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Elizabeth Franz

by Kathryn Boughton

A courtship that began a year ago will be consummated Thursday when Tony Award- winning actor Elizabeth Franz takes the stage at Sharon Playhouse in her first local performance, starring in one of her favorite plays, Quartet,.

Franz, who has had a home in Warren for forty years, first met Playhouse artistic director John Simpkins a year ago. “I met John last summer and he kind of courted me,” she said. “I just fell in love with him. He wanted me to appear in Sharon and said, ‘Do you have a play you would like to pass on to me that you would be interested in doing?’” I had done Quartet two summers ago in San Diego at the Globe, but we did it in the round there and it didn’t really work. So I was dying to do it again.”

Quartet is familiar to many through its 2013 film adaptation, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith.

She said she knew Simpkins would be the perfect director for this story about four aging opera singers who have ended up in the same retirement home for artists. A concert is about to take place to celebrate Verdi’s birthday and the dramatic tension revolves around whether these four former stars will recreate their acclaimed quartet from Verdi’s masterpiece, Rigoletto.

“I knew he was the perfect director for it because he has a musical background,” she said. “He was an actor and singer himself, and I think those are the best directors because they know the process and they don’t get in your way.”

Preparing the play has been a “truly delicious time.” Franz stars as “Jean,” alongside real life husband and wife actors, Joseph Hindy as “Reginald” and Patricia McAneny as “Cecily.” Greg Mullavey, who has appeared in television’s iCarly and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, appears as “Wilfred.”

She said she believes the film adaptation of the play was very well done. In the film, the viewer is left wondering how the director will handle the moment when the actors are to sing. Franz, who sang once on stage as a young actor in My Fair Lady, reveals only that the cast does sing at the end. “You do hear the opera and we perform it, but I won’t tell the secret of how we do it,” she said coyly.

“It’s been wonderful to play a character that is my own age,” said the 75-year-old actor. “I have been very fortunate, because I was always an old soul and I could always do character roles. When I was in my 20s I was playing 70- and 80-year-olds.”

She said she could project herself forward over the decades because, “My mother had so many sisters and I studied them as young girl. I know these old souls. Hal Holbrook is a great friend and he is always saying, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to play our own age?’ When he started playing Mark Twain (in 1954) he had to make up for two hours. Now he can just go onstage.”

She said the aging Baby Boomers offer more opportunities for shows about the older population. “There are more roles for older actors because more plays are being written about older people. That’s what is so charming about this play—it speaks about getting older, friendships, and is filled with love.’

Noting that good roles for women of a certain age are scarce, she said, “I feel the most fortunate actress in the world because I can continue to do it, even in movies and television.”

Franz continues a long, successful career. She made her Broadway debut in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Linda Loman in the fiftieth Anniversary revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 1999. Other performances include Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Mornings at Seven and Sister Mary Ignatuis Explains It All For You and her UK stage debut in a revival of Buried Child by Sam Shepard at the National Theatre in London. She most recently appeared on Broadway in A Month in the Country.

She has appeared extensively in regional theaters—“I started in regional theaters, which allowed me to survive.”—on television and in movies, where she has often appeared as a character actor.

Along the way she garnered honors for her craft. In addition to her Tony Award, she has been nominated for Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Obie awards, and in 2003 received the Dramatist Guild Fund's Lifetime Achievement in the Theater award.

The Sharon production will be staged August 18th – 28th, Tuesday through Friday at 7 PM, Saturday at 8 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM. Tickets, $15-$47, are available online and at the Sharon Playhouse Box Office by calling 860-364-7469.

The Sharon Playhouse is located at 49 Amenia Road in Sharon. For more information click on the link below or call 860-364-7469.