Twin Cities native Monette Magrath is currently making her seventh appearance at the Pasadena Playhouse in Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, having previously enchanted Playhouse audiences in Enchanted April, The Constant Wife, Private Lives, and others. A popular actress on the regional theater circuit, Monette’s recent appearances include starring roles at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Arizona Theatre Company, and the Cleveland Play House, as well as our own Laguna Playhouse.  The lovely and talented New York University, Tisch School of the Arts graduate has also hit the indie film festival circuit with her starring role in Jake’s Closet.  The very busy Monette took time during Mauritius’ hectic tech week to sit down and answer our many questions.  Here’s our interview!

Hi Monette.  Can you tell us what brought about your love for the theater and for acting?

I’m originally from Minnesota—the Twin Cities. Growing up, my parents took me to The Guthrie, The Children’s Theatre Company, and Northrop Auditorium with some frequency. An appreciation for the arts was important to my mom especially. However, no one in my family was in the business. I have to credit the wonderful drama teachers I had in my public Junior High and High schools in Columbia, Missouri, where we’d moved, for really opening up the world of acting. I can’t imagine where I’d be in my life if such high-quality performing arts hadn’t been offered in my public schools. Those classrooms and auditoriums are where my love for acting began. 

What about your decision to pursue acting as a career?

It wasn’t until college that I thought of acting professionally. I was in a play at Mount Holyoke, where I spent my freshman year, and our visiting director encouraged me to transfer to a more comprehensive acting program. His words were generous, funny, and changed the course of my life. I’ll never forget him. Soon after that conversation, I took a 6 a.m. Greyhound to New York City and auditioned for Tisch. There was no going back after that.

This is your seventh Playhouse production. How does it feel to be back on stage in Pasadena?

It feels like home. I got my Equity card on the Playhouse stage in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Working here is such a blessing and an honor. From the stage, the house feels so warm and inviting. Though it’s a large theater, it feels very intimate, qnd part of that feeling of warmth comes from the amazing staff and crew. Truly, everyone at Pasadena Playhouse has ownership of its success. There is a pride for what they do and a genuine love for the theater. I feel extremely lucky.

Can you tell us something about Mauritius?

Mauritius is a wild play! There are so many facets to the story. It’s a thrill-ride, a dark comedy, a family drama, a tragedy, and a love story. And it’s about stamps! You can watch it from so many different angles. I really hope people will consider coming twice, because I can guarantee they will have two totally different experiences, neither of them ordinary!

What role do you play?

I play Mary, one of the half-sisters fighting for the stamp collection that was left in their family. It’s a challenging role since I’m the antagonist in the play, and even though some may view me as the villain in one way or another, I have to honor the truth of my story. Both sisters are products of a dysfunctional and abusive home. They cope differently. They’re both scarred, and deeply flawed, but they’re both survivors. For some audience members, it may be hard to allow both stories to resonate. We all walk into the theater with our own perspectives, and those perspectives color our experience. That’s exciting! We all get something slightly different from a play because of who we are. I really love that about art. Mauritius deals with highly-charged issues of justice, values and ownership. My job is to tell Mary’s story with as much honor and complexity and truth as I can … and let the chips fall where they may.

You’ve done a lot of “older” plays—Maugham, Coward, Miller, Williams, etc. How does it feel to be in a West Coast Premiere as opposed to a play that most theatergoers may already have seen?

It feels great! First of all, it’s really exciting to get to share new, cutting edge material. It feels so of-the-moment and fresh. Ironically, all of my work outside of L.A. has been new plays. 

 Monette as Sonia The Ice Breaker (Photo by Ed Krieger)

I understand there’s something special about the published edition of David Rambo’s The Ice-Breaker, a play you appeared in at the Laguna Playhouse in 2007.

Yes, this past year, I got to go to Samuel French and buy a copy of The Ice-Breaker with my name inside! That was a milestone for me. When I read a play, I always turn right to the cast page to see who played the roles in the first productions. I hoped to one day be a part of the American Theater in that way, so it’s a real thrill for me. There are two others coming out soon (Stick Fly and The Night is a Child), and I can’t wait to see them!

Of all the roles you’ve played on stage, which two or three are the most memorable for you? What makes these parts memorable?

That’s like choosing between your children! Really they are all so special. But, if I had to name the most memorable, I’d have to say Lady Caroline in Enchanted April, Sonia Milan in The Ice-Breaker, and Kimber in Stick Fly. 

What puts those three women at the top of your list?

Lady Caroline in Enchanted April is a role I’ve played three times, at the Pasadena Playhouse, the Cleveland Play House and the Arizona Theatre Company. She is more brave and glamorous and bold than anyone I’ve ever known. That scared me to death at first. But once I felt how under all of that, she was coming from deep pain and loneliness, I loved her bravado. She made me much more courageous.

What about Sonia?

Sonia Milan was a case of total actor joy. I got to work with the wonderful Art Manke as my director and the supremely talented Andrew Barnicle as my co-star and the brilliant words of David Rambo. Every day I went to work, and through Sonia’s journey, fell in love, grew up and found grace. It was total, complete euphoria from start to finish.

 Monette as Kimber in Stick Fly (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

And Kimber?

