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When actor Amanda Peet was a child, she developed a friendship with a camp counselor that some deemed inappropriate. “He just paid too much attention to me, basically, and I think probably with what’s going on currently in our culture, he would have been fired immediately,” says Peet. “So, times have changed.”
The incident is part of what inspired Our Very Own Carlin McCullough, Peet’s new play starring Mamie Gummer, Abigail Dylan Harrison, Caroline Heffernan, Tyee Tilghman and Joe Tippett — which began previews June 19 at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse, opens June 27 and continues through July 29.
Gummer plays single mother Cyn, who struggles with good parenting while cultivating her tennis-prodigy daughter’s natural talents. When a tennis pro (Tippett) Cyn hires develops a strong bond with her daughter (Harrison and Heffernan), the teen reciprocates with a schoolgirl crush.
“I liked the idea of having a burgeoning adolescent daughter have a crush on the same person her mom has a crush on,” Peet offers. “When you’re a child star athlete, you spend a lot of time with your coach and it’s an incredibly intimate relationship, and in most cases a really complicated relationship.”
Gummer is best known to TV audiences as Nancy Crozier on CBS’ The Good Wife (a role she has since reprised on the CBS All Access spinoff, The Good Fight) and will appear in the next season of HBO’s True Detective. As a child she appeared opposite her mother, Meryl Streep, in the film adaptation of Nora Ephron’s memoir, Heartburn, and more recently in Sony Pictures’ Ricki and the Flash. Gummer’s numerous independent films include Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects and The End of the Tour about acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace.
“Thematically it explores the very nature of parenting and what it means to put your own ambitions aside, if you’re ever able to, when faced with someone or something of great potential, and how to kind of nurture that and not allow your own desires to supersede in any way,” Gummer says of the new play.
Born in New York City, Peet studied under famed acting coach Uta Hagen before getting her first exposure as a guest-star on Law & Order in 1990. Working on smaller indie projects for most of the following decade, she got her big break opposite Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards in 2000. Career highlights include Igby Goes Down, Syriana and disaster picture 2012. These days she splits her time between television roles (HBO’s Togetherness and IFC’s Brockmire) and raising her three children with husband David Benioff, the A-list scribe best known for co-showrunning Game of Thrones, who often advises on her relatively new endeavor, playwriting.
“A lot of times people just go out with work too early, including me,” Peet says of her writing process. “It’s finding people who are close to you that won’t hesitate to be brutal and tell you, ‘You’re not there. I know you think you’re there, but you’re not there.’ I definitely rely on David and Sarah Paulson and a small core group of people to keep it in my living room until it’s hopefully beyond halfway decent.”
Her 2013 debut, The Commons of Pensacola, premiered off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club and starred Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker. It centers on the wife of a Wall Street scammer who winds up forsaking Manhattan luxury for a one-bedroom condo in Florida. But Peet’s latest, with its focus on parenting and the American obsession with winning, is a bit closer to home for her.
“I think there are a lot of parents out there who feel that their kids have failed if they’re not number one. I’m not immune to that. I understand that,” she says. “Except it’s worse in our culture now than it’s ever been.”
Gummer agrees. “It’s brutal,” she says, summing it up. “That’s one of the questions that you’re left with. Unfortunately, that is sort of one of those wonderful things about theater is that it usually asks more questions than it answers.”
Gummer made her Broadway debut in 2008 in Les Liaisons Dangereuse and starred off-Broadway in The School For Lies, Mr. Marmalade and Ugly Lies the Bone; she was honored with two Lucille Lortel nominations for The Water’s Edge and Uncle Vanya. “It’s just so satisfying and my enjoyment and love of it has only increased over the past 10 or 12 years,” she says of working in the theater. “We’ve become increasingly atomized and it’s harder to gather communally. It just feels so good and primal and necessary to have that catharsis.”
Bolstered by Benioff and friends including Paulson and Logan writer Scott Frank, Peet finds her own catharsis in playwriting where success has bred confidence. And with Gummer in the show under the direction of Tyne Rafaeli, who recently helmed the well-reviewed Actually and Ironbound at the Geffen, Peet’s feeling pretty good ahead of her sophomore effort’s opening night.
“I’m never super confident,” she hedges, “but I’m more confident than I was before I had Mamie Gummer.”