Kenneth Lonergan has a way with words. It's this skill that propelled him to a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination last year for You Can Count on Me and that drives The Waverly Gallery, his latest work for the stage, which opens Tuesday, March 12, in the Cleveland Play House's Drury Theatre.
"What actress can say no to this role?" asks Ann Guilbert, who plays Gallery's central character, a former attorney now running a small art gallery in Greenwich Village and dealing with her children. "It's a family story. It's about aging and dealing with the aging process. It's funny, but it's also very poignant."
Guilbert -- an acting vet and California resident who's best known as neighbor Millie Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show and, more recently, Fran Drescher's Grandma Yetta on The Nanny -- is no stranger to Cleveland's theater stages. She's appeared in Play House productions of Touch the Names: Letters to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Jerusalem, and Germany Surrenders.
"I knew [Touch the Names playwright] Randal Myler and [Play House artistic director] Peter Hackett from the Denver Center Theatre Company," she explains. "And I just keep coming back when they ask me."
The Waverly Gallery, which was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize, is a fitting role, Guilbert says. Lonergan's sharp characters drew her to the aging Gladys Green. "It's a really wonderful part," she says. "[The play] presents problems that every generation deals with and will have to deal with in the future. It happened to me with my mother. And it happened to me with my husband, who was ailing. So it's a situation I've been in.
"You're the child at one point, then you become parent to the parent. It puts you in a strange kind of position."