Comedian Susie Essman, best known for her foul-mouthed turn as Susie Green on TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, is spending part of her summer honing her stage skills at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Essman is currently starring opposite Tony nominee Brooks Ashmanskas and GCB’s Leslie Bibb in the Neil Simon comedy Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Broadway.com recently chatted with Essman to find out how her summer gig is going.
“I’ve never really acted on stage, so I figured it was a good way to test myself,” Essman said of taking the job as Elaine, a potential sex partner for Barney (Ashmanskas), a middle-aged man hoping to bring some excitement to his life. “I really like the play and like the part, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out, see how I felt and if I wanted to purse [theater].”
The play has definitely taken Essman out of her comfort zone. “The rehearsal process is so different from what I'm used to. On Curb everything is improvised. Here I have 28 pages I had to learn!” The actress credits her director, Anything Goes alum Jessica Stone, for helping make her transition to stage seamless. “She has been pulling me through this whole process. She is going to have a huge career as a director. I am spoiled in the way I’ve been spoiled by Larry David. It’s very hard to work with other TV comedians after having worked with Larry, and I think Jessica has done me the same disservice in theater because she has been so amazing."
Her character’s over-the-top habits have also helped Essman feel at ease. “She’s a snappy, tough-talking, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking sexpot. So I guess except for the smoking it’s pretty much typecasting,” she joked. “The play has that Neil Simon snappy dialogue from the ’60s. Look, I know how to deliver a punchline, but these are very complex characters. What I’ve really enjoyed is finding the guts of the character, her pain and who she really is. I’m trying to make it more layered and not just about snappy wisecracking dialogue.”
Now that Essman is enjoying herself on stage can New York audiences expect to catch her in a show anytime soon? “Broadway, here I come,” she laughed.
Essman will also perform her stand-up act at Williamstown. Last of the Red Hot Lovers runs through July 22.