Dana Morosini Reeve is on her lunch break during rehearsals for Enter the Guardsman. Possibly because she is feeling the effects of a slight cold, Reeve suggests we have our chat on a bench outside the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater, where the grassy expanses and winding paths are sun-drenched and comforting. Reeve is cast in the leading female role of the "Actress" in the American premiere of the musical based on the early 20th century boulevard comedy, The Guardsman, by Ferenc Molnar. Since Reeve has become a leading female role model, this interviewer is suddenly aware that he's talking to a woman who isn't afraid of taking the lead either on stage or in real life.

On the one hand, there is Reeve, the talented vulnerable actress. On the other, there is the superwoman, Christopher Reeve's incredibly strong and supportive wife. I ask her if she feels that she is living two different lives. Secretly I ponder if Reeve's Act I solo, "My One True Love," may not have two meanings for her and for us. This, since the 1995 riding accident that left Christopher paralyzed. "It's definitely not two lives. But there are, at least, two aspects to my life," says Reeve, instinctively linking herself, like all good actors do, to the character she is currently playing. "Just like in the play, what my character is searching for and what I am searching for is that same kind of synthesis, melding the fantasy and the reality together."

It is hardly a surprise to hear Reeve say, "I am a different person in private than in public. I speak to my husband differently (she confides that she affectionately calls him "Toph" in private), than I speak to you."

For the public's benefit, Reeve says she added her family name Morosini to her billing for this show, so it would sound good with Robert Cuccioli, who plays her husband the "Actor." "A good match these two Italians on stage," laughs Reeve, expressing how exciting it is to work with the award-winning actor who originated the title roles in the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde.

So far in Reeve's life and career, there has been both recognition (Reeve was cited by CBS television as one of America's Outstanding Women of 1995) and rewards. Admitting that she makes all her career moves based on how her family would be affected, Reeve says "my family life comes first," but I am a better person and more able to give by doing something in my career that I find fulfilling." Reeve reveals a formula she uses whenever a job opportunity comes along. "If I believe that the time I spend on the job will be equally or more fulfilling than the day I spend at home, then I take the job."

It goes without saying that Christopher's accident four years ago impacted and changed both their lives, but Reeve says that four years into it, "you get into a different kind of pattern and into a different definition of normal. Although it seems less dramatic or less traumatic than it did, I still don't take jobs that take me out of town for long periods of time." I suggest that perhaps being the wife of a famous actor and having a career of her own in the theater isn't a situation terribly far removed from the one that exists with the principal characters in Enter the Guardsman.

Once we dispense with the thought that jealousy, rivalry, and insecurity need not always be present when a couple works closely together in the theater, especially since Reeve reminds me that she and Christopher had not worked one-on-one on stage. She does note that Christopher had played the "Actor" in the play version of The Guardsman at Williamstown Theater Festival opposite Anne Twomey seven years ago. It was destined to be the last play Christopher would be in before the accident. It was also the same year that Dana and Christopher's son William was born.

Reeve explains how in the play, although the couple are committed by marriage, the "Actress" is wandering looking for something that is missing, while the "Actor" is fighting to keep the relationship together. The teamwork and support required in Dana and Christopher's complicated life together has been duly documented and given emphasis by Dana singing the title song on the soundtrack of the HBO film, "In The Gloaming," that Christopher directed. In a way, it could also signal a new era of collaboration that actually began in 1987 at Williamstown when Dana (who was in the chorus) and Christopher were both appearing in a production of John Brown's Body.

Reeve reminds me that another example of a successful partnership that is both professional and private is in evidence with Enter the Guardsman: director Scott Wentworth also wrote the book for the musical that has lyrics by his wife Marion Adler. Enter The Guardsman has an interesting genesis. After it received international attention when it won the Musical of the Year award in Aarhus, Denmark, it was presented in the Fall of 1997 at the Donmar Warehouse in London in association with Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group. The production, which garnered an Olivier Award nomination for Best Musical, received some enthusiastic critical response, including this quote from Charles Spencer, in the Daily Telegraph: "the American team behind Enter the Guardsman may just have hit upon theatrical gold. It's tuneful, poignant and charming."

I asked Reeve if there are any parallels to be drawn in her own life that make the relationship between the Actor and the Actress seem real...or perhaps unreal to her. "What's different," she explains, "is that the couple in the play have been married only six months. My character is getting restless, which in my case, in my real life, is not true at all. What I can relate to is this. When you do commit to someone for the long term, there is work involved in keeping the relationship vital, to keep remembering what drew you to this person. You can't give up or make a habit of it. What my character is really looking for is to be appreciated and admired the way a lover more than a husband does."

"The Actress says doesn't feel she has the spice, the passion, the excitement in her life now that she is married," says Reed. We are both amused by the dilemma of this glamorous and desirable woman who has presumably had scores of lovers before her marriage, none of which lasted more than six months. Suddenly she finds she has a lover, a guardsman, who is no other than her masquerading husband. "What they learn by the end of the play is that you can have both. But, you do have to work at it. It isn't always going to happen magically the way it does when you first fall in love," Reeve explains, as I ease her into talking about her dating Christopher and their first few years of their marriage.

