November 04, 1999





Carry That Weight


by Rob Kendt


What's wrong with this picture: A solid and sensitive, classically trained actress comes from New York to Los Angeles with a hit play and finds herself landing more stage work--indeed, developing a stage career, culminating with work in three shows directed by the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company--all without leaving her Southland address.


Actually, Cindy Katz's unique career track will lead her back to New York next month, where she'll open on Broadway in Sir Peter Hall's revival of Amadeus with co-stars David Suchet and Michael Sheen. The show is currently running at the Ahmanson Theatre, where earlier this year Katz essayed a heartrending Mariana in Measure for Measure and a stately Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the Shakespeare repertory mounted in L.A. by director Hall.


Other local stage credits have included that first play, Beau Jest, which she brought from a year's run in New York to the Westwood Playhouse in 1993; nearly annual roles at the peerless South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (the highlight being a fiery Kate in director Mark Rucker's Rat Pack Taming of the Shrew), and a turn in The Water Children at the Matrix Theatre, where she is a member.


So is Cindy Katz's resume a fluke? Or does it bode well for the once unthinkable proposition that an actor can make, perhaps not quite a living but much more than gas money and a good reputation in Southern California's burgeoning theatre scene? Whatever the case, Katz is grateful for a year's worth of gratifying stage work as work in itself.


"I have been so lucky this year, because I'm over 100 pounds and I'm over 18--and nobody I know in that category is having an especially good year," she said in a recent interview, citing the youth trend in film and TV and runaway production as local employment killers.


Katz has done her share of film roles and TV--a Mark Harmon series, Charlie Grace, that died young, and memorable guest spots on Frasier, Friends, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But with a straightbacked dancer's figure and an expressive face that registers infinitisemal changes in emotional temperature, not to mention a clarion voice that has acquired huskier shades over the years, she seems a natural for the stage.


She may not seem a natural, though, for the role of Constanza, Mozart's put-upon wife in Amadeus--on paper a giggly thing flattered into marriage to the high-strung composer and later compelled to prop up his disintegrating health and career. Indeed, Katz's most effective moments are in her scenes with Suchet's Salieri, in which the two square off like duelling courtiers over Mozart's future.


"I certainly am not typecast for this play; a lot of people will say I'm miscast," Katz conceded. "I was surprised when Peter asked me, but he did it for a specific reason; he wanted to go another way. Dainty, small, light, delicate--that's how I read it off the page. Very airy."


If the challenge for previous Constanzas--such willowy wisps as Jane Seymour, or the film version's Hogarthian Elizabeth Berridge--was to summon the character's second act substance after the first act's frivolity, for Katz it is the reverse. When Michael Sheen's hyperactive Mozart woos Katz's self-possessed Constanza early on, gambolling and groping childishly, we already see her indulgence as somehow motherly. And when Constanza sticks her neck (her whole body, really) out for her husband's career, it registers as chilling pragmatism, not pathetic grovelling.


"There's a weight that I have--which is why I never play ingenues--that wouldn't be the first choice for this ditzy, frothy person," Katz said. "But who Constanza becomes by the end, in the school of hard knocks, needs that kind of weight."


Katz comes by that theatrical heft in part through training--Yale M.F.A., followed by two years in classical rep as a Guthrie Theater resident--and in part, she said, by removing herself from the rigors of training.


"After a couple of seasons at the Guthrie, I realized I was at a point in my life where I wouldn't know what to do with a day if it were my own, because for so long, from undergrad to grad school to the Guthrie, my days had been planned for me--I had to be at rehearsal, I had to be at half-hour call," Katz recalled. "All I knew was theatre and theatre people, and all I read was about the research for the next play. It was so wonderful, but insular. I really needed to grow up, personally."


So she hurled herself on the New York market and landed a role in the Off-Broadway hit Beau Jest, bringing the show to the Westwood Playhouse a year later. In L.A. she found--once she got over her reflexive East Coast snobbery--a city she could love and opportunities that led her, again, back to the stage. And while she's thrilled to go to Broadway with Amadeus, she said she has no intention of abandoning L.A., or L.A. theatre.


The feeling appears to be mutual.