A Plumb Role for a TV Icon, on LBI

Celebrated Brady Buncher Eve Plumb stars with Broadway vet John Bolton, in the Surflight Theatre production of SAME TIME NEXT YEAR, beginning this week.

We’ve said it before, but sometimes it becomes imperative to get out that elephant gun and address that elephant in the room before it goes rogue. Thus, when Eve Plumb lit up our cell phone one fine post-Irene morning, we felt the need to break the ice, clear the air, take the bull by the horns and put all our cards on the table by quickly bringing up…Dick Tracy? Read on.

To a pretty wide swath of the Boomer mega-generation and their offspring, Eve Plumb is and shall always be Jan Brady, middle daughter of The Brady Bunch and just about everyone’s surrogate younger/ older sister. She’s family to us, in that we love her, we do, even as our relationship rollercoasters through the feuds and foibles and freeze-outs that often mark our dealings with our three-dimensional siblings.

And Eve Plumb feels the same way about all of us; about our inability to grow beyond a slim comfort-zone of nostalgia, and our incessant neediness that keeps her from fully breaking with the past.  She’s had her own share of problems with Jan as well — beginning with her refusal to take part in the mass hallucination that was the Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and continuing on through some decades worth of reported co-star recriminations and refreshingly flip interview responses. Still, when projects like the Saturday-surreal Brady Kids and the 80s-inoffensive Brady Brides and the rather unsettling 1990 dramedy The Bradys beckoned, this 45 year industry pro stepped up, with the sort of dedication that got her noticed for beyond-Brady endeavors like Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway.

At some point though, it became necessary for this quintessential California girl to close the gate on that impossibly sunny studio Brady backyard, and make a clean break by trekking cross-country (with hubby Kenneth Pace) to relocate within the grey ‘n granite planet that is New York City. It’s a potentially scary move that paid dividends when she won the title role, and a run of critical accolades, in the Off Broadway stage show Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage. And it’s a road that’s brought her by extension to post-Labor Day Long Beach Island, where beginning this week she stars in a limited-run engagement of Same Time, Next Year.

Set up as a series of snapshots from a 25 year extramarital affair, Bernard Slade‘s hit 1975 two-character play comes to the stage of Surflight Theatre as the first fall offering in what’s turned out to be a remarkable inaugural season for Producing Artistic Director Roy Miller and Executive Producer Timothy Laczynski. Going up with a matinee preview on Wednesday, September 7 and continuing through September 17, the production pairs her with John Bolton — not this John Bolton, nor even that John Bolton, but the young veteran Broadway actor whose formidable credits include such Tony’d-up musicals as Titanic, Contact and Spamalot.

It’s a premium blend about which we can only whine “we’re not worthy, were not worthy.” UpperWETside spoke to Eve Plumb at the end of a long and interesting week in which the East Coast emigre lived through her umpteenth been-there-done-that earthquake AND her first-ever hurricane; spoke of life choices and “plumb” roles and the weather and, you know, that

Eve Plumb, as she appeared Off Broadway in MISS ABIGAIL.

upperWETside: Thanks for taking the time to talk! I’m sure it’s been a pretty wild week for you, too…first we’re all freaking out over what to you was probably an insignificant little tremor, and then you got to experience what I’m guessing was your first hurricane as an East Coaster…it’s almost enough to make you pine for Southern California.

EVE PLUMB: If I didn’t let an earthquake scare me into moving out of LA, I’m not going to let an earthquake scare me into moving back! Anyway, I’m back in Long Beach Island right now. It’s gorgeous and sunny, and I’m very envious of the people on the beach. I wish I could join them, but we have a lot of work to do.

We were here for a couple of days before the storm moved in, and we got in one rehearsal before going back up to New York — we lost a couple of rehearsals, so we’re all really nervous. But I’d rather be challenged in life!

It is very lovely up and down the Jersey Shore as we speak — nothing like a big old storm to blow out all the bad stuff from the air.

It also blew away all of the bad people! Only the good people came back, and I think we’ll have a great time doing this show here in September.

To so many people, myself included, you just epitomize the California life; I picture you walking across soundstage backyards; painting in your Laguna Beach studio — but you seem really to have adjusted quite well to your new identity as a New Yorker.  

It was a big move and a big decision to make, but really, I always thought I’d live somewhere else; some place like New York City, while I was still able to carry heavy bags into buildings and up flights of stairs.

