New Canaan actress stars in Off-Broadway play

For many in New Canaan, Anna Holbrook is known as a great mom, an inspired teacher and good friend to those in the community. But the longtime resident is also an accomplished Emmy-winning actress, having found success on the soap opera Another World, guest starring on TV shows such as Blue Bloods, The West Wing and Law & Order and as a top presence on the stage.

Anna Holbrook

In 2016, Holbrook originated the role of Lydia Bixby in Michael McKeever’s Daniel’s Husband, which was a critical darling when it was staged at the Penguin Rep, followed by a run at Primary Stages. Ironically, the actress almost wasn’t a part of it.

“I had been doing another show in the city and the director saw me in that and called me in to audition, and I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “I was not cast. But then I was called by the director about 10 days into their rehearsal and he said, ‘I made a mistake, I need you.’ So I went in and became part of it.”

The show is now headed for an Off-Broadway run at the historic Westside Theatre, with its original cast and director, Joe Brancato, returning for the remount.

Daniel’s Husband will be staged through Feb. 3, 2019. The cast also includes Ryan Spahn, Matthew Montelongo, Lou Liberatore and Leland Wheeler.

“It’s me and the four guys and I just adore my boys,” Holbrook said. “I was really thrilled when I got the call that we would be doing this again because I love the piece. It’s an interesting ride and the cast is just fantastic.”

The play tells the story of two men who appear to be the personification of a perfect couple, only they have very differing views of relationships. When a sudden turn of events forces them to face the consequences of their differences, they quickly learn that they are living in a world where fundamental rights aren’t always so fundamental.

“The show is about family and love and knowing what you want within those confines,” Holbrook said. “There is a gay theme to the play because my son in the play is gay and he’s been with his partner for seven years, and I would say I am the protagonist in the play.”

The emotional arc of Lydia, she noted, is an interesting thing to watch.

Anna Holbrook stars in Daniel’s Husband with Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo. — James Leynse photo

“I kind of say it’s like Kramer vs. Kramer and I happen to be the women in it and my would be son-in-law is the person I am dealing with because an incident happens with my son and we both have to come to terms with that,” she said. “It goes from being warm and fuzzy to two people fighting for something they believe in very much.”

Not that it’s all serious. In fact, when the play was originally done, Holbrook shared it was almost on a sitcom level. But Brancato and McKeever mined it over time and grounded it much more. So, while it still contains plenty of laughs, there’s more weight to the scenes.

“To see the depth of the fabric that Joe has found and brought out of all of us — the writer, cast and design team — it’s just deeper,” she said. “It’s not major plot changes but the characters have more depth, which makes the play that much stronger.”

Holbrook laughs that she’s somewhat typecast as a dysfunctional mother these days, but with the meaty material she has been offered, she’s fine with that.

“This is a mother fighting for the love of her son,” she said.

What she loves about the story is that it opens up conversation and communication and audiences walk away debating the subject matter within the play.

Holbrook admits she was something of a ham growing up and was always interested in acting. When her family moved from North Carolina to Arizona, she studied acting at the local YMCA and did some extra work on westerns and anything else she could be involved in.

Rather than do plays in high school, she opted to join the National Forensic League, an interscholastic speech and debate organization, where she worked on her diction with serious prose. Once, she even performed all the characters for Paper Moon as part of this.

Daniel’s Husband is presented by Primary Stages and Ted Snowdon. — James Leynse photo 

“I didn’t study acting in college but I did do theater at the University of Arizona,” Holbrook said. “When I got married, I started doing commercials and did a play in Louisiana. An agent from New York saw the play and gave me her card and asked me to call.”

Holbrook did, moved to New York, and became a beloved character on the soap opera Another World, playing Sharlene Frame, who achieved super-couple status with John Hudson (played by David Forsyth).

“Being on a soap was never my intention; I wanted to be Meryl Streep,” she laughed. “But it was the best thing for a certain amount of time. You could fall on your face and get up and the next day try again. It was a great experience.”

Having lived in New Canaan for 25 years, Holbrook is deeply involved with her community, even stepping out of the business for 12 years to raise her family, volunteer and teach at the Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan.

“They are one of the most wonderful things about this community,” she said.

She appreciates all the support she gets from those in her town and is excited to be back in the acting world.

“When my son went to college, I went back to New York to see if I could do anything in my advanced age, and for moms like me, who put their career on hold, when you get to go back, it’s so rich and such a gift,” Holbrook said. “I was very active here with school and being involved with the kids, so to test the acting waters again was scary and wonderful, and when it works, it’s really fabulous.”

Holbrook hopes she can be an inspiration for other moms out there thinking of taking a similar journey, regardless of their career path.

“For those who stepped out and stayed at home, know you’re doing the right thing and the payoff at the end is wonderful,” she said.