Interview: “Invisible lady” Lynn Musgrave


When you attend Eugene O’Neill’s saga Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Theatre in the Round, it will be a page out of history, the playwright’s best known and most enduring work. It will also be an opportunity to catch premier rising talent, actor Wade Vaughn, in the cast along with respected names Rob Frankel, Maggie Bearmon Pistner, Tom Sonnek, and Rachel Finch. Between the script and the actors, you shouldn’t have any trouble being impressed by what you see. Who you won’t see, however—unless she happens to be milling about the lobby at intermission—is the person on whose head it heavily falls to make the night a success. After all, Long Day’s Journey is a cornerstone of European/American culture, and TRP is well known for its strong casts—so the invisible lady and guiding hand, director Lynn Musgrave, had better have it together.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play written by Eugene O’Neill and directed by Lynn Musgrave, presented through May 18 at Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis. For information and tickets ($20), see

Fear not. Musgrave, a professional’s professional, has been in the business more than a quarter-century and didn’t get to be a Twin Cities theatre icon by mistake. Like the saying goes, she’s forgot more about theatre than many practitioners will ever learn. Musgrave has earned many awards and citations, directing over 15 productions at Theatre in the Round alone—including recent hits Humble Boy, Book of Days, Terra Nova, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Musgrave is no stranger to the stage, with an impressive acting resume: among her roles is a marvelously understated performance as Rowena in Biloxi Blues (TRP). For good measure, she’s also a sound designer. All told, Long Day’s Journey Into Night should prove to be no one’s humdrum night out—not with Lynn Musgrave at the helm.

When did you start directing at Theatre in the Round, and how did the lasting relationship come about?
I was invited to direct Shaw’s Arms and the Man back in the early 80s. TRP then, as now, maintains a selection committee dedicated to seeing the work of area directors. They had seen my production of The Shadow Box at Park Square. TRP remains my favorite venue; I love directing [arena stage] with its intimacy and “extra dimension.” In fact, every time I stage a proscenium show, I feel as though I’ve lost one of my senses.

How much acting are you doing these days, and how much directing?
Very little acting, alas. Partly due to scheduling, partly due to the availability of roles for 50-something actresses, partly due to my being picky when it comes to venues and directors. I enjoyed playing the crazy mother, Annie [of Long Day’s Journey Into Night] for Emigrant Theatre last fall. Long Day’s Journey is my third directing project in four and a half months [after] Martha, Josie, and the Chinese Elvis at TRP in January and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window at Starting Gate in late February.

“So few actors truly appreciate or understand the concept of casting dynamics in directors’ minds.”

Having acting experience—extensive experience at that—are you easier on actors when you direct, or harder? Or does it make no difference?
I think I tend to be easier, though that has evolved over time. I love actors and their various processes. As a director, I want to see what they bring to their roles before exerting my influence. If I’ve done my job casting the play, the right actors are in the right roles. From then on, I think of myself as a conductor in an orchestra. It’s my job to be sure the playwright’s story is told clearly, with focus where it needs to be.

Why did you choose to direct Long Day’s Journey?
I didn’t. I was asked to direct it after the original director had to drop the show due to a scheduling conflict. I was actually hoping to audition for the role of Mary.

Besides acting ability, what were you looking for your actors to bring to the characters?
That’s one of those mysterious phenomena when it comes to casting. So few actors truly appreciate or understand the concept of casting dynamics in directors’ minds. A show like this one, in particular, needs a believable family unit. When voices, physiques, and presences fuse into the perfect cast, it’s magic. It certainly is with this cast.

You’re next directing Nick Dear’s Power at TRP. Why that script?
I’ve loved it ever since reading it three years ago. It’s very smart, filled with intrigue and passion and comedy—a true struggle for power. It’s a very modern take on the actual historical events surrounding the ascension of Louis XIV.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.