Annette Miller slips into the first person when she talks about Bemadette, the character she plays in “Sotto Voce” at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.
“I’m not afraid to go out,” Miller says as Bemadette, the German-born novelist who hasn’t left her New York apartment in 10 years. “I have chosen not to be seen.”
Rather than sounding affected, Miller’s adoption of her character’s voice offers a window into both playwright Nilo Cruz’s complicated character and this award-winning actress’s approach to a role.
“Annette is fearless,” says Daniel Gidron, who is directing “Sotto Voce” and has also directed Miller in her tour de force performances as notorious political wife Martha Mitchell in “Martha Calling” and as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony.” “She immerses herself in the character’s voice, movements, thoughts, so that nothing gets in the way of telling the story.”
“I feel this woman in my bones,” says Miller. “I am so with her. She grew up living comfortably in Berlin, but the horrors of the war forced her to leave. Still, she never lost her sense of love and wanting love, so rather than write about the love she lost, she writes romantic novels.”
“Sotto Voce,” which runs through Sept. 11 at the Elayne Bernstein Theatre, is a play of memory and imagination, in which a young Cuban writer named Saquiel comes to New York in an effort to interview the reclusive novelist. He’s not interested in her books, but rather her connection to a notorious event in the months leading up to World War II in which the St. Louis, a German ocean liner filled with Jews, was refused entry to Cuba and then to the United States. It turns out, Ariel Strauss, Bemadette’s first love, and his sister, were on that ship, and Saquiel wants to know the real story.
“I spent years pushing these memories down inside me,” Miller says, speaking as Bemadette. “That helplessness, that inability to stop it. I asked my father if he sent them away to get rid of them or to save them.”
Much of “Sotto Voce” is revealed in subtext and the imagination, since conversations between Saquiel and Bemadette take place only over the phone and Bemadette’s housekeeper is the only person she speaks to in person.
“This play is very impressionistic,” says Gidron. “It’s a world in which reality and imagination melt into one another. The script suggests projections, but I thought they would be distracting, and so I am relying on lights and sound to suggest places. That places more responsibility on the actors.”
Sixty years after losing her love, Bemadette finally confronts her memories, but in Cruz’s hands, she does it through the power of her imagination.
“Cruz takes these poetic leaps of imagination,” Miller says, “asking us to make these imaginary meetings feel real. To an actor, that’s gold.”
Miller says it’s a gift to have played such formidable women as Meir and Mitchell, not to mention opera diva Maria Callas (“Master Class”) and editor Diana Vreeland (“Full Gallop”).
“I love playing these women who want to make a difference in the world,” Miller says. “Women who have something to say. What makes this character fascinating is her willingness to finally comprehend what it means to remember and tell the truth about what happened.”
Bunnies and ducklings
Actress Dossy Peabody will narrate her grandmother Dorothy Kunhardt’s classic children’s books “Pat the Bunny” and “Junket Is Nice,” as well as Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings” this week as part of Gloucester Stage Company’s Saturday morning series, Playtime Story. After watching the stories acted out onstage, audience members 2 and older will be invited to participate in activities related to the books. Tickets: $5, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com.
After a side-splitting take on “Les Miserables,” Heart & Dagger Productions is at it again with “Dolls as Guys,” Aug. 23-25.
The parody starts with gender-bending casting, but oh, that’s only the beginning. Like Heart & Dagger’s adaptation of “Les Miz,” “Dolls as Guys” will invite the audience to play the ensemble and sing along as missionaries, gamblers, and the Hot Box girls. For this 90-minute version of the Frank Loesser classic, artistic director Joey C. Pelletier will play Miss Adelaide, but you may also find him waiting tables during the show, to be performed in Club Cafe’s Moonshine Room.
Heart & Dagger’s shows are a joyous celebration of what’s great about musical theater and are not to be missed. Dinner is available starting at 6:30 p.m. Performances start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15-$30 (does not include dinner or drinks), 617-536-0966, www.clubcafe.com.
2017 Cape Playhouse lineup
Six plays and musicals will mark the 91st season of the Cape Playhouse next summer, the first full season by the theater’s newest artistic director, Michael Rader.
The season opens with “Art,” Yasmina Reza’s comedy about friendship and good taste (June 12-24), followed by Larry Shue’s comedy “The Foreigner” (June 27-July 8), William Finn’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (July 11-22), John Logan’s “Red,” a drama about artist Mark Rothko and his assistant (July 25-Aug. 5), the classic musical “Gypsy” (Aug. 8-19), and “Murder for Two,” a musical comedy in which two actors play all 13 roles (Aug. 22-Sept. 2).
For season subscriptions, call 508-385-3911 or go to www.capeplayhouse.com.
Presented by Shakespeare & Company. At the Elayne Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, through Sept. 11. Tickets: $24.50-$54.50, 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.orgTerry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.