Despite being just miles apart, the distance between Brooklyn and Broadway for most local stage actors can seem insurmountable. For Prospect Heights resident Jessica Love, who made her Broadway debut on Nov. 20 in Sharr White’s play The Snow Geese, her big break wound up being less about luck and more about language.
“I have never wanted to be a part of a production more,” Love explained in an email to BB. “I finally got an audition, but there was a caveat: [It] was going to be a dialect prescreen with the casting director. The character is ethnically Ukrainian, from a town in Poland, and she also speaks fluent German.”
Love is none of those things, but you’d never know from seeing her on stage. She plays Viktorya Graznoy, a once wealthy Ukrainian aristocrat whose station in life falls with the rise of World War I, leaving her alone and a new immigrant in America who finds work as a maid for a wealthy, dysfunctional New York family. Love’s accent, guttural inflections and all, is thanks to a chance encounter on the set of a short film she was shooting.
“I’m riding the bus to one of our locations,” she says. “Sitting in front of me is one of the extras and a friend he has brought along for the day. It turns out her name is Lyuba (and I’m thinking “Slavic name! Slavic name!), so I go out on a limb and ask if she is ethnically from that area in the world. Honey, this girl turns out to have studied Ukrainian history at Yale and now works for like, the Ukrainian Embassy or something in Kiev. So I lock her in a room with me and record her saying every word my character speaks in a Ukrainian dialect. The only word she can’t say for me is the name of the city in Poland where my character is from, Przemysl. Ten minutes later I’m in the makeup chair and it turns out the woman doing makeup is from Poland and she taught me how to say it.”
Audiences can now catch Love, accent and all, six days a week at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, where she takes the stage with a cast that includes Tony-award winning actors Mary-Lousie Parker and Victoria Clark, as well as Danny Burstein, Evan Jonigkeit, Christopher Innvar and Brian Cross (who is also making his Broadway debut).
Prior to landing the part, Love, who studied at Juilliard, worked in film, theater and commercials, including as an understudy on another Broadway play, Grace, currently on at the Cort Theater, and a Target commercial with Kristen Wiig. When she’s not acting, she works as an illustrator and is currently writing and illustrating her first children’s book.
The Snow Geese is set in 1917 in upstate New York at the hunting lodge of The Gaeslings, a well-to-do New York family facing financial ruin after the death of the family patriarch. For her part Parker, who plays the lead role of Elizabeth Gaesling, is on familiar ground playing the widowed mother of two boys with financial issues who is trying to keep everything (herself included) together–much like her character’s storyline in Weeds, without, well, the weed.
When Parker’s younger son finally insists the family start living within its means and sends their servants away, Love’s character is brought in as a favor from Parker’s older sister Clarissa (Clark) to keep the house from falling into chaos when the extended family convenes for opening day of hunting season.
“I love this character because she is very still and watchful–qualities which allowed her to survive,” Love says. “But there are still vestiges of who she used to be, which surface in moments during the play, and that conflict of becoming this new person is extremely interesting to me.” And to us. See it while you can–The Snow Geese directed by Daniel Sullivan closes its run on Dec. 15, but tickets are still available.