Dana Delany finds peace on stage

Whatever Dana Delany does, she wants to have some active say in how things go.
By Neal Zoren / January 26, 2020
'Goodnight Nobody', photo by T. Charles Erickson
Ideally, she says she prefers to couple her work as an actress with producing, not only so she can have some control over the way a story is told, but so she can be sure her voice is heard.

"I don't need agreement," Delany says in a telephone conversation from Princeton, where she is appearing in the McCarter Theatre's world premiere of Rachel Bonds's complex, engrossing, and profoundly sad play, "Goodnight Nobody." "I need to know I can ask questions, challenge points, and express what I'm thinking."

She praises Bonds for being open to discussions, particularly about how Delany's character, a famous artist who is the mother of a 30-something son, with whose childhood friend she has an affair, responds to given situations.

"Rachel is very smart and very fast. She'll listen and consider what you say. We rehearsed and changed things up to opening night. Sometimes, we'd talk about something, or I'd ask something, and you'd see a change or a new line. It didn't happen every time, but it's good to know there is that give and take between everyone involved, and you're a part of it."

Delany talks about two main themes of "Goodnight Nobody," named after the mysterious blank page with that text in the children's classic, "Goodnight Moon," motherhood and loneliness. She puts things succinctly by saying, "I see it as a play about the cost of loving."

"It also deals with a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. A double standard prevails there. Reverse the situation, and there's acceptance and envy, nothing that requires apology. A woman has a young lover, and judgment and shame become part of the equation. Motherhood comes in because a son's feelings are involved. The mother's attitude is the son is grown and responsible for himself, but his being there at all makes the situation more complicated."

Delany, who earned her fame as combat nurse Colleen Murphy in "China Beach" and built it via other TV appearances, such as in "Desperate Housewives," says she enjoys going back and forth between television and the theater. She earned two consecutive Emmy awards as Best Actress in a Drama for her work in "China Beach," but reminds, "That was 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then in several ways. I feel freer as an actress than I did then. That's why I am in the theater, to do a range of work I might not have gotten to do in my 20s and that regional theater gives me the opportunity to do."

Delany says she was drawn to acting from earliest memory.

"I can remember wanting to be an actress since age three. I was shy everywhere but on a stage. Even around my family, I didn't talk much or exhibit much personality, but I would put on shows to entertain, and that would make me part of the group.

"I followed through with acting all through high school and college and then turned professional. I don't know if I had another choice. I have other interests, but I never thought of another kind of work.

"I am drawn to the creative side of television and theater, especially television. It is important to have some say in the work you do. The best is to produce it.

"It's also important to get productions moving from concept to being made. I like talking about how a show will unfold, but I don't enjoy being part of endless discussions that lead to nothing.

"Also, when you have an idea for a show or a character, you want to work to get it produced before someone else does."

Delany says her main interest beyond television and theater is art and antiquities.

"I can spend days in museums and galleries looking at art. It's part of my attraction to creativity and also a way to see things from different perspectives."

Lately, Delany's creativity has kept her close to the theater. In addition to performing in "Goodnight Nobody at McCarter through Feb. 9, she is working with playwright Jen Silverman and director Mike Donahue to develop a new play.