Mame vs. Mame


By Eddie Shapiro

Out: Let's talk about the role of Mame. Michele, I know you've only been in rehearsals for a little while, but so far, what's your take?

Lee: Oh, gosh, it's a wonderful role for me. There are a few roles that I think the meshing of what I bring, of my own persona, and the character that the playwright envisioned, is perfect. [Rose in] Gypsy is another one. [Gittel in] Seesaw, major. The roles are different in some ways, but there is a thread of a hidden vulnerability. With Mame, the character herself is very out there. You know who she is. She opens her mouth and tells you what she thinks. You look at the other two ladies and they do the same thing. That is the element that links them together. The Mame that I'm trying to find is more vulnerable than some people have played her. I believe that under her skin there have to be the remnants of whatever happened to her in her family and why she is the black sheep, why she lives her life the way she does, enjoying every minute and screw you if you don't like it. That's basically it. She's at all times a lady and certainly speaks her mind. A feminist, if you will, long before her time. She didn't live by convention. She just did what she thought was right. Although she could be caustic at times, there was a real warmth to her and a real likability.

Out: What about you, Charles? Obviously you've had a little more time with the role.

Busch: I think that Auntie Mame really is the King Lear for wacky, aging comedians! It's Mount Everest. It doesn't get better than this. I've been flirting with the part for years, and I've done a series of elaborately staged readings for AIDS charities. But I never did a full production. We would just do one night, holding the books. I always wanted to do a full production and get it out of my system. Well, I'll be getting it out after this!

Out: And Michele, you only get one night!

Lee: I know! On Broadway you have a whole slew of previews before opening night, but here, this is it!

Out: Would you want to do an extended run if you could?

Lee: Oh, I would love to do this role. It's very wonderful for me. And vice versa, I think. So I'd love to do a long run. I love the theater, and I love New York. I have an apartment there, and I live there probably one third of the time. I'm actually moving from the east side to the west. I'm moving into Lucie Arnaz's building.

Out: Charles, didn't Lucie Arnaz play Sally Cato in one of your Auntie Mame staged readings?

Busch: She was really great and so good-natured. I walked up to her on the first day of rehearsal and said, 'I would have thought that Mame was a dirty word in your family!'

Out: Yeah, it wasn't Lucille Ball's best role. Since you've been playing Mame for a while now, do you have any advice for Michele?

Busch: Watch out for your Patrick! The child! I don't know what happened. I mean, he was talented in rehearsal, but suddenly [now that there's an audience] he's giving a performance. Penny Fuller may have played Eve Harrington, but I think the child is Eve Harrington. God, I never saw so many teeth and eyes flashing! At one point he wipes the stage with me!

Out: Somehow I think you hold your own.

Busch: [Laughing] I don't know, he was doing all sorts of things. Someone's got to tie a tin can to that broad's tail.