Her own life story could very well form the basis of a great theatrical piece.
“My mom owned a dancing school in our backyard for about 200 students between the ages of two and 80, including the local nuns who came over for stretch classes. She also ran a beauty shop in our kitchen. And then there was my Uncle Charles, who lived upstairs with a whole menagerie of animals and his boyfriend, Charles. He also ran a cat hospital on the roof and taught art at the Catholic school next door.
“As for me, I started teaching dance when I was about 14 and always loved being the center of attention. And I always loved to sing, dance and act.”
That’s Marilu Henner, probably best known as Elaine Nardo in the hit ’70s sitcom Taxi, describing some of her early upbringing and the kinds of things that went into making her the person she is today.
And today, Henner is starring at the Bucks County Playhouse in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike through Aug. 10.
The action starts with siblings Vanya and Sonia, who have never left the confines of their childhood home in bucolic Bucks County, while their sister Masha (Henner) has been gallivanting around the word as a successful movie star.
A sudden and surprise visit from Masha and her 20-something boyfriend, Spike, throws the normally quiet household into utter upheaval as its residents and visitors get swept up in a mixture of lust, rivalry, regret and the sudden possibility of escape.
Henner says that every new play offers its own challenges.
“And with each new character, you have to find similarities, if you can. Sometimes, you have to channel people in your family to make it work, but I’m definitely channeling myself in this one.
“Masha is outrageous, and an outrageous character is always fun to play,” Henner continued. “She’s very dramatic but there’s also something very childlike about her. She’s full of energy but very sensitive. There’s a vulnerable side to her. She’s me but without the years of therapy I’ve had.”
In 2013, the play won the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. And Henner, who admits she never saw the play before, agrees with the awards wholeheartedly. With the energy of a teenager, Henner, 66, earned the nickname “Perpetual Motion” from her parents. Along with starring in over 30 films, six Broadway shows and two hit classic sitcoms (Taxi and Evening Shade), the five-time Golden Globe nominee is a New York Times best-selling author of nine books on health, parenting, memory and lifestyle improvement.
She also hosts her own radio show, and is one of only 12 people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, meaning she can remember basically every day of her life.
Currently writing her 10th book, Henner says she’s having “a ball and loving everything I do. But I would say that most of all, I love being on stage. I love the immediacy and the chemistry I get from the audience. When I do film, people often ask me to ‘tone it down a little.’ But this is me!” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-862-2121.