If it is the nature of the beast for beautiful married actresses to be called to play opposite attractive married actors in the theater, I asked if Dana had ever set Christopher up to test his loyalty. "No! I'm not a game player, nor is he," she responds emphatically, adding how they both appreciate each other. "When we met, I made it very clear to him that I wanted to know his intentions. If it was going to be what-I-did-on-my-summer vacation, that "yes, we could do that, but I wanted to know. We had been dating only a few weeks and he was very effusive saying he loved me and could imaging spending the rest of his life with me. I said, `now wait a minute. You've had a lot of women in your life. Is this part of what you do to woo them?'"

A quick sip from the straw in her bottle of juice and Reeve's voice goes an octave higher as she is apparently relishing the flashback. "I called him on it right off the bat," says Reeve certainly aware at that time that Christopher had just ended a long relationship with modeling executive Gae Exton and had two children with her. But Reeve makes it quite clear that any teasing Christopher about her leading men would be cruel and insensitive, even as she is candid about the heartthrob playing opposite her.

"The thing about Robert (Cuccioli) is that he is handsome, sexy and very funny." Reeve assures me that the fan club that knows Cuccioli as dark and stormy will be impressed that in this play he is such a goofball." While Reeve says, "It is absolutely thrilling to be doing the American premiere. I feel so connected to the character and to the lovely music by Craig Bohmler that I can't imagine anyone not responding in a positive way." Bohmler's other musicals include Gunmetal Blues and Scrooge.

Unfortunately the critics didn't respond positively to More To Love, the play in which Reeve made her Broadway debut last season. It was a fast fold. While Reeve impressed the critics with her performances in two Off-Broadway plays, Good Will and Sight Unseen, she was a revelation to critics and audiences at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Reeve hopes to repeat her success for Guardsman director Wentworth. The latter is also returning to the Festival, having staged Henry V, The Winter's Tale and The School for Scandal, in past seasons.

When Reeve thinks back to past seasons, it is most likely to be the one spent at Williamstown where she was first cast in the non-Equity company by Bonnie J. Monte, who was then The Williamstown Festival's Associate Artistic Director. Monte, now the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival's Artistic Director, would see Reeve's talent blossom and called her a little less than a year after Christopher's accident to offer her the role in Two Gentlemen... At 34, Reeve has a healthy attitude toward her career but feels it is the many facets of her life, including the work she does with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, that gives her life balance.

"I was born in Teaneck, N.J.," Reeve says with an accompanying giggle. "From there we moved to Florida, and then mostly raised in Westchester, about two streets away from where the Clintons are currently looking for a house," she adds with a different kind of laugh. It must be the effects of the juice. "They were always supportive," says Reeve referring to her father, a cardiologist and her mother, a vice-president of a publishing company, and her two sisters, respectively a doctor and a social worker. Upon graduating cum laude from Middlebury College in Vermont, Reeve entered the MFA program for acting at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, the school also noted for having the best animation (thanks to oodles of Disney money) program in the country. Choosing not to finish her graduate studies, Reeve headed for New York where she auditioned successfully for a commedia dell'arte company Off-Off-Broadway. But it was to be at the Williamstown Festival (Reeve calls it "a destination for anyone serious about acting") that would also throw Dana into the arms of Superman.

"Chris talks about it being love at first sight, but I was more skeptical," admits Reeve, who says she thought whatever was going on with him was "just crazy, just a flirtation." What Reeve says impressed her besides Christopher's good looks was the intelligence of this Cornell University graduate, who also trained as a classical actor at Juilliard. Intelligence appears to guide her family, one Reeve calls her "joined unit." This includes the bond that grew shortly after the accident between herself and Christopher's mother, Princeton resident and journalist Barbara Johnson, and her stepchildren Matthew 18, and Alexandra 14. (Princeton audiences may remember the nine-year-old Christopher getting his first experience on the stage in a McCarter Theater production of Yeoman of the Guard.)

When I suggest to Reeve that her position as Christopher's wife exists somewhere between being a superwoman and a super woman, she graciously accepts the second label. In the role of a super woman, Reeve is an advocate for disability rights and increased medical research funding, public speaker, and a volunteer for numerous charities. If that isn't enough to keep her busy, she is anticipating the publication in mid October of her book, "Care Packages," comprising over 200 inspiring letters sent to Christopher from people from all different walks of life who have overcome hardships. Reeve introduces each chapter, with anecdotes and stories about her and Christopher's life.

As it is time now for Reeve to return to rehearsal, I have to wait until opening night to find out if that Act I solo, "My One Great Love," will reveal as much about this actress as it does about the "Actress."


Key Subjects: 
Dana Reeve, Enter The Guardsman, Christopher Reeve
Simon Saltzman
Writer Bio: 
Simon Saltzman has written dozens of New York theater reviews for This Month ON STAGE magazine. His interviews have appeared in TMOS and on Playbill On-Line.
[Dana Reeve co-starred with Robert Cuccioli and Mark Jacoby in the American premiere of Enter The Guardsman at New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in Madison, NJ, 1999.]