…And a Passion: Q&A with Lusia Strus

“All you need for theater is two planks and a passion”—one version of a saying attributed to Spanish playwright Lope de Vega (who actually said something a little less pithy). Planks can be gotten anywhere. For passion, you need actors.

Given the cooperation of the Fates, this will be an occasional feature, exploring the life and work of actors by means of a standard set of questions. My current subject was suggested to me by previous respondent Jeff Still, whose answers can be found here.

Lusia Strus was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Ukrainian parents and now lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. The play in which she’s currently performing happens to be set in Chicago, and she skillfully renders the sound of that city in her vocal work, which evokes not the broad South Side tones of the stereotype but something a little more north- and west- side. You can find her on Twitter.

Lusia Strus headshotWhat’s your current role?
I’m playing Bette in the world premiere of The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, by Laura Eason, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. It’s a co-production with Women’s Project Theater. I’m loving it.

A movie I did, Cotton, written and directed by Marty Madden, is doing very well in film festivals right now. It’s won five or more awards so far. I’ve been nominated for best actress in this year’s St. Tropez International Film Festival—it takes place on the Côte d’Azur in May—which is nice. I play a tent-revival preacher named Maggie Mae Welles.

In May, Wayward Pines, written by Chad Hodge and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, premieres on Fox. You never see me, but you hear me through the first season. It’s one of the best pilots I ever read.

What sparked your interest in acting?
I was always a bit of a pretender. And from a very young age I understood I could make people laugh. I was offered a talent scholarship at Illinois State University, and that’s when I realized I wanted to and could do this and nothing was going to stop me.
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The times they are a-changin’ again: Laura Eason revisits Chicago in the grunge era

Lena (Margo Seibert) faces off against Hank (Jeb Brown) on the rock-club set of Laura Eason's new play. (Photograph by Sandra Coudert)

Lena (Margo Seibert) faces off against Hank (Jeb Brown) on the rock-club set of Laura Eason’s new play. (Photograph by Sandra Coudert)

Near the beginning of Laura Eason’s The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, rock-bar proprietor Hank asks, “How can a D.J. be good?,” arguing that a disc jockey only spins music that someone else has made. It’s 1992 in Chicago, and Hank has been running his now-fabled hole-in-the-wall joint for 25 years. Kiss auditioned there; Stevie Nicks left her scarf after a performance one night; the Clash did a secret show there. The question has a personal dimension for Hank; his daughter, Lena, who helps him run the place, has recently taken up with a D.J. named Nash and is getting into rave culture. More is at stake than Lena’s tastes and the new trends in the music scene, for the landlord senses an upturn in the neighborhood’s fortunes and has just decided to raise the rent.

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Certain old clothes

What’s the allure of fashion? For me, oddly, it shares something with engineering: there are tasks to be accomplished, aims to be met; I can admire seeing how those things are done and what extra qualities, of subtlety or flair or extravagance, are displayed in the doing. In a way, fashion exerts the appeal of the nonessential. From another angle, that’s all wrong, because markers of status and power, of individual and group identity, aren’t at all unimportant, though we might sometimes wish that status and power themselves mattered less. But I don’t mean to go into it here. I want only to mention, for readers who might otherwise have missed it, that a recent New Yorker contained a report on a cache of dresses by Callot Soeurs. Perhaps you know the name, along with those of Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet; perhaps not. (I’m at a loss to explain why I do.) In any case, if you’re susceptible to the romance of certain old clothes, to borrow the title of an early Henry James story, I suggest you turn here and read the short text by Jessamyn Hatcher, which is accompanied by a few (too few) tantalizing, almost tangibly textured photographs by Pari Dukovic.

Notes on Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, and acting

Sometimes the very beginning of a thing is a choice bit, which works best when it’s fresh and unfamiliar. Imagine reading, without having heard it first, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Try to conceive of being in the audience when Beethoven’s four-note opening to his Fifth Symphony first dot-dashed through the air. Recall, if you’re one for whom it’s possible, seeing the opening sequence of Touch of Evil without knowing what was in store.

The opening of the first episode of Orphan Black, a Canadian-produced TV series that premiered in March 2013, is that kind of thing. Though it doesn’t work on the same level as those examples, it’s a pretty great little grabber. And the show that it introduces has achieved a degree of fame, for reasons that are hinted at in the pilot episode’s first few minutes.

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