Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Linda Powell surprised everyone, including herself, in her teenage years when she announced she wanted to study acting.

“I was the quiet middle child who kind of wanted to act but wasn’t going to tell anybody,” Miss Powell says.

Miss Powell’s father seemed flummoxed by the news.

“My dad said, ‘I don’t know how to help you with that,” she recalls. That’s quite an admission coming from Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state and someone who appears capable of tackling nearly any task.

Miss Powell now chuckles over the memories — something that’s easy to do when you’re a steadily working actress and one of the leads in a major Kennedy Center production.

Miss Powell plays the conflicted Chelsea in “On Golden Pond,” now playing through Sunday in the center’s Eisenhower Theater.

The actress, whose New York credits include the Tony Award-nominated “Wilder, Wilder, Wilder” as well as such off-Broadway productions as “Jar the Floor” and “Jitney,” says her first exposure to “Pond” came not through the play but with the 1981 film version. That movie’s casting coup — pairing Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda as the aging couple — overshadowed playwright’s Ernest Thompson’s evocative exchanges.

“It’s a lot sleeker than the movie,” Miss Powell says, comparing the film and play. “I think they extrapolated a lot when they made the movie. The excitement of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn takes over your memory of it.”

This “Pond” carries its own star power, with Tony winners James Earl Jones (“The Great White Hope,” “Fences”) and Leslie Uggams (“Hallelujah, Baby!”) leading the cast.

Miss Powell, whose last area appearance was in Arena Stage’s “Coming of the Hurricane” in 1996, says she marveled at how Mr. Jones kept cast and crew grounded when Diahann Carroll left the production about a week before the first show because of a back injury. Miss Uggams was quickly announced as Miss Carroll’s replacement.

“He became the calm in the center of the storm that happened around this process,” she says. “At any moment, someone could have flown off the deep end. He was quiet and steady like a Buddha,” she says, laughing.

Miss Powell, whose television appearances include NBC’s “Law & Order” and HBO’s “Sex and the City,” says having parents in the public eye — her mother, Alma Johnson Powell, is a Kennedy Center trustee — let her adjust to her own fame as well as the pressures associated with having a famous last name.

“I think, in terms of career, it means a lot less than you’d expect,” she says.

“I don’t think I get hired because of it. Sometimes there’s a certain interest in me because of it. The work basically has to stand on its own.”

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