I recently had a conversation with Moises Kaufman and Jane Fonda. Kaufman’s play, 33 Variations, opens on March 9th at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway with Fonda as its leading lady. She plays a musicologist who is trying to solve the mystery of Beethoven spending so much time writing 33 variations based on a short waltz by Anton Diabelli. She, like the composer, is battling against time. He was going deaf. She has a life-threatening disease. Among her costars are Samantha Mathis, who plays the daughter with whom she’s had difficulties and Colin Hanks — yes, Tom’s son — who plays her nurse.
Kaufman is the writer and director of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project. He directed, among other plays, I Am My Own Wife and Liev Schreiber’s Macbeth at the Public Theatre. He is the artistic director of the Tectonic Theater Project.
We all know Fonda’s credits — or many of them. She’s been at this for fifty years. I ask after a mutual friend, Pat Newcomb, who was the publicist for everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Barbra Streisand to Warren Beatty. “You know I took Pat to the Czech Republic right after the Velvet Revolution and we met Vaclav Havel,” she says, smiling at the memory and petting her small Coton de Tulear dog named Tulea who is curled in her lap.
I recall the first time I ever met her. “It was years ago,” I tell her and mention one of my best friends from college who became one of her closest Hollywood pals for a while. We all had dinner at Joe Allen.
“It couldn’t have been that many years ago,” she said.
“Yeah. It was,” I tell her. “Maybe the early ‘80s. We each had vestiges of a shag and you showed up with your stepmother.”
She laughs.. “I’ve had several. Which one?” she asks.
“I think her name was Susan.”
“Oh, yes, yes. Susan! Yes. Now I remember.”
“I walked you back to your hotel and you told a rather risque joke about arriving at The Pearly Gates and the conversation that ensued with Saint Peter. I remember thinking to myself — shit — Jane Fonda is funny. Who knew she was funny?
JANE FONDA: I’ve gotten funnier. I had to keep up with Ted Turner. He’s hysterical. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to be married to Ted Turner.
KEVIN SESSUMS: That could be a compliment or an insult. He allowed you to get more in touch with your own sense of humor?
JF: Well, he allowed me to ... ah ... well... yeah. That’s all. Yeah.
KS: After your divorce from him, you kept living in Atlanta. Do you consider yourself a Southerner now?
JF: Yes, I do. I’ve lived there for over 18 years.
KS: Moises, we met at the “Mormon March” after Prop 8 passed in California and we New Yorkers took to the streets in solidarity. We were both rendezvousing with some guys at the Barnes and Noble next to the Mormon Visitors Center. I was with my old boyfriend Peter Staley.
MOISES KAUFMAN: Yes, of course. We were meeting Tony Kushner and his husband, Mark Harris. Doug Wright and his husband, David Clement. To be demonstrating with Tony in front of the Mormon Visitors Center — because that’s where half of Angels in America takes place — was very moving.
KS: It had the dramatic contours of a Moises Kaufman play.
MK: Yes, I guess it did, didn’t it. I was very moved that night.
JF: Someone emailed Moises a picture of me with Harvey Milk during a “No on Prop 6” march.
KS: Well, honey, you do have a history of marches. I’d expect you to have a picture with Harvey Milk.
JF: It’s why I loved Sean’s performance so much. I knew Harvey and he totally got him.
Continued, AFTER THE JUMP...