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Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard talk theater

November 12, 2011 | 10:15 am

Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard
As soon as they sat down, Olympia Dukakis and Charlayne Woodard were laughing and swapping stories as if they'd known each other for years. In truth, the two had just met, brought together by The Times to discuss their latest shows, both of which are being presented by the Center Theatre Group.

Dukakis, an Oscar winner for "Moonstruck," is starring with Marco Barricelli in Morris Panych's dark comedy "Vigil," which runs through Dec. 18 at the Mark Taper Forum. Woodard, a Tony nominee for "Ain't Misbehavin,'" opens her one-woman play "The Night Watcher" on Nov. 20 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Over coffee in a downtown rehearsal room, the veteran performers compared notes on acting, audiences and the challenges of speaking (or not) for a whole show. In "The Night Watcher," Woodard talks for nearly two hours, sharing her heartfelt experiences as aunt and godmother. In "Vigil," Dukakis utters but 12 lines as an elderly recluse whose world is disrupted by a miserable motormouth.

Woodard on performing solo: "...nothing is as challenging for me as coming to work every night and my scene partner -- the audience -- changes. It's like a free-fall."

Dukakis on playing a character with 12 lines: "It turned out to be much harder than I expected because I am a language person. I enjoy language -- language is used to persuade, to incite, to move. So here I am without it..."

Read Dukakis' and Woodard's conversation in Sunday's Arts & Books.

-- Karen Wada

Photo credit: Don Bartletti, L.A. Times