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Embracing cabaret and the Cape

Michael Crook

Joanna Gleason made her Broadway debut in 1977 in “I Love My Wife” and won a 1988 Tony Award for “Into the Woods.” Two years ago, she appeared in Boston in the Huntington Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of “Sons of the Prophet.” Now the 63-year-old Gleason, who is married to actor Chris Sarandon , is trying something new. Next weekend, she will perform “An Evening With Joanna Gleason” at the Art House in Provincetown. The program includes “Bloom,” a one-act solo play written for her by “Sex and the City” creator Michael Patrick King, a chat onstage with host Seth Rudetsky , and songs performed with Well-Strung, the string quartet in residence at the Art House this summer.

Q. Have you performed in Provincetown before?

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A. I had never been to the Cape before, so last year, I said to Chris, “Let’s go and see what this is all about.” We rented a house in Truro. It was the first week of June. It was raining and pelting and freezing — and I could not have been happier! We were walking down the street in Provincetown, and I ran into a man named Kevin Sessums, a journalist and writer. I had on a rain parka and my glasses and a hat and earmuffs. I looked like the Unabomber! Kevin rode by on his bicycle and shouted out, “I love you, Joanna.” He started to ride away, and I yelled, “Wait, come back!” He asked if I had ever thought of doing a show at the Art House, and I said no. I have always been afraid of this kind of thing.

Q. Can you tell me about #7, the character you play in “Bloom”?

A. She is an old soul who has been around for a very long time. It has been hundreds of years since she’s been on the earth as a human, and she is about to go out on this adventure again. I list all the reasons why it is just daunting to be down there. I talk about the body and all the ways it is built to fail and all the things that rob you of that essential spirit.

Q. In the play, you address the audience members as if they are souls about to go down to earth. You interact with them. Do you like that?

A. It is fabulous. I like to have partners. I can pull a guy out of the audience — like the guy sitting there in the circus saying, “Don’t pick me and stick me in that car full of clowns.” I bring him onstage. I play with him. I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel a fourth wall at all.

Q. You first performed “Bloom” in Los Angeles in 1998. How much did Michael Patrick King rewrite for this performance?

A. When I called him about resurrecting “Bloom,” he said, “I want to do it, I can get this to you by mid-May, but I need to get all this other stuff off my brain.” He is the executive producer of “2 Broke Girls,” and he is busy. He disappeared. I didn’t write him or call him, and then I got this script in the mail. It is this wonderful love affair of writer and actor that I have with Michael, this kind of magic.

Q. I’m curious about your fear of doing a cabaret-style act. What is that about?

A. I’ve been afraid to do it. I’m not one of those girls with the gowns and the arrangements. I go see other acts, and I think, “How can I charge that cover charge? What songs would I sing?” I think of every reason why not to. And then suddenly, I had some transformations in my own life.

Q. What were those transformations?

A. I took up ballroom dancing, the Argentine tango. I have been doing it religiously for two years. I lost 22 pounds. I grew my hair really long. I wear tight clothes. Yay! Why did I wait so long? We grow up with these fun-house versions of ourselves in the mirror. We say, “Oh, you are too old to start learning this.” I threw all that out the window.

Q. Does your husband dance with you?

A. No, my teacher is my partner. Chris is a natural dancer and a really good one, but he wasn’t interested in training. The NBA playoffs were on.

Q. Does your experience dancing onstage give you an edge on the dance floor?

A. I have been made to dance onstage, the way they train a bear in the circus. But I can step out on a stage, and I don’t have that layer of terror, which helps, being an absolute newbie.

Q. How could you have lost 22 pounds?

A. I’m pretty rail-thin. I haven’t gotten sick in two years. I have much more stamina. And you know that crypt of fallen jeans that you save in case they will fit again? I opened the crypt. I put them on and — dang! — if they didn’t fit!

Q. So what will you be wearing onstage in Provincetown?

A. In the first part, she is dressed all in white, in white skinny jeans and white platform tennis shoes. I am just deciding now what to wear for the second part. It will be tight and low-cut, because, why not?

Q. Have you thought about doing “Dancing With the Stars”?

A. No, that is not for me. You had to have been a star to begin with or some sort of celebrity. I am not Bristol Palin. I am not a sports hero. I am not a former congressperson. I am an actor.

Q. Your character in “Bloom” gives a lot of advice. What is your advice for young actors?

A. Ella Grasso, the late governor of Connecticut, said, “Bloom where planted,” which I love. I moved a lot as a kid. “Bloom where planted” is our obligation to thrive.

Q. Your father is Monty Hall, who was the host of “Let’s Make a Deal.” You must have had an interesting childhood.

A. We didn’t have a snazzy upbringing. We had the benefit of a great education. The reason we bloomed is because we had extraordinary parents. You bloom because of the nutrients in the earth.

Q. You first studied acting at Beverly Hills High School, right?

A. Oh yeah, and I am not in my class alone. Within a few years, I went to school with Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner. I went to our 40th reunion. They showed a film clip of us from 1968, when Cambodia was happening and Robert Kennedy was assassinated. They played “Eve of Destruction,” and we all got really quiet. We were thinking, “When did we stop making noise? When did we become the well-heeled mothers and fathers and workers and corporate people? When did we stop protesting?”

Q. That sounds like the theme of the play, which is to hold on to your essential spirit. How would you define your essential spirit?

A. I’m that little boutique on the eighth floor of the mall. There are shopping malls with so many floors, and I say to my husband when we go up to the eighth floor, far away from the big stores, “That is my career.” That is how I’ve always felt, and it is really what I always wanted. I am deeply grateful.

Q. And someone found you in that eighth-floor boutique and convinced you to do this act?

A. Someone said, “I love you,” and I yelled, “Come back!”

This interview has been condensed and edited. Patti Hartigan can be reached at pattihartigan@gmail.com.
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