The ‘Orphan Black’ actress, making her New York stage debut in ‘Mary Page Marlowe,’ on multiple roles, navigating career and the scary question she gets asked during every performance of the play
On the BBC America television series “Orphan Black,” Tatiana Maslany embodied nearly a dozen roles, winning an Emmy in the process. In the play “ Mary Page Marlowe, ” she plays just one: a woman exasperated with the expectations of domestic life.
“I’m just acting like a person who is a wife and a mother,” she tells her therapist in one scene. “I know what that means, I know the levers to pull to be that person. I’m a great actress.”
It is a moment that hits close to home for the 32-year-old Ms. Maslany, who can be seen in the off-Broadway production at Second Stage Theater through Aug. 12.
“The whole scene that I have in therapy is just like, who transcribed my thoughts?” she says with a laugh.
“Mary Page Marlowe,” written by Tracy Letts, uses six actresses, including Ms. Maslany, to tell the title character’s story at different milestones. Ms. Maslany plays Mary Page at 27, when she is
having an affair in a motel room, and 36, when she is trying to make sense of her life.
“There’s something about getting to show the life of one woman with a group of women, at this time when we’re forging a community of women who are fighting for all of us,” Ms. Maslany says, a nod to the #MeToo movement. “It just feels really important to get to tell this story as a group, as opposed to the individualistic nature sometimes of performing.”
She spoke with the Journal about “Mary Page Marlowe” and navigating her career and private life post-“Orphan Black.” Edited excerpts follow.
This is your New York stage debut. Why did you choose this play?
I’ve been a fan of Tracy’s writing for years, and actually, “August: Osage County” was the first play I ever saw on Broadway. It kind of blew my mind. His writing in “Mary Page Marlowe” just felt so revealing. Somehow he gets inside the mind of a woman in a way that felt very personal and private.
Is there a specific moment that really resonates with you?
In my scene, I say a lot of things about the roles that we play, women in our own lives, and how we can be strangers to ourselves. How the expectation of how we present in the world can actually alter our own internal understanding of ourselves, and that disconnect. I think it’s something we can all actually really understand and feel.
Does the idea of playing multiple roles speak to who you are?
From 9 years old, I was acting and performing on stage or in front of the camera, and I was being directed by adults—men, mostly. I think a lot of my understanding of myself came through that collaboration. So, it does create a bit of a fractured sense of who I actually am. I think that’s why the child actor to adult actor transition can be daunting and difficult for people, because you spent your whole life being told who you are, and now suddenly you have to own that.
With five other actresses playing Mary Page Marlowe, do you consider your role as separate, or of a piece with their roles?
I definitely feel like we’ve been working toward the sense of us all being a piece of each other. We’ve been doing a lot of vocal warm-ups together and breath work and physical work.
But also, what Tracy was seeking to explore most is how we can be different people at different points in our lives—how sometimes we don’t even recognize ourselves if we look back. I even say that at one point: “It feels like a different person was going through that.”
What’s it like when you look back on your own life, considering the fame you’ve achieved in the past few years?
It’s a strange new thing for me, certainly. I grew up doing this. I did it for almost 20 years before I got any sense of, I guess, fame. I’ve always been just an actor working, and that’s always been the focus. Then to suddenly be in this other realm, where people want an autograph or picture, it’s a really bizarre feeling to navigate. And the choices you make are really public.
Your scenes in particular show Mary Page’s disconnection to herself. She seems profoundly disappointed with her life. Does that take a toll?
All of us Mary Pages have talked about the lack of catharsis in the play. A lot of the scenes end before they resolve, before the breath out. We’re all kind of left in this tension.
At one point, the therapist asks your character: What would your life look like if you could make or remake all your choices in your life? Then there’s a 30-second pause. Tell me about that moment.
That question is terrifying, you know? If you did actually own every choice, if you were responsible, if it wasn’t just all happening to you, if you actually had volition in your life, what would you do differently?
What would it mean if you did do something differently? Who would you have lost? Who would no longer be in your life, if you chose something different? Even talking about it feels murky and scary to pin down. It’s such a great, awful question.