From starting her own theatre company, Bloomington's Oasis Productions ("It was me and my check book") to working with prison audiences through her InterAction Theater (whose projects included educational programs on HIV-AIDS prevention), Diane Kondrat has certainly left her mark on Indiana's theater culture over the past 25 years as an all-around impresario. But she may be best remembered as an actress capable of giving, in last year's August: Osage County at Phoenix Theatre, a "tour de force performance with soul-stirring range" (David Hoppe in these pages). She's relocating this year to Portland, Oregon, but before she goes, Kondrat is saying goodbye with roles on stage at Bloomington's John Waldron Arts Center (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and the Phoenix Theatre (The Lyons).
The Lyons, a dark comedy about a family with a dying dad, a domineering mom, a closeted gay son and an alcoholic daughter, makes its Midwest premiere this month with Kondrat in the lead as the aforementioned "domineering mom." Here's The New York Times on The Lyons: "If you stood in the Cort Theater lobby and listened to the laughter that rises in close and regular waves, you could easily pretend that the time was the 1960s, and that you had just dropped in on the latest hit by Neil Simon, directed by Mike Nichols." I spoke with Kondrat as she prepared for her final bow at the Phoenix.
NUVO: What will you miss most about living and working in Indiana?
Diane Kondrat: The people I work with. Bryan Fonseca [artistic director at the Phoenix] kept me alive. I moved to Indiana with a five-year-old and a three-month-old. I found out that Bryan was paying his actors, even if they weren't Equity. That fact allowed me to have gas money. And the combination of the dogwoods and the redbuds in the spring between Bloomington and Indianapolis.
NUVO: And what will you miss least?
Kondrat: I'm so excited to be moving to a town that's made fun of because it's so liberal after living in a state that's made fun of because it's so conservative. That's what I won't miss about Indiana: the Republicans.
NUVO: Are you at all scared to start anew?
Kondrat: The basis of theater is so undependable that the fact that I get work seems like a miracle to me anyway. So to just try to get miracles going in another place doesn't seem that crazy.
NUVO: What's been the most challenging role you've taken on?
Kondrat: That would certainly have to be Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. Winnie is, I think, pretty much regarded as the best role for a woman in the English-speaking canon. And the lines for Winnie were really interesting to learn, because she didn't really go logically to her conversation. So I had to find little crazy ideas that would let me move from one moment to the next. Beckett's poetry is fabulous. I remember trying to learn one line, and I couldn't get it. And by re-writing it by hand, I realized that the line was a mirror image of itself. That if you bend the line in the middle, it will matchup with itself word for word. So I had to go to really extreme measures not only to make sure that the character was believable, but to even learn the lines. It was an Oasis production I did in Bloomington.
NUVO: Why Portland?
Kondrat: My daughter is living in Portland, and she's jumping up and down waving her arms saying come to Portland, and my son is in Seattle - and there are the waterfalls.
NUVO: What plans do you have for once you get there?
Kondrat: They have citywide auditions in April. There are a lot of theatre companies there. They have a lot of equity houses and a bunch of non-equity houses. And if nothing happens, I will commission a new piece - and produce it myself.