Jane Kaczmarek may be a three-time Golden Globe nominee for playing Lois in the television series “Malcolm in the Middle,” but she considers theatre home. And these days, she’s doing more of it. In 2017, she starred in Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Geffen Playhouse and The Roommate at Williamstown Theatre Festival. This month, she’ll play the Stage Manager in Our Town at Pasadena Playhouse, a coproduction with Deaf West Theatre (Sept. 26–Oct. 22). She spoke by phone and began the conversation by casually mentioning that her parents voted for Donald Trump.
What were the holidays like with your parents?
Horrible. I was prepared to go back and practice being gracious and generous when Hillary won. I never in a million years dreamed that Christmas would be the other way around. My mother kind of announced, “No politics.” But my father, he can’t keep his finger off the sword, he said, “Well, Jane, when are you going to take your head out of the ground and admit Obama was the worst president we ever had?” And I just go, “Well, I’m going to do the dishes, and I’m not going to engage.”
Considering these tense times, how do you stay hopeful?
Now I’m in my house in northwest Connecticut, and I found hollyhock this morning, and there was a buck deer eating my apples. That keeps me hopeful.
That we’re doing Our Town with Pasadena Playhouse—that keeps me hopeful. That was the first play I ever saw, I think. When I was in high school, I went to the Milwaukee Rep, and I remember my poor date—I was crying so hard at the end of it, my sleeve was drenched, I had no handkerchief, and I think he thought that I had gone mad. And I remember it was Judith Light who played Emily.
The message of that play keeps me hopeful, and trying to have people realize that there really is nothing more than what some people refer to as “the sacred ordinary.” It’s a term I just love, “the sacred ordinary”—it’s the thing that Emily says at the end, you know, coffee and hot baths and Mama’s butternut tree.
And the Our Town that we’re doing, we’re trying to really make it look like America today, which is different than I think what most people think of what Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, looked like then. And we are using, with Deaf West, people who sign instead of speak. It’s going to be an interesting look at what America is today.
How did this production come about?
I can literally walk to the Pasadena Playhouse from my house, and it’s under new artistic leadership, under Danny Feldman. I was at Williamstown [Theatre Festival in the Berkshires] last summer doing a play that Anne Kauffman directed with Alfred Molina, And No More Shall We Part. Danny came up and saw it, and we stood in the parking lot at Williamstown for about two hours talking. He asked me to join the board, and I did. And we both talked about how Our Town is our favorite play, and it came to pass!
Do you know any sign language?
I know “I love Helen” and “water,” because the first play I did in high school was Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. I was also tall—I’ve been 5’7″ since I was in the seventh grade; I was always Hecuba instead of Cassandra. The good thing is, I’m still kind of playing parts that I’ve been playing since! I’m the mom or the strong one.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Oh, I love doing so many things! I love gardening. I think I would be a teacher. I would love to go back into public schools and teach.
And I have these obituary books. I’ve always loved collages, and I save obituaries. Some of them are of famous people, but there’s something about what somebody puts in an obituary that’s like an Our Town moment. There was one a while ago about a man; all he ever wanted was an elephant and he got one, and there was a great picture in the Times of him and his elephant. And so I started collecting these obituaries and doing collages around them. You have to pay for every word in an obituary, so I’m always fascinated by what people think, “It’s worth it to pay money so people know this about him.” It gives me great joy doing these things.
What would be in your obituary?
I know the first line would be, “The loudmouth mother from long-running Fox sitcom ‘Malcolm in the Middle.’” [Laughs] I think I’d like to be remembered as being a really happy person who really likes people.
One of the things I love about Williamstown is that I really am an elder stateswoman there now. The apprentices, the interns, all those young people—who were me at one time—are there, and I just love being with them, and kind of passing on this baton of how incredible theatre could be and the bond that people have with each other by doing this.
Last year the apprentices had never seen All About Eve. And I was stunned! Because it’s a movie about theatre. So I invited them all to my apartment after the show one night, and we had a party and drank good champagne and watched All About Eve.