Sometimes it takes a particular role to allow you to see an actor you've watched for years in a way you've never seen her before. Sometimes it takes a character who taps into something particularly close to the actor's own life experience. For
"I always knew things would happen for me later in life," Mayberry said over a cup of tea on a recent afternoon. "I remember being 7 and thinking I'm not getting married until I am 40. I'm certainly grateful though. So many actors at my age have to give up and go into something else. What could I do? I can type."
In her many years as a Chicago actress, most frequently at Steppenwolf and Lookingglass theaters, but also at many other companies around town, Mayberry, 47, always gave off the air of the outlier. Her voice and accent were different — she was born and spent the early part of her childhood in southwestern Missouri, in and around Branson. Although beautiful and astute, she had a scrappy, almost feral quality on the stage, especially when put alongside smoother types from more affluent backgrounds. She rarely courted publicity, often disappearing into the corner of rooms or exiting them entirely. Given all the work she did in Chicago, especially in the shows of director Mary Zimmerman, it is striking, really, how little Mayberry has been written about. She has, by her own admission, stayed away from all that.
"I grew up very blue-collar and really poor," she said. "Even now, my parents don't really understand what it is that I do."
Mayberry's mother taught eighth grade; her father worked at the Branson theme park Silver Dollar City until he lost his job, leaving his wife's salary as the family's only income. When Mayberry was 12, her father got a job at what is now
"Thank God I got out though," Mayberry said. "If I hadn't, I would have had five kids by now and been on my third marriage. It really is like the argument in 'Good People.' Do you make your own choices or are you lucky? I was lucky my dad lost his job in southwestern Missouri."
Instead of all that, she got a scholarship to
Mayberry has done a slew of shows in Chicago — from "The Geography of Luck" in 1988 at Steppenwolf to Alan Ayckbourn's "Time of My Life" to Zimmerman's "Mirror of the Invisible World." But it's hard to think of another role quite on the level of Margaret. She has rarely played leads. Even more rarely has she played leads so close to herself.
"I worked harder on this role than any other role I've played," Mayberry said, running down her trips to Boston and her research in South End bars, tape recorder running in her backpack, capturing just the right Boston accent. She says she nearly saw the Broadway production of "Good People" —
So there was good fortune involved in how it came together. When is that not the case with life's opportunities? Mayberry's Margaret is fresh, authentic, rooted in experience and comes from the heart. That's why the work is so very good. Luck had nothing to do with any of that.
When: Through Nov. 17
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.