The following interview is part of the ongoing “Meet the Cast and Crew” series for The Actors’ Group. Rebecca Lea McCarthy conducts interviews with cast and crew of upcoming productions.
Meet Ann Brandman who plays Alice Russell in The Best Man!
Ann Brandman won Po‘okela Awards for Best Leading Actress for TAG’s The Heiress
and HSF’s Henry VI, Best Featured Actress for Richard III, and Best Ensemble for
Lear/Shrew/Much Ado, an all-female production in which she played King Lear. She
performed in TAG’s Superior Donuts, To Kill a Mockingbird at DHT, and as “Golde”
in HPU’s Fiddler on the Roof. Other credits include a staged reading of Jan
McGrath’s original play, The Parish; DHT’s Leading Ladies and I Hate Hamlet;
HPU’s House of Blue Leaves, The Vagina Monologues at Marks Garage; The Book of
Ezekiel in NYC; and Hayfever in London. Ann trained at the Actor’s Studio in New
York and with Clare Davidson in London.
Aloha Ann and thank you for participating in this interview! Tell me about the character you are playing in The Best Man, and how you relate to her.
I play Alice Russell, the wife of one of the candidates. I relate to Alice’s New England sensibility (she’s from Maine), though I’m not really a northern Yankee: my father was from Philadelphia and my mother from England – and I ended up spending a dozen years in New York. She’s essentially an introvert, and starts out as reticent and a bit overwhelmed by the brashness of the political arena and the scrutiny of the limelight. Ultimately, she moves from being a shy and intimidated prop for her husband’s political ambitions, to a more self-possessed partner. The same might be said for her role as wife in their marriage. She’s got a dry sense of humor and a generous heart, and though her choice would probably be to remain behind the scenes (though she’s willing to do whatever is needed), there’s a streak of rebellion in her – she won’t conform to all that’s expected from the wife of a candidate, and has taken on controversial issues for the women of her day. She has put up with a flawed husband whom she still loves and admires, and deals with the invisibility that comes with being an aging woman. I sense, though, that, having withstood the trials of life, both public and private, she grasps who she is – her value and what she’s capable of — and by the end of the play, I think she is clearer about what she wants and deserves.
It sounds like Alice Russell goes through an amazing transformation in this play! This must be a challenge to portray.
I’ve played an alcoholic bag lady, a morphine addict, King Lear and other…shall we say…stretches. So in a way, this is one of the most “normal” roles I’ve played (other than maybe Golda in Fiddler). And it’s oddly more difficult, because I have to go even deeper to find what makes Alice who she is, and then, to recognize the nuance of her language and expression, the conflicting aspects of her personality, her humanity. I also have to figure out what keeps her in her marriage….and relationships are complicated!
You can say that again and like you, I enjoy the challenge of complicated characters and relationships. Which brings me to my next question about language. Anything unique about the language in this play?
I find the speech patterns – at least for my character – are quite naturalistic. But
I don’t have any of the long speeches! Vidal is so very clever with
One more question about your exploring the character Alice Russell, what is it about your character that speaks to you personally?
I like her dignity and cool demeanor, her willingness to get in the game for all the right reasons though she might get bruised along the way. I respond to her dry sense of humor… and, while she may be a tad passive-aggressive and doesn’t suffer fools, she tolerates the foibles of her fellow human beings pretty well, considering. I think she’s capable of lashing out like a scorpion, but she keeps it in check and resists being cruel. She’s got a keen mind and a generous, caring spirit.
A kind and generous scorpion – I can’t help but giggle since this sounds like the perfect personality for politics! LOL With that said, The Best Man deals specifically with politics, how, in your opinion, do the themes in this play reflect, parallel the presidential election this year?
There are a number of themes that are reflective of our current election season(s), although one might say that truth is stranger than fiction in this regard, given this bizarre presidential election. In the play, there are the themes of whether any candidate is without flaws, what constitutes honesty in politics, is personal behavior indicative of how someone will lead, the role of women in politics (both as political star-makers and as supportive female props), populist voters vs. intellectual candidates, idealism vs. pragmatism, and more. I’ve only just skimmed the surface of the play’s themes, myself, and am sure there will be a lot more to discover as the rehearsal process deepens. Suffice it to say, a central theme is, to quote our First Lady, Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”
What an amazing theme! Do you think this is the “truth” audiences will walk away with after seeing The Best Man, this idea of when they go low, we go hight? Or is it something else?
That all politicians are flawed… some to the point of being sociopaths or narcissists who are willing to do anything to win and feed their ego and power. Others are flawed as human beings, but have a desire for public service and a need for a higher purpose. Makes me think of the saying: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Wonderful and I am so happy we are doing this play right now since theatre is a great way to help us all reflect on our lives and politics in real time. I know that you are personally passionate and active regarding politics. So tell me, any aspirations to run for office? Maybe even a presidential run?
In a word, no. I couldn’t take the scrutiny of my past or the dissection of my physicality in the present, including the sexism and misogyny directed towards a female presidential candidate. I would find the daily pressure nearly unbearable, and the responsibility too daunting. And I am a bit of a recluse, so I can’t begin to contemplate the thousands of people with whom the president must come in contact. Actually, the presidency is beyond contemplation and so far removed from my place in this world. As for a platform, it would resemble an FDR democrats… I’m basically a feminist liberal and a political junky. And I’m pretty much ok with the platform of Love & Kindness.
Fair enough! And if it means anything, I am with you. I cannot imagine wanting to be president! The stress alone! It takes a special personality, I think. Well, Ann, I want to end our little interview with a strange question that captures the political craziness of today: if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had a love child, who might that be?
Rather than who might that be, I can better answer the question, “What might that be?” IMPOSSIBLE.
Touche! Thank you so much, Ann, for spending some time with us today. I am looking forward to seeing you in The Best Man!
The Best Man is running at TAG September 2 – 25th.
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