress working in English repertory during and after World War II, June Hansen often played American roles. But after moving to the States, she's often been the actor whom theaters call when they need a British woman of a certain age--from Henry Higgins's housekeeper in "Pygmalion" to an odd, avant-garde duck or two in Beckett's "Happy Days" or Pinter's "The Birthday Party," to Lotte in "Lettice and Lovage."
She's lived in the Washington area since husband Orval Hansen (she met him in South Africa, where he was lecturing and she was touring as the lead in Shaw's "Saint Joan") was elected to Congress from Idaho in 1968. After the oldest of their seven children grew up enough to baby-sit for the youngest, and her husband left politics after three terms, she stepped back onstage.
She did "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at Round House, but was timid about her American accent. "I found I was playing it by the letter; I didn't take liberties. But give me [classic English comic roles] Lady Bracknell or Madame Arcati, and I'm off and running, because you can get all sorts of different tones to it. But I can't do that to an American play in America," she said on the phone last week.
Currently, Hansen is back in England--onstage, that is--as the brusque but witty and wonderful Eleanor Swan in Tom Stoppard's "Indian Ink," now extended through Oct. 31 at Studio Theatre.
Hansen said that Studio Artistic Director Joy Zinoman had told her, " 'I'm not asking you to audition, I'm just asking you to play it,' which warmed the cockles of my heart." And she added, Zinoman has kept after her not to make the character too nice. "With me as a personality, what you see is what it is--there's no subtlety there at all. But with Eleanor, she has a brusqueness, or should have, you know," Hansen said.
Eleanor has a bit of the old colonial condescension about her, but she warms up. And she has a juicy past. "I like her spunkiness and I don't play too many parts who had an illegitimate child and was a communist in her youth. That's why I like her," Hansen said.
She began working on her part in early August. At 73, she finds the work a little harder, and her part in "Indian Ink" is huge. "I'm getting a bit gaga," she said. "It takes me longer to absorb words and business [stage directions] and everything else, you know."
Hansen started acting professionally at 16 and is still doing two plays a year in Washington.
"My father thought I would grow out of it," she said, "but I didn't, actually."
Too Good to Be Nice
"Hold, please," said actor Rick Foucheux during the final preview of "Edmond" at Source Theatre. He'd just finished a vicious fight scene in David Mamet's shattering play about a middle-class malcontent who sets off on a hate-filled journey through the inner city.
But Foucheux had fallen, hitting his forehead on the concrete floor. "I put my hand up on my head and felt that I was bleeding and knew that I couldn't go on," he said last week. They stopped the play and took him to George Washington University Hospital, where he got 17 stitches. He went on as scheduled for the opening, the stitches barely visible.
With Mamet's "Edmond," which runs through Oct. 3, Foucheux continues the exploration of his darker side begun last season as the seducer Valmont in a Source-Rep Stage co-production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." But "Edmond" was something else again. "When I first read the play, I wasn't all that sure I wanted to do it. The second time I read it, I said, 'Yes, yes,' " Foucheux recalled. "The thing about doing these roles is that it forces you to go inside yourself for what is there."
Foucheux, 45, came to professional acting after a life in television and radio as a reporter, anchor and magazine show host who dabbled in community theater. His wife, Mary Jeanne Jacobsen, urged him to pursue his dream after "Good Morning Washington," a Channel 7 show that he moved here to host, was canceled. He's from Louisiana, Cajun on both sides (pronounce his name foe-SHAY). Many of Washington's smaller theaters have cast him. He likes their intimate spaces, more suitable to his low-key style.
Source had postponed "Edmond" from last spring, which gave the actor more time to mull it over. "When I began to rethink this character, I thought, 'Yeah, I can go ahead and be meaner; I can be grittier.' I didn't have to display any charm to this audience or be likable."
There'll be more Mr. Not-So-Nice Guy when Foucheux plays that usurper Claudius in "Hamlet" at the Folger. This, he laughed, is "the fall of my discontent"--but in a good way.
Even More Seasonings
Teatro de la Luna, the imaginative Spanish-language company that performs at Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, begins its ninth season Friday with "Cuentos de Hadas (Fairy Tales)" by Raquel Diana, about life in Montevideo, Uruguay, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. It runs through Oct. 16. In November and December, the company will tour area schools with "The Box of Surprises" and "The Adventures of Pinocchio." From Feb. 8 to March 11, it'll present the Third International Festival of Hispanic Theater at Gunston, bringing in Spanish-language companies from Latin America, Spain and the United States. All main-stage productions offer simultaneous translation at certain performances. Call 703-548-3092.
The Stanislavsky Theater Studio, a troupe founded by emigres from the former Soviet Union who perform in English, will open with a rendering of Dostoevski's "The Idiot" (Nov. 17-Dec. 19), followed by Neil Simon's homage to Chekhov, "The Good Doctor" (Jan. 14-Feb. 13), and Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid" (April 19-May 21). "The Good Doctor," a co-production with Theater J, will be at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, the other two plays at the Church Street Theater. Call 301-946-4963.
* Actors Ted van Griethuysen and Floyd King will discuss their roles as Lear and the Fool in the current production of "King Lear" Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Shakespeare Theatre. It'll be part of the Pennsylvania Quarter district's Arts on Foot Festival. The theater will hold an open house from 11 a.m. into the afternoon, featuring sales of props and costumes, demonstrations of stage combat and how to create wrinkles, scabs and scars with makeup. Call 202-482-7271 or hit the Web site at www.artsonfoot.org.
* Teatro de la Luna received an award Friday from the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington--the 1999 Tony Taylor Award for "outstanding assistance to artists in the Washington region." Artistic Director Mario Marcel and Executive Director Nucky Walder, who founded the company, were honored for offering workshops in Spanish to train would-be performers from all over the Spanish-speaking world. They also hold workshops for children.
* Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will present "Hate Mail," a spoof of A.R. Gurney's treacly "Love Letters," at a benefit on Monday at 8 p.m. at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. Sarah Marshall and Floyd King will star; Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky wrote the play. The evening celebrates the publication of "Plays From Woolly Mammoth," an anthology of works premiered by the company. Call 202-234-6130, Ext. 503.
CAPTION: June Hansen as the witty Eleanor Swan in "Indian Ink," at Studio Theatre.