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Building Character: Lisa Brescia For her latest role, a musical theatre star becomes a vampy assassin

By MARK BLANKENSHIP


Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles


As an actor, how do you play someone that you really, really aren’t?

Just ask Lisa Brescia. She’s never been a ruthlessly efficient, slightly vampy assassin who seduces men before injecting them with poison, but that’s the perfect description of Lucy, her character in the the new comedy Killing Women.

Now playing at Theatre Row, Marisa Wegrzyn’s darkly comic and slyly political play follows a group of hit women who are frustrated by the glass ceiling in their industry. Like warped feminists, they advocate for the chance to murder for equal pay, pursue killing on their own terms, and even raise a family while doing it.

The show pushes Brescia beyond the musical theatre chops she honed in Broadway shows like Wicked and Aida. The chance to stretch drew her to the script, as did Wegrzyn’s witty writing.  “Part of the appeal is that these are crazy circumstances, but we’re all discussing them like we’re deciding where to go for lunch,” she says.

To honor that tone, Brescia’s had to modify her usual approach as a performer. She often looks for pieces of a character that are rooted in her own life, and she tries to communicate the unspoken, “realistic” motivations behind a character’s actions. But that’s difficult when she’s playing a hired killer in an over-the-top comedy.

“If I had to incorporate Lucy’s past into the show, or if I tried to understand what happened to make her need to fall in love with men she’ll be killing in a week, she’d be a neurotic mess,” Brescia says. “We keep saying, ‘It’s not that deep.’ Our job is not to let our need to be ‘serious artists’ get in the way of the fact that this is a funny play about chicks with guns.”

But even though she’s not getting deep, Brescia’s not milking every moment for laughs. She may not be playing Lucy as a  totally “real” person, but within the skewed logic of the play, she wants her character to seem motivated and consistent. If Lucy crosses the stage, then Brescia wants her to do it with purpose, and if Lucy says she loves a man she’s going to kill, then Brescia wants to communicate that love sincerely, with intimate gestures and looks. “If I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing in a given moment, then I’m just going out there and making faces,” she says. “No one wants to watch that.”


This may sound contradictory: Keep it big, but discover small moments.  Don’t get too deep, but know what’s happening at all times. Ultimately, though, Brescia wants Lucy to live at the intersection of those extremes. ”Even with something so broad and outrageous, you still have to be honest,” she says. “There’s got to be a balance of the two.”


Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online copy editor