The progeny of the famous, successful and notable face a bedeviling balancing act: emerging from the shadow of their ancestry to fashion an individuality of their own while shouldering the legacy bequeathed to them by accident of birth. Surely the most significant, remarkable examples of this are the children of American presidents. You can be a rabblerousing society girl like Alice Roosevelt Longworth (her father, Theodore Roosevelt, famously said of her, “I can control the Affairs of State, or I can control Alice. I can not possibly do both”), a fixture in the political firmament like Michael Reagan and Ron Reagan, or try fading gracefully from view, like Amy Carter. Still, the children of celebrity are always the children of celebrity.
Catherine Wolf, of course, is not the child of a president. Indeed, the distinguished figures in her ancestry are perhaps not even close to everyday names — her uncle, Boris Goldovsky, was intimately involved in the opera department at Tanglewood, founded the New England Opera Theater and Goldovsky Opera Theater, and became famous as a regular contributor to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts for 40-odd years.
Meantime, Wolf’s grandmother, Lea Luboshutz, taught at Curtis Institute of Music, soloed with most major orchestras, and toured the U.S. and Europe as presented by the great impresario Sol Hurok. Wolf’s great-uncle, Pierre Luboshutz, accompanied Isadora Duncan when she danced in Russia, toured with the great Serge Koussevitzky and played in the pit for Stanislavski’s famous production of Peer Gynt. Wolf’s great-aunt, Genia Nemenoff, was Pierre’s pupil in Paris and became his wife and partner in their world-famous duo piano concerts.
Wolf, however, is an actress — if you’re unsure of the name, take a look at the face: that’s Jennifer Connolly’s mother in Little Children; that’s the performer you recognize from the Broadway runs of An Inspector Calls, among other shows. In recent years, Wolf has been running a great organization called the Colleagues Theatre Company, which is devoted to producing works showcases actors, shall we say, of a certain age. And now, Wolf is presenting On Becoming, a one-woman show that explores what it was like to grow up in the midst of so many pivotal figures in music, only to realize that it was not music that was to be her vehicle and muse.
On Becoming runs through Sept. 26 at the Cherry Lane Theatre; tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200. For more information, visit www.catherinewolf.com.
And now, 5 questions Catherine Wolf has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How can you stand by for a performance and watch someone else play the part when you know you could do it?”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How do you learn all those lines?”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Wouldn’t you rather give all of this up and get married?”
4) Given your exceptional genealogy — and given that your piece is about discovering your own talents — was it painful to realize your true talent was in a discipline other than music? How did you transcend whatever disappointments you may have felt?
I do have talent in music, as I sing, but I never let on that I sang until long after Uncle Boris had passed on. My family was only aware of the extent of my voice upon seeing On Becoming. I loved acting as soon as I found it. The disappointments came as they do in any career. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes your not. At the times when I couldn’t find work, I had to do something creative and that’s when I created the Colleagues Theatre Company and this one-woman show, On Becoming. An actor always must create. Perhaps you could say these times are the most creative because what is produced comes from your special gifts and usually has an individuality all its own.
5) Children of the famous often have a hard time of it, whether they’re the children of presidents, Hollywood stars or anyone very, very well known. What can famous parents do for their children to make it easier to grow up? What did your family do to prepare you for a life in the arts — or not?
I think parents should tell their children how wonderful, talented and beautiful they are. They must impress on their children that they have special talent and can do anything that they set their minds on. Whatever they choose to do will certainly be successful. I have seen parents do that with their children, and, indeed, the children excel in anything they try. I was lucky because I was surrounded by gifted, brilliant, and colorful people much of the time. I thought everyone grew up that way, but I realized later in life that my childhood was quite different from others. There were the group of professional performers on my mother’s side of the family, and then my father introduced us to fascinating people in Maine and Philadelphia: sail makers, lobsterman, boat builders, painters. We learned about the sea, nature and the respect for natural beauty from my father.
6) One of your most remarkable accomplishments is founding the Colleagues Theatre Company, which you’ve called “a theatre of the venerable.” Are you planning more productions? What “venerable” figures of the American stage would you most like to work with right now?
“A theatre of the venerable” was a quote about us from the New York Times. Alvin Epstein and I have translated a French movie and hope to do it as a play. The Colleagues Theatre would be one of many producers as we want to do a production of it on or off Broadway. We’d love to include Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris and others.