Kimber Davies is a character who seems like she’s going to be one kind of person, and turns out to be so much more than that. It’s a real tribute to the playwright, Lydia Diamond, that Kimber has so much depth. Many writers would not care so much about her. Because of the details of the play, my life and Kimber’s life intersected. We’d have these marathon table-work sessions at McCarter Theatre, and the next day I’d be handed a speech that said all the things I was trying to express—except written with more poetry and searing insight that I could have imagined. Saying those words every night was a personal gift I will never forget.

 Monettee as Jane in The Night Is A Child (photo by Jay Westhauser)

Last year you created the role of Jane in the World Premiere of Charles Randolph-Wright’s The Night Is A Child at Milwaukee Rep. How does an primarily L.A. based actress end up performing in Wisconsin? 

I knew Charles from his work at Pasadena Playhouse (Blue, Cuttin’ Up) and we’d become friends. When he did an L.A. workshop of the piece at the Playhouse, he asked me to read Jane. We did a lot of work on the character. Thankfully, when the Milwaukee Rep production came up, Charles and director Tim Douglas wanted me to do it. The only downside was being an L.A. actress in Milwaukee in February. It was the coldest winter there in 100 years!

What was it like being the first actor to play the role of Jane? 

Creating the role was challenging and rewarding. Jane and her family have experienced a horrible tragedy. The arc of the story is their quest to come back to one another. Like Mauritius, the siblings in The Night Is A Child handle their mutual pain in different ways. Jane keeps it all together. She controls everything because if she doesn’t, she will totally fall apart. For most of the play she’s one deep breath away from a breakdown. Her journey is to breathe again.

   Monette as Lady Caroline in Enchanted April (Photo by Jeff Smith)

Also last year you appeared in Enchanted April with the Arizona Theatre Company, the same play I saw you in several years earlier at the Pasadena Playhouse. What’s it like to play the same role you’ve done before, but with a different director and costars?  

It was surreal! Parts of the set were similar and parts were exactly opposite. That felt so strange! The words were the same, but they had new meanings coming from these different actors. The real challenge was to let go of the past and be in the moment with the new production. It was a good lesson, as being in the moment is always the goal anyway. Sometimes it was frustrating. But in the end, Enchanted April is a truly special play. Every production of it that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of has been a huge success and a joy to do.

Having appeared in regional theaters across the country, how would you say the Los Angeles theater scene compares with others where you’ve worked?

The L.A. theater scene is incredibly vibrant. There are so many wonderful theaters here. And there are amazing artists working on our stages. There is still this myth that New York City is the only real theater scene—with the possible exception of Chicago. But that is simply not true. Partially because there are so many other acting opportunities here due to Hollywood, talent flocks to L.A.. And talented people like to do great theater. It feeds the soul. In my opinion, L.A. is definitely a great theater town.

What about other cities?

Regionally, there are other communities where I’ve worked that theater is very important: certainly Washington, D.C. has a great theater scene, and Milwaukee does, too. I have to say, though, the commute is better for me here!

Your movie Jake’s Closet is out on DVD now.  Can you tell us something about it?

I’m so proud to be a part of this film. It was written and directed by Shelli Ryan, an incredibly talented filmmaker. It’s a really fascinating look at how a child handles his parents divorce. There’s an element of suspense in the film as well. It can be watched on many different levels.

Who are you in the movie?

I play Ruth, a neighbor of the family in trouble. Like some of my other roles, she seems like one kind of person and you might not like or understand her until the reasons behind her actions are revealed. It’s funny, I see that theme running through many of my roles, mostly written by women. There’s great complexity, and these characters are exciting to play.

Having done so much stage work, can you compare the experience of making Jake’s Closet with, say, the process of staging a play like Mauritius?

We get to rehearse more for theater, mainly because we have to tell the whole story, every night, without yelling “Cut!”. I like rehearsal. It’s such an intimate place. You really get to know the other actors and explore your character. Then, when you move into the theater, you meet the other character—the audience. Performing in front of a live audience is scary, thrilling and extremely fulfilling. To me, there’s a communion in the theater that is sacred and cannot be found anywhere else. 

And film?

Working on film is wonderful in a different way. The communion is with the camera—and it’s a little love affair of its own. I enjoy filmmaking very much. There are more short bursts of intense work, and a moment of inspiration can live forever—whereas onstage it is ephemeral. I love that anyone can see Jake’s Closet anytime. Sometimes I’m very sad that the theater work ends and can never be recreated—but then I remember that that is what makes it so special.

How would you like to see your career develop over the next few years? 

I’d like to continue working in all mediums. I really love independent film because the stories are often so interesting to tell. I’d like to tell more of them. I’d like to do film and theater roles that challenge me. I want to walk that third rail and make art that is exciting to watch. I want to scare myself a little. 

Are there any roles or projects that you’d really like to be a part of?

I want to play roles that I’m not sure how to play and grow as an artist. I’d like to continue to create roles in new plays and move into the leading ladies of the great plays. Mostly, I just want to do the work. I truly love acting. It’s the compass of my life. And I just want to keep moving forward with everything I have to give.

Thanks so much, Monette, for taking the time to answer our questions!

My pleasure. Thanks for asking!

Monette’s headshots are by Michael Calas.

Keep up with Monette by visiting

Jake’s Closet is available on DVD at, and can be rented through Netflix, Blockbuster, etc.

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