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This article by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 8, 1999. All rights reserved.

Super Woman, and Superman’s Leading Lady

Dana Morosini Reeve is on her lunch break during rehearsals

for "Enter the Guardsman" at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival

in Madison. Possibly because she is feeling the effects of a slight

cold, Reeve suggests we flee the air-conditioned conference room of

the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater to have our chat on a bench outside

where the grassy expanses and winding paths are sun-drenched and comforting.

Reeve is cast in the leading female role of "the Actress"

in the American premiere of the musical based on the early 20th-century

frothy comedy, "The Guardsman" by Ferenc Molnar. Since Reeve

has become a leading female role model, this interviewer is suddenly

aware that he’s talking to a woman who isn’t afraid of taking the

lead either on stage or in real life.

On the one hand, there is Reeve the talented, vulnerable actress.

On the other, there is the superwoman, movie star Christopher Reeve’s

strong and supportive wife. I wonder if she feels that she is living

two different lives since the 1995 riding accident that left her husband

paralyzed. At the same time, perusing the program for "Enter the

Guardsman" in which she plays a worldly, much-romanced actress,

I ponder whether Reeve’s singular Act I solo, titled "My One True

Love," may have multiple meanings for her and for us.

"I’m not living two lives, but there are at least two aspects

to my life," says Reeve, instinctively linking herself to her

"Guardsman" character. "Just like in the play, what my

character is searching for, and what I am searching for, is a kind

of synthesis, melding fantasy and reality together."

It is hardly a surprise to hear Reeve say, "I am a different person

in private than in public. I speak to my husband differently than

I speak to you" (she confides that she affectionately calls him

"Toph" in private). Reeve notes that for this show she added

her family name, Morosini, to her billing so that it would sound good

with Robert Cuccioli, who plays her husband, the Actor. "A good

match, these two Italians onstage," says Reeve, laughing, and

expressing how exciting it is to work with the actor who originated

the title roles in the Broadway production of "Jekyll and Hyde."

So far in Reeve’s life and career there has been both

recognition and rewards. Admitting that she makes all her career moves

based on how her family would be affected, she says, "my family

life comes first, but I am a better person and more able to give by

doing something in my career that I find fulfilling." Reeve has

a simple formula to assess each job opportunity that comes along.

"If I believe that the time I spend on the job will be equally

or more fulfilling than the day I spend at home, then I take the job,"

she says.

It goes without saying that Christopher’s accident four years ago

changed both their lives. Now Reeve says that, four years into it,

"you get into a different kind of pattern and into a different

definition of normal. Although it seems less dramatic or less traumatic

than it did, I still don’t take jobs that take me out of town for

long periods of time."

I suggest that perhaps being the wife of a famous actor and having

a career of her own in the theater isn’t a situation terribly far

removed from the one that exists with the principal characters in

"Enter the Guardsman." Reeve explains how in the play, although

the couple are committed by marriage, the worldly Actress is wandering,

looking for something that is missing in her marriage, while the Actor

is fighting to keep the relationship together. We dispense with the

thought that jealousy, rivalry, and insecurity need be present when

a couple works closely together in the theater. She does note, however,

that Christopher played the role of the Actor in the stage version

of "The Guardsman" at Williamstown Theater Festival, opposite

Anne Twomey, some seven years ago. This was the actor’s last stage

play before his accident. It was also the same year that Dana and

Christopher’s son William was born.

The teamwork and support required in Dana and Christopher’s complicated

life together has been duly documented, and given emphasis by Dana

singing the title song on the soundtrack of the HBO film, "In

The Gloaming," directed by Christopher. In a way, it could also

signal a new era for a collaboration that began in 1987 at Williamstown

when Dana (who was then in the chorus) and Christopher were both appearing

in a production of "John Brown’s Body."

"Enter the Guardsman," with a book by Scott Wentworth, who

also directs this production, has an interesting genesis. After it

received international attention when it won the Musical of the Year

award in Aarhus, Denmark (not exactly the center of the musical theater

universe), it was presented in 1997 at the Donmar Warehouse in London.

The production received a mixed critical reception. Among the boosters

was Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph who wrote, "The American

team behind `Enter the Guardsman’ may just have hit upon theatrical

gold. It’s tuneful, poignant, and charming."

I asked Reeve if there are any parallels to be drawn in her own life

that make the relationship between the Actor and the Actress seem

real — or perhaps unreal.

