Northeast Times

Northern Liberties actress stars in Ibsen classic

Genevieve Per­ri­er plays the title role of El­l­ida in “Lady of the Sea” at EgoPo Clas­sic Theatre this week.

Genevieve Per­ri­er of North­ern Liber­ties takes on the chal­len­ging role of El­l­ida in “Lady of the Sea” at EgoPo Clas­sic Theatre this week. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF DAV­ID CI­METTA

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. ••

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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