About the Author:
After originating the role of Fanka in Irena’s Vow on Broadway, Tracee Chimo found a home off-Broadway, earning critical acclaim for her turns as a drama queen maid bridesmaid in Bachelorette and a withdrawn nerd in Circle Mirror Transformation. On the small screen, Chimo snagged the role of Dylan on MTV’s I Just Want My Pants Back and appeared in the romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement. Now, Chimo is back on Broadway in Harvey, playing Jessica Hecht’s wide-eyed daughter, Myrtle Mae Simmons. Below, Chimo shares her story of how an actress who typically plays “broken down hookers, archers or shy teenagers” found the essence of Myrtle Mae.
On the advice of several people, I was in the process of moving from New York to Los Angeles when an appointment came in for me to audition for the Broadway production of Harvey at the Roundabout Theatre Company. I had just given up the Brooklyn apartment I had lived in for several years, and all my stuff was being shipped across the country. I’d been living out of a suitcase at a friend’s place in Chelsea, and it was Christmastime. I remember feeling completely and utterly lost, as well as totally terrified to make the move to L.A. after living in New York for 10 years. To say that I was scared I was making a huge mistake would be the understatement of the year.
I had been going back and forth between the two coasts for about a year and a half due to work. But deep in my heart I knew I wanted to settle in New York…and I had to find a way to keep theater in my life. For me, there was simply going to be no living without it. I had just shot four films in three months, and the pressure to move to L.A. was palpable.
It had been a year and some odd months since I’d done a play, and I jumped with excitement at the prospect of working for Roundabout, a company I’d longed to experience, as well as working alongside people like director Scott Ellis and actress Jessica Hecht (Jim Parsons had not yet been announced). The next day they sent me the script, and as I read it, I instantaneously became anxious. This was something completely different from anything I’d ever done. Certainly no one has ever seen me play this kind of character in New York. Or frankly, anywhere. I’m normally kickin’ it off-Broadway, playing chicks with massive drug addictions, broken down hookers, archers or shy teenagers who slide around the stage in rainbow socks, yellow sweatpants and a red hoodie.
It had been years since I’d done something that required a natural sense of “style” and an awareness of the time period in which the play was set—in this case, the 1940s. I tried to watch the movie with Jimmy Stewart, but I made it about five minutes in before turning it off. I’m not accustomed to watching other actors play parts I’m going out for. Looking at their interpretations of the character in question didn’t seem helpful to me, especially since I’m used to being the actor who is actually originating the part herself. And I’ve never done a revival. Of anything. Like...EVER.
So, when I went in for the initial audition with Scott and Jessica and the entire Roundabout team, I thought for sure I’d blown it. I literally called my agent on the bus ride home to Boston for the holidays and said, “This part’s not for me, guys. I’m just too contemporary for it. This 1940s thing is waaaaaaaay crazy. It’s throwing me. It feels really strange.” They responded: “Too bad. You have a callback.”
I stayed in Boston for Christmas, then went back to New York for New Year's and found myself continually having reason after reason to stay on the east coast. Although all my belongings were now sitting in an apartment I’d found on the beach in Santa Monica—which later I learned was basically an extremely twisted “beach house” with a shower outside, a front door that never stayed locked, and surfer dude roommates who let prostitutes use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
I bummed around New York for the month of January, prepping for my callback, and also workshopping a new play that will be heading to Broadway later this year, in which I play the ultimate porn star. So there I was, with two outfits to my name, a toothbrush, and one wheelie bag that I’d accidently broken at JFK during one of my many trips back and forth, rehearsing all day to play a sex-obsessed porn star, and prancing around my pal’s apartment at night, trying to learn how to be “girlie” for Myrtle Mae in Harvey.
It wasn’t until the day of the callback when I realized I had been going about playing her all wrong. I’d been approaching her as though she was this little wisp of a thing, with bouncing curls and rosy cheeks. But the more I played with her, the more I realized just how tough Myrtle Mae is, and just how bold she must be at her young age, and in the 1940s, to speak her mind so freely. She’s no waif. Not at all. And while she may skip and jump when she’s excited, I discovered that she’s not so different from me at all: not many possessions, no real home of her own and, to be completely candid with you, finding it really hard to get a date!
So I dropped any worry I had about the style of the 1940s female and worrying about playing her “correctly” (whatever the hell that means), and I simply went to the callback playing her as though she were me, right now, in this time, just as we are. It was funny, because Jessica and I ended up dancing around during the audition, laughing and enjoying each other so much I felt my heart beating out of my chest. I was so happy. I hadn’t felt that much satisfaction or pure joy in a very, very long time.
I found myself making little wishes in the street that night that I might be lucky enough to be the fortunate girl to get offered the part. And sure enough, three hours later, while on the phone with my kid brother, I got the call that I’d be playing Myrtle Mae Simmons on Broadway opposite Jessica and Jim.
I ran back to L.A. where I stayed for pilot season, showering outside and hanging out with beach bums. Then I packed up what little I had and moved my ass back out to New York with a song in my heart and a spring in my step, all the while knowing that I had a headstrong, willful, young girl to come to. I had Myrtle Mae.