Tony-nominated for Best Play in 2014, Terrance McNally’s Mothers and Sons, presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, comes to the Suzanne Roberts Theatre Feb. 6 through March 8.
Michael Learned, best known for her role as Olivia Walton in the long-running CBS drama series The Waltons, takes the role of Katherine in this production.
Katherine is a woman who pays an unexpected visit to the apartment of her late son’s partner, who is now married to another man and has a young son.
“When I first read the script, I said I couldn’t play the part because I saw Katherine as such a monster,” Learned said. “I couldn’t see anything in her that I could relate to and I was very judgmental.
“But then I thought that if I was going to do the role, I’d have to find a way to see things through her eyes. And, finally, I did. She’s lost her husband and her son and she’s devastated.”
Learned, 75, said thankfully she couldn’t relate to the death of a child. But being the mother of three sons herself, she said she knows how it feels when you lose them “because as much as you love your sons, you have to let them go. And because Katherine’s son died, I don’t think she’s ever been able to recover from that kind of loss.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Learned said she found it very easy to relate to Olivia as the mother at the center of The Waltons. As a mother of three, she was able to bring her personal experiences to the role. She also knew about rural life, having lived on a farm when she was young.
Learned earned three Emmy Awards for her work on the show. When the show ended, she starred in the series Nurse, for which she received a fourth Emmy.
“I’ve been very lucky to have had such wonderful roles in such wonderful shows,” Learned said.
But the truth is, she adds, she has been pigeonholed.
“One of my sons is friends with a casting director in Los Angeles, and asked why I’m not offered any good roles. And he was told “because she’s Mrs.Walton.” But I look back on the series with tremendous gratitude because, who knows, I may never have gotten a good role anyway.”
During the last several decades, Learned has appeared in numerous television movies. She continues to remain active in her field, taking on a variety of roles. She’s made guest appearances on such shows as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Scrubs, and even dabbled in daytime television with cameos in All My Children and One Life to Live.
“You know, being an actor isn’t easy,” Learned volunteered. “One of my granddaughters wanted to be an actress until she found out how little the average actor makes. So now she may be considering another profession. But all I can say is just to follow your heart, no matter where it leads you. Lots of people never ‘make’ it but they still work in some capacity and enjoy their lives.”
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is at 480 S. Broad St. (at Lombard Street). For tickets, call 215–985–0420 or visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org ••