You’ve been very serious about your painting in recent years; do you paint as a rule every day? Have you brought along your oil paints and easels and everything while you’re camped out on Long Beach Island?

No, I basically paint during downtime between projects — painting comes and goes; I’m set up with my painting in New York, but I haven’t been doing it lately. When I’m acting, I focus on the project at hand, just like I focus on the subject matter in a painting. But I never thought I’d wind up being exhibited in galleries with my paintings — it gave me the confidence and the idea to try whatever came to mind; to take on challenges.

Tell me about your co-star John Bolton, who’s got a very impressive track record as a stage actor — have you worked on anything with him in the past?

This is the first time we’ve worked together  — we’ve been friends for many years, since I did South Pacific in summer stock; he was doing another show in the same place.

But I would say that 97 percent of my sojourn from California gal to New York stage actress is due to John. I came here to try and line up a job before we moved, and John’s apartment was available for me to sublet while I stayed in the city and auditioned for Abigail.

Then it turned out that Roy Miller knew John, and asked him if he’d like to do something at Surflight. John told him ‘I know Eve Plumb,’ and, well, here we are.

Now that you’ve really begun to establish yourself as a stage actor, is the plan to concentrate upon stage work in the city?

You know, I’m a TV gal from way back, and there’s a lot of great TV done in and around New York. I’d love to be a semi-regular on a series — I’d love to be on one of the Law & Order shows! They’re all big favorites of mine — I’m one of those people who got hooked on them in reruns.

Well, of course all America knows you as a TV gal — I have to say that I’ve seen you interviewed on talk shows and news shows a number of times, and you handle that environment very well also. Even when the inevitable Brady Bunch questions pop up — dammit, I promised myself I wasn’t gonna be the one who brought up The Brady Bunch!

The Brady Bunch is what gets me jobs! I don’t get scripts on my door — I try to get auditions, and I’m always looking for something new and interesting.

As an actor, you never get to coast in life — even major actors get turned down for parts, or get told they’re too old or too big for a part they really want to play. But actors are interested in small things — like Meryl Streep when she did Web Therapy, which is only online. And she was great in it!

There is one thing from your pre-Brady past that I’ve been dying to ask you about. I have a bootleg tape of William Dozier’s pilot for the Dick Tracy TV show that never was; I had heard about it for years, and when I finally saw it I was surprised to see that you were in the cast! You weren’t actually in the show; just in the opening credits. What can you tell me about that one? Did you even do so much as a photo shoot?

I was Bonnie — which was, I don’t know, his daughter? I do remember having a photo shoot; it’s somewhere in my archive. But I don’t remember doing a scene. I DO remember doing a scene for the Barbara Rush Show, which is one of two or three pilots I did before The Brady Bunch. People forget that I’d been acting since I was six, doing shows like Lancer, The Virginian, The Big Valley.

So many Westerns on the air back then. I had the pleasure of talking to John Astin a couple of years ago — he had a lot of great stories about that classic era of network TV, and he told me that as an actor in those days, if you wanted to work, you had to learn how to ride. But the 1960s and 70s were a time of tremendous activity, all these series and TV movies, and you came of age right in the middle of that amazing stuff.

It’s true. But you know, I got to grow up on a Hollywood set; play dress up with trained animals and be with my mom all the time. For me, it was a great time— you hear about the bad experiences of child actors because that’s what sells. I probably won’t ever write a book, since it would be nothing but positive — you know, this was a good day; this was ANOTHER good day…

I guess I’m guilty of steering the conversation back to your childhood once again, but to return to the here and now, I’m thinking that SAME TIME NEXT YEAR will be a good fit for you. It’s a play that runs a little deeper than, say, a Neil Simon comedy — you play a character who, every time she walks back on stage, has matured and been reshaped by the passage of time and the offstage milestones in her life. You have to convey all those unseen forces to the audience, and you get to follow in the footsteps of Ellen Burstyn…

Well, thank you for making me even more scared and nervous!  It’s a play in which the two actors are up there all by themselves, growing older, going through changes, getting smoochy…but it’s a great script, and a great challenge. I’m really looking forward to it.

Same Time Next Year goes up for two previews on September 7 and 8; plays at 8pm on September 9 and 10; and continues with a mix of matinee and evening performances through September 17. Take it here for tickets ($31 – $49) and schedule details.

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