- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The actress Karen Allen is no stranger to the nation’s capital. She studied at George Washington and lived in Dupont Circle while trying her hand on the District’s numerous professional theaters as an aspiring actor.

“It was a privilege to be a part of that growing arts scene. I left there reluctantly,” Miss Allen told The Washington Times.

But she left for good reason, setting out for New York in 1969 to try for the big leagues. She made the jump to film in “Animal House” in 1979 and then, only two years later, vaulted into the big time opposite Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“The character was resourceful and had her own life in what was a very masculine world,” Miss Allen said of Marion Ravenwood, who hopped the globe beside Indy in a race with the Nazis to obtain the mystical Ark of the Covenant. (She reprises the character in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008.)

“Young women in particular have told me [Marion Ravenwood] created a sense of confidence and independence in themselves,” Miss Allen said. “That’s [been] very satisfying for me over the years.”

But “Raiders” was 36 years ago, and Miss Allen, now 65, is still practicing her craft. She found a plum role in “Year by the Sea,” a new film based on the writings of Joan Anderson that bows in the District this weekend.

Miss Allen portrays a slightly fictionalized version of Ms. Anderson, who, as the film opens, finds her marriage has all but stalled as her children have grown up and moved on. Refusing to follow her husband to Chicago for a new job, she instead high-tails it to Cape Cod, where she discovers not only more about herself but her place in the world.

“I feel that happens to both men and women later in life when their children have grown and gone off into the world. It’s not a transition that gets a lot of conversation or attention in stories,” Miss Allen said. “And I was very moved by Joan’s book, which is a beautiful, beautiful, very uncompromising look at herself at this particular point in her life.”

The film’s Joan not only meets the locals and experiences life outdoors, but even feels stirrings for a younger man — a fact complicated by that he is both married and has four children of his own.

“I think her struggle in ‘Year by the Sea’ is not that she really wanted to leave her husband behind, she just wanted to find some answers about her own life and who she was,” Miss Allen said, adding that she often spoke with Ms. Anderson herself about her own journey. “It’s hard to renegotiate when you’re feeling lost or stuck or in a lonely marriage.”

Miss Allen said she is hopeful the roles she will be offered in the future will go beyond “oddball aunts” or grandmothers, which she says is all too common for actresses her age seeking quality work.

“I think actresses of my generation would like to continue to work as long as there are interesting things for them to do, whether it’s in television, in the theater or in film,” she said.

Accordingly, Miss Allen has continued to stay busy on the proscenium, even directing plays herself.

“In the theater there are a lot more interesting roles for women when they get into their fifties and sixties,” she said. “In fact, a lot of the really great roles you’re too young for as a young woman.”

She cites Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Peter Stormare as artists she has admired and who have influenced her own work ethic as an actress.

“My grandmother used to always say, ‘You must aspire to what you admire.’ I very much took it to heart,” Miss Allen said. “When I was in the presence of somebody’s work who I thought was really extraordinary, I very much tried to be very open to understanding what it was that was so unique about them.”

Miss Allen has also directed her own short film, “A Tree a Rock a Cloud,” for which she is currently on the festival circuit. In fact, she was hopeful to bring the film back to her District-area haunts for the recent DC Shorts Festival, however, the movie was rejected.

“Short films don’t really have a lot of life in theaters,” she said.

Miss Allen does hope to return to the nation’s capital again soon, whether it’s with “A Tree a Rock a Cloud” or perhaps in a play on one of the District’s many professional stages.

“I get back occasionally to see something at the Kennedy Center or Arena [Stage] or look up old friends, but not nearly as much as I would like,” she said. “I have a very profound and deep love for Washington, D.C. You have a very vibrant arts scene now.”

“Year by the Sea” opens at the Landmark West End Cinema Friday.

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