As an award-winning actress, Genevieve Perrier of Northern Liberties has had varied roles on area stages-—but none as daunting as her current role in “Lady of the Sea.”
Ibsen’s classic is being presented by EgoPo Classic Theatre as part of its season-long Henrik Ibsen festival. Opening night was this past Friday, Feb. 21, and the play continues through March 2.
Perrier has the title role of Ellida, the “lady of the sea.” It’s often considered one of the most demanding stage roles. No wonder Perrier’s initial reaction on landing the role was one of fearful anticipation.
“I was scared,” she confesses. “I knew it was going to be tough.” But she also welcomed the challenge. “Roles like this don’t come around that often,” she says.
The “lady of the sea,” Ellida, is a conflicted and complex character. The daughter of a lighthouse keeper, she’s always loved the open sea. She’s married to a widower, and they live in a small town in West Norway.
But years ago, she fell deeply in love with a sailor and became engaged. Then he had to leave because of a crime—but asked her to wait.
“She’s haunted by this person from her past-—and then he suddenly reappears in her life,” Perrier says. “She’s very conflicted, and she goes through a lot of turmoil. She switches gears very quickly and goes to extremes. So it’s a giant emotional roller coaster.”
Perrier prepared extensively for this “emotional roller coaster” role. And the preparation began long before rehearsals. First, she read the play numerous times (her estimate is 10 to 15 times), reading different translations of the original Norwegian.
She also read the relevant chapter from a book titled “Ibsen’s Women” and watched a YouTube British production of the entire play.
And of course, she studied the script diligently before the three weeks of rehearsals began.
The cast of seven worked well together. “The stakes were high not only for me but for others, too,” she says. “I watched as all of us evolved. It’s been reassuring to watch other actors tackle the challenges of this play and be successful.”
They were directed by Brenna Geffers, who had directed Perrier in two previous plays. “I love working with her,” Perrier says. “She has good instincts and she’s actor-friendly. She knows how to talk to actors, and she was very clear in what she wanted us to do.”
Perrier is pleased to return to EgoPo. Her previous role was in the 2012 premiere of “The Golem,” which was part of a season devoted to plays with Jewish themes. “I love the idea that they do just one theme each season,” she says.
Besides her roles with EgoPo, the busy actress has been on the stages of many other area companies, including the Arden, Act 11 Playhouse, Theatre Exile, Theater Horizon, the Philadelphia Theatre Company and the Lantern.
It was her performance in the Lantern’s “Skylight” in 2008 that earned her a prestigious Barrymore award. Then she won another in 2012 for her supporting role in “Reasons to be Pretty” presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Long before that, her life on the stage began in third grade with a role in “Annie” at Friends Select school.
By the time she was in 10th grade, she knew she wanted a career on the stage. Her role in a school production of “Anything Goes” was a turning point.
“There was a moment when I realized, ‘I really love this!’ That’s when I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
She graduated from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University and later moved to Philadelphia and began landing roles on area stages. Then she earned her master’s degree in performance from Temple University’s School of Theater in 2010.
The busy actress has an offstage role that also involves theater. She’s an adjunct professor at Rowan University, teaching a course in introduction to theater. Twice a week, she travels to Glassboro to teach aspiring actors. This is her third year at Rowan.
It’s a busy life combining onstage performing and teaching. But when there’s time to relax at home in Northern Liberties, she often engages in one of her favorite activities: cooking. And that’s not surprising: she’s the daughter of renowned French chef Georges Perrier, who founded Le Bec Fin.
She knows her way around a kitchen, and often asks her father to teach her his specialties. She not only cooks French food but can speak fluent French.
Her father is a fan who comes to all her performances. “He’s proud of me, and he knows I love what I do,” she says. He was there the night she won the Barrymore award. Another major fan is her husband, actor Dave Johnson.
Besides enjoying home-cooked French food, the two actors like to relax at favorite haunts in Northern Liberties. But during the current run of “Lady from the Sea,” Perrier hardly has time for leisure. And she doesn’t mind at all.
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” she says. “To portray a woman who is so complex is a wonderful challenge.”
IF YOU GO
EgoPo’s production of “Lady from the Sea” continues through March 2 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets $22 to $35. For tickets or information visit www.egopo.org or call 267-273-1414. ••