5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Jennifer Mudge


HeadshotBekah Brunstetter’s play Oohrah! is arguably the most onomatopoeic play on the New York boards since…well, what? Anyone have any ideas? Seriously, it would be a really good trivia question for a rainy day.

And while you’re pondering that, let’s also acknowledge that Brunstetter’s title is also instantly memorable — and, too, that more and more people in the New York theater world, including directors and casting directors and producers of the commercial and nonprofit variety, are beginning to articulate the name Jennifer Mudge with verve and intrigue.

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Mudge, whose most recent work in Gotham was the Roundabout’s revival of The Philanthropist, was nominated for a 2007 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play for Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman; that performance, with many others in between, followed Mudge’s Broadway debut in Manhattan Theatre Club’s mounting of Craig Lucas’ Reckless. Increasingly, Mudge’s is the face and Mudge’s is the name that people are recognizing, in the classic drip-drip-drip example of how actorly success on the New York stage comes to pass.

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So being cast in Oohrah! is cause for a round of Oohrah!, right? Or is it Boorah!? What’s the difference?

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The answer isn’t necessarily made clear in Brunstetter’s play, but that’s because of the play’s subject matter — here, taken from press materials:

In Fayetteville, NC, home to one of the South’s largest military bases, practically everybody has somebody “over there.” Sara is relieved when her husband Ron returns home from an uneventful tour in Iraq, but he’s finding it difficult to settle back into the domestic bliss that is home improvement and “Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals.” Sara’s sister Abby has set herself up for an uneventful life with a civilian fiancé who’s more interested in PlayStation than the battlefield. But when a hot, mysterious Marine walks into their lives, all bets on stability are off.

Mudge plays relieved but re-evaluating Sara, and definitely has some views on her role. Meantime, don’t miss the play! Produced by the Atlantic Theater Company and directed by Evan Cabnet, it runs through Sept. 27 at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St. For more information and tickets, click on the Atlantic’s website. Or visit Ticket Central. Or call 212-279-4200.

And now, 5 questions Jennifer Mudge has never been asked:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I don’t know if there is a specific one so much as when people ask me about things I thought no one noticed — either when it wasn’t my line, or sometimes even the little things we do that are almost private — more for us than the audience but, you know, character-based and textually appropriate! That’s one of the things I love most about seeing plays myself: you are free to look at whatever you want. No one is editing the scene, you can see bodies in motion and you can hear live voices. (arrrgggg miked straight plays…barf)

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Well, last year, a very big studio owner asked me, after watching me in a play for two hours, “So what do you do for a living?” His wife kind of tsk-tsked him and I think I murmured something about Law & Order reruns and slinked away.

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I don’t know if this qualifies as weird, but I get anxious when people use adjectives about my role that make me feel protective. I mean, even when it’s a murderer or morally lax (by any standard) character…”Ummm, this just might make me weird.”

Photo 14) Oohrah! (gotta love that exclamation point!) does seem to be the latest example of a trend: plays examining military families and, maybe, the effect of America’s unending wars on the men and women fighting them. Is that about right? Can you talk about your character and creating a role?
Yes, it is sad that “wartime” is lately all-the-time, isn’t it? One of the aspects of Bekah’s play that really appealed to me was that the family — and this is not openly discussed within the play — is a Southern, conservative, probably-Republican family that is not being condescended to, made fun of or even judged. Instead, we see them struggling with sending loved ones to fight for their country, dealing with the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses consumerism of America and balancing the pursuit of happiness with the call of duty, however they define it. My character, Sara, is an army wife and the mother of a preteen; she’s also a sister and a granddaughter. All of these relationships are brought up in the play, and it’s one of the delicious things about it, because there are two of us — Cassie Beck plays my sister — trying very hard to work out being all those things to different people. And we even (OMG!) talk a lot. I have since discovered that it has been slightly traumatic for some viewers to witness the estrogen on display (not to mention hick dialects!). I have seen Hamlet, like, 80 fucking times, and believe me, we don’t talk nearly that much.

As far as creating a role, I don’t really have a formula — each one is different, especially if it’s a new play, and there is still some writing going on. I’m a big believer in starting with how a character is similar to you, where they live in you. I do get nervous, though, when people say “transform.” I mean, into what? I think “transform” can be reductive, and sometimes it can seem like a comment on a role rather than living a role to think of it as something “other,” that it may not require all of one’s self, even for those qualities that would normally be kept from the light of day because they are uncomfortable or scary or inappropriate.

5) In the press materials for Oohrah! (gotta really love that exclamation point!), a “hot, mysterious marine” walks into the lives of the two women central to the play’s plot. So, er, how hot is the marine in question? Is he more mysterious than hot, or vice versa? We want dish, Jenny.
He is Super-Hot, my friend. And yes, mysterious, too. As a matter of fact, there ain’t no ugly boys in this play. And (spoiler alert) I valiantly continue my stage-kissing tour of NYC actors…

6) Can you talk a little bit about the playwright Bekah Brunstetter and what the process has been like to help birth this play, which is a world premiere? Also, to those who want to insist that the word is actually “Boorah!,” not “Oohrah!,” do you have any consoling words of advice?
So Bekah is like the coolest of the cool. She’s stunningly talented, uniquely funny, comfortable in her skin, and so chill in a rehearsal room. I had the pleasure of doing two readings of Oohrah! before the actual production, so I had met her before we began rehearsals, and we actually live about four doors down from each other in Williamsburg. Hello, serendipity! But really, I felt very honored that she and Evan Cabnet (the director) thought I was the right actor for Sara. The women’s roles didn’t change much from those readings — the majority of rewrites in rehearsal were for the characters of my husband and said hot Marine, so I can’t really claim anything but hopefully fitting comfortably into Sara’s grooves. But it was excellent to be a part of Bekah’s Off-Broadway debut. I think she’s a tremendously exciting writer.

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And now, for some consoling words from Urban Dictionary, that arbiter of all things lexicological:

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Oohrah: “A motivational cry used by the United States Marine Corps. Sometimes also used as a general response to an order or question.”

Boorah: “Term used by Marines, some sailors, possibly others to express disdain for almost anything. A mixture of Boo and Oohrah.”

There you go.

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