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Mary Jo Deschanel Returns to the Family Business

BY XAQUE GRUBER, PHOTOGRAPHY JEFFREY FITERMAN, HAIR/MAKEUP ASAF NARKIS FOR SOLOARTISTS.COM/DIOR

“It’s a whole new chapter in my life. I’ve never been known as a writer at all,” says veteran actress Mary Jo Deschanel on writing and launching “d th n vnc” (death in venice), her one woman show making its world premiere at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club this October. “A lot of times when people hear ‘one woman show’ they assume you’re performing a personal monologue. This one’s not, per se, but I do think we all reveal who we are in what we choose to talk about.”

In the piece, Deschanel plays seven different female characters whose lives are affected by the tragic death of a young musician in the neighborhood of the Venice canals.

“It takes place in the early ’70s when I lived among the Venice canals. There is something magical about the canals — a  certain quiet. As a child, I would see myself as a woman living in a house by the sea. Although I’m not a swimmer — some people like being in the water – I like being near the water. It does something for your soul.”

The matriarch of the talented Deschanel clan, including actress-daughters Emily and Zooey, and five-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer-director husband, Caleb, Mary Jo’s warm smile widens when talking about her family. “I am very proud of them, not just their success, but they’re such amazing people.”

When asked about backstage moms, Deschanel is quick to reply, “Don’t be a stage mother. Don’t let kids do it until they can drive themselves, and even then they’re very young and need a lot of help and guidance. Children should be children. I didn’t want to be a stage mother but I did help out in the kids’ drama department. Kids have to have a very strong motivation to want to act — it shouldn’t be about being a star. If somebody really wants to do it, you have to give them the tools to work hard and perservere.”

It was through her daughters’ plays at Crossroads School where Deschanel first met Davida Wills Hurwin, the director of “d th n vnc.”

“I knew Davida from when I would help out at the school, and then I just ran into her a few months ago and said, ‘I don’t have a director yet,’ and she came aboard.”

Deschanel, known to film audiences in a wide variety of performances including Heath Ledger’s mother-in-law in The Patriot, and Keir Dullea’s widow in 2010, considers her role as John Glenn’s (Ed Harris) wife in The Right Stuff to be her favorite.

“It’s such a great part. I hadn’t been acting for a while and I asked (director) Philip Kaufman if I could just practice auditioning, and the part opened up. Annie Glenn had such a severe stutter. I never met her because at the time her husband was running for President. There were photos and footage of Annie, but because of her stutter, there were no tapes of her speaking. So I went to a speech therapist and learned about it.”

Another role of Deschanel’s close to her heart is wheelchair-bound Eileen Hayward from David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.”

“My husband and David Lynch were both in the first class of the A.F.I. David’s one of the most creative people you will ever come across. And to this day, I don’t really know if Eileen was injured or not.”

These days, fans of Deschanel’s work can look forward to “d th n vnc,” the proceeds of which will be split between The Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, where Deschanel is their inaugural Artist In Residence, and 826 L.A., a nonprofit organization set up to help students, ages 6–18, with their creative writing skills in an afterschool setting. “I’ve been involved with 826 L.A. for a few years, and so has Zooey. It’s a great program.”

When asked about the tone of “d th n vnc,” Deschanel pauses before responding, “In the saddest moments in your life, something may strike you as very funny and then there’s laughter. Tragedy and comedy are so connected, and sometimes the great moments of joy might have a strange melancholy. Even in music — take Edith Piaf. Her songs are sad, but at the same time, her voice is uplifting, and that’s what’s always interesting in art — the pull between the opposites.” 􀀀

“d th n vnc” plays October 15 & 16 at 8pm and 5pm the 17th, Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, 1210 Fourth Street, SM. For tickets and more info: www.smbwc.org. For info on 826 L.A., check out www.826la.org

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