"What’s different," she explains, "is that the couple

in the play have been married only six months. My character is getting

restless, which in my real life, is not true at all. What I can relate

to is this: When you do commit to someone for the long term, there

is work involved in keeping the relationship vital, to keep remembering

what drew you to this person. You can’t give up or make a habit of

it. What my character is really looking for is to be appreciated and

admired the way a lover does."

"The Actress doesn’t feel she has the spice, the passion, the

excitement in her life now that she is married," says Reeve. We

are both amused by the dilemma of this glamorous and desirable woman

who has presumably had scores of lovers before her marriage, none

of which lasted more than six months. Suddenly she finds she has a

lover, a guardsman, who is in fact none other than her masquerading

husband.

"What they learn by the end of the play is that you can have both.

But, you do have to work at it. It isn’t always going to happen magically

the way it does when you first fall in love," Reeve explains.

If it is the nature of the beast for beautiful married actresses to

be called to play opposite attractive married actors in the theater,

I asked if Dana had ever set Christopher up to test his loyalty.

"No! I’m not a game player, nor is he," she responds. "When

we met, I made it very clear to him that I wanted to know his intentions,"

she says. "We had been dating only a few weeks and he was very

effusive, saying he loved me and could imaging spending the rest of

his life with me. I said, `Now wait a minute. You’ve had a lot of

women in your life. Is this part of what you do to woo them?’"

A quick sip from the straw in her bottle of juice and Reeve’s voice

goes an octave higher as she is apparently relishing the flashback.

"I called him on it right off the bat," she says, certainly

aware at that time that Christopher had just ended a long relationship

with modeling executive Gae Exton, with whom he has two children.

But Reeve makes it quite clear that any teasing Christopher about

her leading men would be cruel and insensitive, even as she is candid

about the heartthrob she is playing opposite now.

"The thing about Robert [Cuccioli] is that he is handsome, sexy,

and very funny." Reeve assures me that the fan club that knows

Cuccioli as dark and stormy will be impressed that in this play he

is such a goofball.

Unfortunately the critics didn’t respond positively to "More to

Love," the play in which Reeve made her Broadway debut last season.

It was a fast fold. While Reeve impressed the critics with her performances

in two Off-Broadway plays — "Good Will" and "Sight

Unseen" — she was a revelation to critics and audiences at

the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in the musical version of "Two

Gentlemen of Verona." Reeve hopes to repeat this success, with

returning director Wentworth, for "Guardsman."

At 34, Reeve has a healthy attitude toward her career, but feels it

is the many facets of her life, including the work she does with the

Christopher Reeve Foundation, that gives her life balance.

She was born in Teaneck, and raised in Westchester. Her supportive

family includes her father, a cardiologist, and her mother, a vice-president

of a publishing company, and her two sisters, a doctor and a social

worker.

A graduate of Middlebury College, Reeve entered the MFA program for

acting at the California Institute of the Arts. Choosing not to finish

her graduate studies, she headed for New York where she auditioned

successfully for a Comedia Del’Arte company Off-Off Broadway. But

it was at the Williamstown Festival, that Reeve calls "a destination

for anyone serious about acting," that she was thrown into the

arms of Superman.

"Chris talks about it being love at first sight, but I was more

skeptical," admits Reeve, who says she thought whatever was going

on with him was "just crazy, just a flirtation." What Reeve

says impressed her — besides Christopher’s good looks — was

the intelligence of this Cornell University graduate who also trained

as a classical actor at Juilliard. Intelligence appears to guide her

family that Reeve calls her "joined unit." This includes the

bond that grew shortly after the accident between herself and Christopher’s

mother, Princeton resident and journalist Barbara Johnson, and her

stepchildren Matthew, 18, and Alexandra, 14.

When I suggest to Reeve that her position as Christopher’s wife exists

somewhere between being a superwoman and a super woman, she graciously

accepts the second label.

In the role of a super woman, Reeve is an advocate for disability

rights and funding for medical research, and a volunteer for numerous

charities. If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, she is anticipating

the publication in mid-October of her book "Care Packages,"

a volume comprised of over 200 inspiring letters sent to Christopher

from people from all different walks of life who have overcome hardships.

Reeve introduces each chapter, with anecdotes and stories about the

couple’s life together.

As it is time now for Reeve to return to rehearsal, I have to wait

until opening night to find out if that Act I solo, "My One Great

Love," will reveal as much about this actress as it does about

"the Actress."

— Simon Saltzman

Enter the Guardsman, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival,

F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600. Opening

night. $24 to $38. Saturday, September 11, 8 p.m.


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