BY R. J. DONOVAN
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
McCaela Donovan (no relation, by the way) has had a connection to Boston since she was a child and used to come here from upper state New York with her father to soak up local history. Today, the actress has carved out a nice spot for herself in Boston’s theater community, having appeared everywhere from New Rep and Commonwealth Shakespeare to the Brandeis Theatre Company, Reagle Music Theatre, and SpeakEasy Stage Company, among others.
She attended Boston College, transferred to Ithaca, then returned to earn a master’s in theater education at Emerson. This month she’ll receive her Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Brandeis.
At the moment, she’s also kicking up her heels playing fictional Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at SpeakEasy Stage. The Tony Award-winning show-within-a-show musical spoof is all about an obsessed musical theater fan who longs to share his favorite show with the audience. When he plays the cast album, the entire show bursts to life in his tiny living room.
We spoke during a break in her day at Brandeis. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.
BIR: Your first name is unique. Is there a story there?
MD: Actually I didn’t have a name for the first three days I was born. My maiden name is Curran, so I guess I was Baby Girl Curran for three days. My father had a coworker who had a daughter named McCaela and my parents really loved it. They spent a whole day trying to come up with their own spelling of it . . . and they named me right before I left the hospital.
BIR: So you finished a run in the musical “Nine” at SpeakEasy in February and now you’re back with them again in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
MD: SpeakEasy is an amazing company . . . There’s something really special about them and the family that they’ve created. . . They really respect actors. They really respect what actors do and that makes a huge difference because you feel that . . . I remember going to Boston College and coming in to see “Bat Boy” when they did it at the other Black Box Theater (at the Boston Center for the Arts) – the tiny one before they (moved into) The Calderwood. First of all I love that show, and second, I was like, ‘I love this company and I’d love to work for them someday’ . . . So it’s kind of full circle for me.
BIR: You’ve been very warmly embraced by the Boston theater community over the past few seasons. That has to feel good.
MD: That’s so nice of you to say. I just feel so lucky. It’s a difficult profession and I think when you can find a community that not only values the work for the sake of the work, but also values the local people who do it – not just people from New York who have New York credits – but really form a sense of a community, that’s really rare. And I think we do have that here in Boston. I also think we have audience members and subscribers who love to see familiar faces and love to come back to see specific people, and that’s really exciting. I just feel lucky to be part of it.
BIR: You worked in New York for a time. Any life lessons from that experience?
MD: I learned really invaluable things about the business and how to market yourself. I think that’s one of my strengths; I hope so any way. Self marketing and knowing myself enough to know where I fit. Basic things. How to dress for an audition and how to get creative with material to audition with. Thinking outside the box. It really helps. In New York, if you’re lucky, performing is your job. But most likely, auditioning in your job.
BIR: Speaking of New York, tell me about your family. I understand you were very close to your great-grandparents.
MD: I was very lucky that (I had) my father’s grandparents – my great-grandparents who passed away at 96 and 99 – for most of my childhood, until I was in my early twenties, which I think is really rare. They are our main Irish connection. My father’s side is very, very strong and proud. My great-grandparents were unbelievable.
BIR: Where were they from?
MD: My great-grandmother was named Delia Ferry. She was from Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, I believe, in the north. And my great-grandfather was named Patrick Curran. He was from County Meath outside of Dublin. They met in America actually, after they came over here. We still own my great-grandfather’s farmhouse in County Meath. They lived in Flushing their whole lives – they never got a driver’s license or anything like that. They were just really beautiful, simple people and they were so kind to everyone. At my great-grandfather’s funeral there were hundreds and hundreds of people.
BIR: And your grandparents?
MD: My grandfather on my father’s side was also Patrick Curran. He was a very strong participant in Hibernia down on Long Island. He was the Grand Marshall in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade three or four times and we used to march in the parade a lot. There were like four generations of us at one point marching together.
BIR: So your current show, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is all about one die-hard musical theater fan’s favorite show. Do you have any favorite roles of your own so far?
MD: The role that I played in Reagle’s “Into The Woods” was really special. I played Cinderella – I had done that show twice before but had never played Cinderella. Going into it, I didn’t expect it to be such a wonderful experience. I was excited about it, but I didn’t expect the cast to bond as well as we did. I really enjoyed that.
BIR: Anything else?
MD: I also played Dot in “Sunday In The Park With George” that Scott Edmiston directed. That was here at Brandeis. That was incredibly special because I had wanted to work with Scott for a long time, and also because that’s one of my two dream roles that I had always wanted to play. To be given that opportunity was so amazing.
BIR: And your other dream role?
MD: Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”
BIR: Well, you never know what the future might bring.
MD: I know. (Laughing) If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to put it on at my house.
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” from SpeakEasy Stage Company, May 6 - June 5 at The Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street. Tickets: 617-933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.