In some respects, Harrisburg native Jessica Bedford’s career could be compared to a Cinderella tale.
“Growing up, I had no interest in the theater. In fact, I came to it later than some, and that was when I changed high schools,” she said. “I started doing plays when I was seventeen. I wasn’t the athletic type, but I did fit in with the theater kids. That’s when I discovered theater for myself, and I loved it. I finally found a shoe that fit.”
Bedford is making her debut at Act II Playhouse in Ambler in Sylvia. A.R. Gurney’s play tells the story of a love triangle between a man, his wife, and his dog Sylvia, played by Bedford. The romantic comedy runs Sept. 6 through Oct. 2.
Sylvia revolves around a New York power couple. When Greg, the husband, brings Sylvia, an adorable stray mutt, to the home he shares with his wife Kate, the wife finds herself ignored — and surprised by Greg’s other changes.
The question is, can a longtime spouse compete with the undeniable appeal of unconditional love?
“In reading the role initially, I realized that much about the character revolves around impulse,” Bedford said. “I wondered what life would be like if I could just follow any impulse in the moment and what that would be. To me, Sylvia is so much like an adolescent in that way.”
Also, Bedford continued, there’s some physicality involved with the role.
“I’m not always walking around on all fours, but when I do, I have to be careful about my knees,” she said. “I also walk around thinking if I had a tail as a person, what would wagging my tail look like? I’ve always grown up with dogs, and I have one now, so I feel rewarded by this role, because I like hanging out with my dog, Peter. I watch him very carefully and do get to use him for research.”
Before taking the role — one which helped launch Sarah Jessica Parker’s career — Bedford, 28, admitted she purposefully avoided seeing the show.
“And I’m glad I did because the real danger in seeing an iconic performance is no matter how hard you try to make it your own role, you can’t help but be influenced by what you’ve seen,” she said.
Some of Bedford’s other credits include the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, People’s Light and Theatre Company, and Villanova Theatre, where she received her master’s degree. Sylvia is being directed by Act II associate artistic director Harriet Power, who was Bedford’s professor at Villanova.
In addition to her master’s, Bedford received her undergraduate degree at DeSales University. She is on the adjunct faculty at the school.
“I feel really blessed that I got this role,” Bedford said, “and that I get to pursue a career I’m really passionate about. I feel so lucky that I get to do something for a living which explores the human story and explores it through different personalities. I’m fascinated by human emotion and human psychology.”
She added that she also loves the people who are in the theater, “particularly here in Philadelphia. I lived in New York for three years, and it’s not that I had a bad time there, but Philadelphia has a theater community that is truly a community, and that is a very rare thing. As an actor, you lead a very gypsy-like existence. But in Philadelphia, with so many wonderful theaters and such a talented pool of actors to choose from, you get to establish a bond with all the artists in the community. That’s a wonderful thing.”
Bedford hopes to continue acting, writing plays and teaching, and she advises others to get as much education and experience as they can while just continuing to be themselves.
Said Bedford: “You know, as Shakespeare once said, ‘To thine own self be true.’ And know that there’s a shoe out there somewhere that will fit.” ••
Call 215-654-0200 for ticket information.