Twice in recent years, New York actress Alma Cuervo has joined the national tour of the musical “Wicked,” playing Madame Morrible.
This month, the Broadway veteran is in Portland playing the role of Vera in the Good Theater production of the play “4000 Miles.”
“Every time I do ‘Wicked’ for a year, it pays for life for three years,” Cuervo said in an interview at the St. Lawrence Arts Center last week. “Plays like this are why I do ‘Wicked’ and some of the other things.”
“4000 Miles,” which opens this week at the St. Lawrence and runs through March 30, won the 2012 Obie Award as the Best American Play. It won playwright Amy Herzog the New York Times’ Outstanding Playwright honor, and Time magazine named it last year’s No. 1 show.
It’s a sentimental play about a young man, played by local actor Erik Moody, who bikes across country to visit with his grandmother, played by Cuervo. He intends only a short visit to her Greenwich Village apartment, but stays several weeks over the course of the fall.
The two become unlikely roommates. They infuriate, bewilder and ultimately relate to each other in touching and dramatic ways. It’s a bit of a cross between “The Odd Couple” and “On Golden Pond.”
Cuervo missed the show in New York, but heard the buzz. She was immediately interested when Good Theater artistic director Brian Allen approached her about the role.
She had committed to Good Theater a few seasons ago for the play “Souvenirs,” but had to bow out when she was offered the national tour of “Wicked.” She promised Allen at the time that she would make it up to him.
“4000 Miles” offered the best opportunity.
“I’m having a blast,” she said. “It’s a fun play to do. The relationships are real and warm.
“These are two very unlikely people, and they get a kick out of each other. They’re a bit crusty with each other, and they say exactly what’s on their mind. They will occasionally make each other angry or surprise each other, but he can’t shock her. She’s done most anything he’s possibly done.”
Ultimately, the two help each other grow and become dear friends despite their age differences. (He’s in his 20s; Vera is in her 80s.)
Cuervo, who in real life is in her early 60s, admits feeling “daunted” about playing Vera.
“I’ve played a lot of old broads,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not young anymore, but she’s older than me significantly.”
She has enjoyed working with the local cast very much, and says of her co-star Moody, “They wouldn’t have found anyone better in New York if they had looked there. He is an extraordinary actor.”
The two other cast members are Casey Turner and Ruiqi Tang.
Good Theater co-founder Stephen Underwood, who previously directed “Stones in His Pockets” for the company and is a regular performer, directs “4000 Miles.” He and Allen had dinner with Cuervo in New York earlier this winter to discuss the play.
Although Allen knew Cuervo previously, the Greenwich Village dinner was Underwood’s first time meeting the actress.
“Just sitting there across the table, I saw the spark and something feisty. There was something very alive, and I knew we were in good shape,” he said.
Cuervo has appeared in 14 Broadway shows, including “Titanic,” “Cabaret,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Heidi Chronicles.” She’s lived in New York since 1977, and made her Broadway debut in “Once In a Lifetime.” Her first major role on Broadway was in “Bedroom Farce.”
Born in Florida, she studied theater at the Yale School of Drama, and graduated with Meryl Streep. Among her other peers at Yale were Sigourney Weaver and Wendy Wasserstein.
Cuervo likes everything about working in Portland — except maybe the weather.
“I could live without the snow,” she admitted.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: