Actress/singer Loretta Swit hardly needs an introduction. Having played Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan for 11 years in TV's M.A.S.H. (1972-1983), with multiple award nominations and two Emmy wins, the lady has become a household name. Few realize however that she began her career on stage and that the theatre is her first love. Currently onstage at the NoHo Arts Center, Swit is essaying three roles in Joshua Ravetch's One November Yankee which will run through January 5, 2013. In our chat she talks about the play and other theatrical roles she has played.
How did you become involved in One November Yankee?
I did the original reading at the Pasadena Playhouse...a mutual friend of ours introduced Joshua Ravetch and me. She had been reading his plays and called me and said, "I swear, he doesn't know it, but he's writing for you. I hear your voice when I read the play, I hear you saying this dialogue." So she said, "Have a read!" He sent me the script, and I loved it. I loved the concept; I loved the fresh approach with a brother and sister relationship. I have a brother. It intrigued me; it satisfied me. "What a delicious concept!" I loved all three characters. Actually, I loved all six. I liked the brother's characters too. We did this reading three years ago very successfully. I never read a review like that in my life. I mean he just went on and on and accurately sort of described the play as "those Russian dolls that keep unfolding". I feel that about the play, so much keeps getting revealed. And I love the La Ronde, the echoing back whether it's Hirschfeld or Cartier or Cantano, which is Josh's invention, the lawyers, the Canadian city, the Canadian bar, the librarian shelving other people's accomplishments, the signature is amplifying accomplishments...all the play on words...I really loved it.
It's so intelligently written, you almost have to see it a second time. There's too much for one viewing.
I agree with that. I have told many of my friends to come back at a matinee, let's say and just see it again. I'm an art collector, have been for years, and I paint. Needless to say, the artwork in my houses, apartment is extensive. So many of my friends have said, "I've got to come back because there's so much to see." And I feel that way about this play. There's so much to get. And...we did two readings. I did it with Robert Forster. He has this booming film career, and I warned Josh at the time that he'd better have a short list. When I agreed to come and do it at NoHo Arts, we did a reading, again with Robert. But when the time came closer, he was in the middle of two films back to back. Josh said that Harry (Hamlin) had read the play, liked it and was interested. I said, "Well that would be fine for me! I'll be thrilled with that." He's just wonderful. I've not worked with him before but have known him socially for years. We have this chemistry that is amazing.
I love the humanity in the play and how well you both bring that out.
You got it all.
Is this the first play you've done in a while?
God no! No! This is being fitted into a tour of Eleanor, which is a one-woman play about Eleanor Roosevelt. I've done it twice and have bookings spattered throughout 2013. I have to stop in the middle of that and do Murder Among Friends. I have another play in Canada that I'm considering doing. I do theatre, that's where I'm from.
You'd be wonderful as Eleanor. I'd love to see that.
The clothing and the wig, everything...I'm very pleased. Rhoda Lerman wrote that...Eleanor Her Secret Journey.
You also have been doing Shirley Valentine for which you won a prestigious Sara Siddons Award.
I've been doing that since 1991. Not consecutively, but every once in a while some theatre where I've been or where I haven't been will call and say, "Can she do Shirley for us for a couple of months?" or whatever, and I do. I toured Canada, I toured the US. Shirley went as far as Guam. I learned so much from doing that.