'Responsibility to Get It Right'

TV actress Linda Purl takes the stage at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco


You might have seen her guest star in big name shows like "Desperate Housewives," "Homeland," "Matlock" or "The Office.' Of course, that doesn’t include her extensive career in theater productions including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "The Baby Dance" and "Getting and Spending." She has also released several albums of jazz music.

Is there anything Linda Purl can’t do?

Her most recent endeavor involves performing in a one-woman play, "The Year of Magical Thinking," directed by Jenny Sullivan. The show is staged for three performances, 8 p.m. Jan. 17 and 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 18, at Theater Jacksonville in San Marco. The production is part of Theatre Jacksonville's Guerilla Show Series.

The play is about one woman’s emotional journey after unexpectedly losing her husband and their only daughter. Purl describes her character as “brutally honest, a formidable talent and intellect, and very exacting of herself in her writing.”

Purl faced a common fear when preparing for the play. “This play is so brilliantly written, it is such a truthful piece that my primary fear of doing a one-woman play is that it would be crushingly boring to watch one woman talk on an empty stage. I happily discovered this was unfounded.”

While there is quite a bit of grief and mourning in this play, Purl believes that it’s much deeper than that. “There’s a good deal of humor and I can tell you, from having done the play and spoken to a number of audience members after the show, that for many, the play has deep tides of healing in it.”

Purl’s preparation for this play did not solely entail memorization and acting lessons. It was an emotional journey that took a lot of strength. It’s a story that happened behind-the-scenes. And it is one of the reasons that Purl’s character, Joan Didion, really comes to life.

“The journey to the play was life meeting art. My friend and wonderful actress Bonnie Franklin was slated to do the role. However, she became quite ill and most generously passed the baton to me. Shortly before rehearsals were to begin, my mother was given six months to live. I felt my place was beside my mother, but she insisted I stay with the plan and do the run. Nevertheless, I intended to write my director and decline the play, hoping that Bonnie had recovered enough to take the role back. To my great dismay that same day I received word from my director that Bonnie had died in the night. So I had to stay the course and do the role, for Mother and for Bonnie. That was my preparation.”

It’s so obvious that theater is Purl’s forte when she speaks about her experiences with great passion. She believes that theater is truly an actor’s medium.

She takes great care in trying to portray characters as accurately as possible. The movie, "Like Normal People," is a true story about a handicapped couple. “That was a challenging role because you felt such a sense of responsibility to get it right, to honor their heroic journey.”

A responsibility to honor someone’s vision, that’s how Linda Purl views acting.

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