Bill Heck & Virginia Kull in 'The Orphans' Home Cycle Part 2: The Story of a Marriage'
it's a universal story from one of our greatest playwrights, and more people need to see it.
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Currently: Juggling four diverse roles—the hero’s mother, a flirtatious widow, a childlike young woman and an elderly spinster—in Horton Foote’s nine-hour-long The Orphans’ Home Cycle at Signature Theatre Company.
Lone-Star Gal: Kull’s first ambition was quite a bit different from where she ended up: “I wanted to be a neurologist and go to Duke Medical School,” the vivacious young actress says with a laugh. “I was a science nerd and won a city-wide science fair my freshman year in high school.” Around the same time, she found herself moved to tears by a high school production of Our Town and won a bit part as a homeless mother singing about “Skid Row” in Little Shop of Horrors. “Our school had more than 400 students in the drama department and did 20 productions a year,” she explains. “Hey, everything’s bigger in Texas!” By senior year, Kull’s dreams of brain surgery gave way to becoming a theater major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Role Model: While at S.M.U., Kull was asked to escort visiting actress Rosemary Harris around campus one day, and the Tony-winning star offered a piece of advice the aspiring performer took to heart. “She said, ‘I never got to play Nora [in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House]. It’s most important to play the roles you want to play. I was really struck by that, because I know so many actors who say they won’t work outside New York.” Kull, on the other hand, has amassed an impressive list of regional credits, including—yes—Nora at North Carolina Stage Company and Catherine in A View from the Bridge at Arena Stage in D.C. “I’ve gotten some pretty weighty experience that wouldn’t have had at this point in my career if I hadn’t been willing to travel.”
Best Foote Forward: A pleasant dilemma presented itself in the fall of 2007, when director Michael Wilson asked Kull to audition for the small but pivotal role of Gerald McRaney’s trophy girlfriend in Primary Stages’ off-Broadway premiere of Dividing the Estate. “I was supposed to be doing Doubt, at the Geva Theatre Center [in Rochester, NY], which was a much bigger part, but if you say ‘Horton Foote play,’ I don’t care if I’m playing a tree!” It seems that Foote was the favorite writer of Kull’s Alabama-born father, “so I grew up watching Tender Mercies and The Trip to Bountiful; to this day, I think Geraldine Page’s performance in that film is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.” Dad and daughter both got teary-eyed the first time they met Foote (“a generous spirit and so funny”), and Virginia began a career-changing journey that has continued for more than two years.
The Juggler: Kull’s happy experience in Dividing the Estate (which transferred to Broadway three months before Foote died at 92), led her to join the 22-member ensemble of The Orphans’ Home Cycle. A mammoth undertaking of nine one-hour plays performed in three evenings or in full-day marathons, the Cycle is thrilling for audiences and actors. “It’s like sitting down with an epic novel like Lonesome Dove,” Kull says. Set in a fictionalized version of Foote’s Texas hometown, the plays boasts colorful characters such as Kull as as Corella, the youthful version of hero Horace Robedaux’s mother; Bessie, a naive young woman who hears everybody’s secrets; the widow Claire, a coquettish single mother of two bratty children; and “Cousin” Minnie, a crotchety old maid. Her favorite? “This is totally the wrong answer, but I adore Minnie so much!” Kull says with a laugh. “I find her story so heartbreaking and moving—and it’s a treat to get to look terrible onstage.”
A Very Good Year: With a constantly changing performance schedule, Kull confesses that she frequently has to ask the Orphans wig mistress which part of the trilogy is being performed that day. Marathons are “thrilling,” she says, “because the four women I play are spaced out perfectly [in five of the nine plays]. By the ninth hour, I don’t feel tired.” Adding to her happy mood: She’s a newlywed to fellow Texan Ryan Young, an actor/filmmaker who also does post-production work at HBO, last May. “I have a one-track mind but he can do so many things well,” she says. “I’m so proud of him!” To complete Kull’s dream year, she’s hoping the Cycle will transfer to Broadway next season. “It’s a universal story from one of our greatest playwrights, and more people need to see it,” she declares. “As Hallie Foote’s character said in Dividing the Estate, ‘I’m prayin’! I’m prayin’!’”