- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2017

In addition to her decades of work in film, TV and stage, Marsha Mason has become notable for a bit of awards trivia. At the Golden Globes ceremony on Jan. 27, 1979, Miss Mason’s name was read aloud for best actress in a comedy or musical for her role in “The Goodbye Girl” — but so was Diane Keaton’s for “Annie Hall.”

It was a tie.

When asked by The Washington Times if she and Miss Keaton had to split the statuette down the middle, Miss Mason let loose a good-humored chuckle.

“No, no. We each got one,” she said.

Miss Mason is bringing that free spirit and her prodigious skills to the District’s Arena Stage for “Watch on the Rhine,” which begins Friday. She stars in the Lillian Helman suspense drama, which takes place on the eve of America’s entry into World War II.

Miss Mason’s character, Fanny, is a D.C.-area resident who gets a visit from daughter Sara (Lise Bruneau) and her husband, Kurt (Andrew Long), a German anti-fascist. But Fanny’s other houseguest, Teck de Brancovis (J. Anthony Crane), has ulterior motives and in fact may be collaborating with the Nazis.

Miss Mason said she and Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith had sought for years to work together.

“We just never got around to being able to find something because of scheduling,” Miss Mason said. “Then out of the blue a few years ago, she called me and [asked] did I know the play ‘Watch on the Rhine.’”

After a staged reading in New York City — where Miss Mason lives — Ms. Smith offered up the Arena for the play.

Though “Watch on the Rhine” was written more than 75 years ago, Miss Mason believes its themes of mistrust, suspicion and dishonesty are as prescient now as they were during the Depression.

“It did not seem creaky or awkward. It has great resonance to the world that we live in today,” she said. “You don’t very often get a chance to do a play that’s this complex and this dense” with a cast of 11, which is large for a small theater like The Arena.

Miss Mason has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including for “The Goodbye Girl.” Co-star Richard Dreyfuss was called to the podium that night for best actor.

“I adore Richard, and it was so much fun,” Miss Mason said of the 1977 film, written by Neil Simon, adding that she and Mr. Dreyfuss enjoyed great on-screen rapport. “When we see each other, which isn’t often, we have that same chemistry.”

Miss Keaton again went to the dais that night — alone — to claim her best actress statue for “Annie Hall.”

“When you’re up against Katharine Hepburn and Diane Keaton, it makes it a little complicated,” Miss Mason said of her second of four Oscar nods. After “The Goodbye Girl,” Miss Mason worked steadily on stage and in movies like Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge” until, she said, the film roles began to dry up in the late 1980s.

“The whole film industry got very youth-oriented,” she said of approaching 50 as the Reagan years drew to a close. “I remember having the conversation with Jane Fonda back then, and her saying she hadn’t worked in three years. The same thing happened to me.”

Television and theater, however, proved another matter. Miss Mason began directing plays and found steady work on the small screen on “Frasier,” “Seinfeld” and other shows.

Miss Mason will turn 75 in April, and while the roles she now takes have changed, she believes it is important to find parts other than as a grandmother.

“I just wish there were more [roles], especially in film, for women my age,” she said. “When you hit your 70s, then all [the parts are] gray-haired old ladies. We have to re-educate people in terms of what does a 70-year-old woman really look like and what does she do,” she said.

Miss Mason believes that while much room is left for improvement, the entertainment industry has made gains in gender parity, with more female directors and decision-makers.

“Television was always more of a female medium in a way,” she said. “There are more and more women directing in theater, and I think that’s exciting, [but the disparity] is still a problem in film.”

While a temporary D.C. resident, Miss Mason aims to visit the capital’s thriving restaurant scene as well as the museums along the National Mall.

“There are just so many vibrant theaters” in the capital region, she said. “I was dying to come here and work at The Arena.”

“Watch on the Rhine” runs Feb. 3 through March 5 at The Arena Stage. Tickets are available at ArenaStage.org.

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