Deanna Dunagan settles in for the ‘Night’
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org May 2, 2012 6:00PM
Texas-bred, Chicago-based actress Deanna Dunagan won a Tony Award for playing Violet Weston, the pill-popping, rapier-tongued, cancer-wracked Oklahoma mother of three adult daughters in Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.” But now, in the Writers’ Theatre revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” set in 1900, she is playing Madame Armfeldt, the still elegant if elderly Swedish courtesan recounting her “liasons” with a French baron, an Italian duke and a Belgian king. She also wonders why women like her daughter, a glamorous actress forever on the road, now settle for so much less.
This is not Dunagan’s first encounter with music or musicals. Years ago she used her degree in music education to teach piano and voice, and as a young actress in New York she worked as a guitar-playing folksinger in restaurants. Over the years in Chicago she has appeard in “James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’” at Court Theatre; “Quilters” at Northlight; Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” at the “old” Goodman, and the world premiere of Sondheim’s ill-fated “Bounce” at the “new” Goodman, where she also understudied for Hollywood legend Jane Powell.
“I think this will be a somewhat different interpretation of Madame Armfeldt,” Dunagan said. “As I told Bill [director William Brown], I thought if she had been a courtesan to all these men who were probably trying to escape their wives, she was probably more feminine and charming and less irascible than she has often been played. But she was a woman living in a time before the emancipation of women, who valued herself, and also had a healthy libido — a woman quite content she had been able to survive and prosper in her life.”
Asked if winning the Tony Award changed her life in the expected ways, Dunagan said: “Not really. Partly that’s because after winning it I went to London and to Sydney, Australia, with the show, so by the time I was finished with that, two years had passed. I have done some television — some of it stupid, but a few things like “Law and Order” and “Cold Case” and a Hallmark movie — that I feel good about. I also like my recurring role on CBS’ ‘Unforgettable,’ where I play Alice Wells, a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s.”
† “A Little Night Music,” now in previews, opens May 10 and runs through July 8 at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. For tickets, $45-$65, call (847) 242-6000; writerstheatre.org.