Acting filled with 'Ecstasy' for Hammond's Barrie

Gary Post-Tribune
February 12, 2010

For Hammond native Brenda Barrie, there was enticing darkness and fiery fervor to be mined in the role of Mariette, a postulant with a sensuousness that shakes up the religious order she enters. As portrayed in last year's production of "Mariette in Ecstasy" at Chicago's Lifeline Theatre, the character seemingly experiences stigmata and trances.

"She had a fervent passion for Jesus," Barrie recalled in a recent interview. "It seemed even to the nuns of the convent to be too much of a fervent passion." Audiences were kept off balance as to what should be made of Mariette's behavior, according to Elise Kauzlaric, director of the play. "One moment you think that she's this beautiful, innocent saint, and the next, you think she might be a vixen," Kauzlaric said. Credit for balancing that duality, the director noted, should go to Barrie: "She was able to walk that line."

The part of Mariette earned the 1998 graduate of Hammond Clark High School a 2009 Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for best actress in a principal role. The nomination -- in the nonmusical category -- is a coveted achievement, being that the Jeff Awards are Chicago's answer to the Tony Awards. Only 29, Barrie is a thespian whose star is on the rise. Major Chicago-area newspapers have been impressed, labeling her a "poised and promising young actress," and tapping her role in Profiles Theatre's "Graceland" as one of 2009's 10 best onstage performances in Chicago. Time Out Chicago -- magazine and a Web site -- ranked '09's 10 best Windy City plays, which included "The Ruby Sunrise," with Barrie. Time Out Chicago said she was a key member of an ensemble demonstrating "emotional depth." Yet another Chicago-theater reviewer lauded Barrie's "straightforward grace."

A resident of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, Barrie would love to do shows in New York City, but appreciates her current locale. "I'm very content in Chicago because there is an array of theaters," she said. "I keep landing roles that allow me to be vulnerable and brave at the same time."

Karin McKie witnessed Barrie's style firsthand when both acted in a 2007 production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, Ill. McKie said the words "genuine and unassuming" describe her former cast colleague.

"I think that that's why her acting is so luminous -- there's no pretense, there's no fronts; she shares that onstage," McKie said. "She just has this sweet disposition that you think would get beaten up in the theatrical world, but she has this great blend of vulnerability and tenacity, which makes her a great actor and a great person."

McKie is publicist for Lifeline Theatre, which has set Monday as the opening day for its run of "Mrs. Caliban," a whimsical, but bittersweet, tale that features Barrie in the starring role of Dorothy, a woman trapped in a lifeless marriage until she finds forbidden love with a strange fugitive.

It will be another opportunity to continue a stretch of good fortune, helped along by what the Chicago Sun-Times called her "stunning" stint in the title role of "Mariette in Ecstasy."

The acting bug bit her when she got involved with school-based theater at George Rogers Clark High School. "I just fell in love with it," Barrie said. "From there on, I was, like, I think that this is what I want to do -- and I think that's terrifying because that doesn't mean a lot of money," she said with a laugh.

Although finding humor in the money side of her profession, Barrie appears inexorably drawn and committed to it.

Still, she has side ventures outside of the stage that include character portrayal in Warner Bros.' "Mortal Kombat 9" video game, which has not been released yet. Several shoots for it are on the horizon this year. "They gave me a script," said Barrie, alluding to a facet of her job. It's all about "capturing authentic movement," the heralded performer from the Robertsdale section of Hammond related.

While earning her bachelor of arts degree in theater at the University of Indianapolis, Barrie learned the technical side of theater, as well as the performance angle. "The theater department there is very tight-knit, and they ask you to be a part of, like, every aspect of production," she said.

The training has served her well.

"Theater is definitely the realm that I feel the most connected to, actingwise," the budding star said.


Photo Credits   |   © 2013 Brenda Barrie