November 27, 1997
With a Katy Selverstone performance, we're immediately put on
notice that we're in the presence of something extraordinary, and our initial
reflex is to see the technique. In Scotland Road, Jeffrey
Hatcher's play about a mysterious young woman who appears to be a
supernaturally preserved present-day survivor of the Titanic, now on at Pacific
Resident Theatre Ensemble through next weekend, Selverstone emerges—a tall,
slender woman with huge, serious eyes and an elegant little slice of a mouth—to
be questioned by a man with dubious motives. She does not make a sound until
the act break.
"I think an interesting analogy for the character during the
first act is that she's sort of thawing," said Selverstone in a recent
interview. "So everything is slowed down—her thinking, her reponses, her
feelings. It's like there's this light inside of her, but she doesn't have a
very strong hold on it, and it's what's keeping her alive. When [the man
questioning her] starts to say these things, these lies, it's like the light
starts to diminish, and she tries to protect it by disengaging a bit and
focusing on keeping it lit."
By play's end, Selverstone has spoken in an effortless Welsh
accent and shed a torrent of tears without really crying—but by then we're not
watching her technique. Yes, she studied theatre at Carnegie Mellon and can
expound intelligently on the characters she plays—an insight she owes to
psychoanalysis, she said—but what emerges so resoundingly is that the
formidable presence we felt initially is not about smart acting tricks but
soul. The "something extraordinary" we sense at first sight turns out
to be the real thing.
After working in regional and Off-Broadway theatre, Selverstone
first came to West Coast attention as the edgy girlfriend of the title nebbish
on The Drew Carey Show. After finishing Quills at the New
York Theatre Workshop, she came west for good, did some more Drew, landed a
juicy role in the unordered Scott Winan/Winnie Holzman pilot The L Word, and appeared
in a small but memorable role in the Blank Theatre Company's production of Breaking
the Code opposite Dennis Christopher.
Indeed, though she keeps busy with episodic work and features—she's
on an upcoming C-16 and recently completed a role as an FBI agent in
a thriller called Love Letters From a Killer—Selverstone
has notably blossomed on L.A. stages, especially as a PRTE member, where she
did an achingly beautiful, volatile turn as a trophy moll in Golden Boy last year,
and is now doing her haunting and finely honed work in Scotland Road. Also a
member of the Nexus Theatre Ensemble, Selverstone appeared as a lovelorn
dressmaker in Steven Dietz's Trust earlier this year.
Though it's hard to generalize about such wide-ranging roles,
what's true of all Selverstone's performances is that her characters are so
strongly, vividly present that we can't take our eyes off them, and images of
their strivings and gestures stay with us: as the young Pat Green picnicking in
Breaking the Code, leaning back on her arms and throwing her hair back for a
generous laugh; as the fight promoter's girl, Lorna, in Golden Boy, wringing a
torrent of tears over a park bench as she tries to reach out to a sensitive
boxer (that's Odets for you), or now, in Hatcher's play, looking up wordlessly
at her inquisitor with beseeching, faintly mocking eyes. To sum up the finely
shaded range Selverstone summons onstage, the word that comes to mind is
She has a more straightforward term.
"Balls," she said. "That's my favorite thing: to
walk onstage with balls—to not only make brave choices, but then to play them
through bravely and fully. That's what I admire and what I aspire to."