Bebe Neuwirth gives the scoop on her role in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s “A Small Fire”

Bebe Neuwirth
PHOTO: Anthony Werhun

Tony-award winner Bebe Neuwirth is lighting a fire in the City of Brotherly Love this month – “A Small Fire” that is. Neuwirth is hitting the stage (Oct. 18- Nov. 10) in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s latest production, and to the New Jersey native, this show is simply beautiful. The production itself examines ordinary people who go through quite bizarre circumstances and how one woman’s life begins to change forever after a mysterious illness afflicts her. Neuwirth sat down with Metro to give the scoop on the show and what she hopes audiences take away from the production. 

Bebe Neuwirth gives the scoop on her role in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s “A Small Fire”

You have an extensive career in theater, how did you end up taking on this role in “A Small Fire?” 

I started out as a dancer on Broadway for the last forty-something years. Concurrent with that I’ve also worked in television and film, but the theater work has always been there and I’ve always kept up with it, that’s never gone away. In fact, my very first job was with “A Chorus Line” at the Forrest Theater in 1978. My friend Paige Price runs the theater, and we talked about working together and doing something, so she sent me a few plays. This play, “ A Small Fire” is just an incredible play and I immediately told her I would love to talk more about it.

How would you describe the show?

It’s about relationships, it’s about love and it’s about ordinary people in somewhat mysterious circumstances. It’s about a lot of very big things and everyday things— I think it’s a very beautifully written play, it’s very theatrical in its simplicity. The language is skillful, the structure is skillful and I think it’s very beautiful that the characters are interesting and what happens to the characters is also very interesting. I don’t want to give anything away or apply any adjectives to it. I want people to have their own experience of the play and find whatever it is that they find about it. I don’t want to tell them what to feel or tell them what to look for, but I can tell you it’s not a big plastic comedy, so don’t come expecting that. There is humor in it, but there is also pathos — I really feel like there’s everything in it. But it’s a subtle nuance and deceptively simple, it’s there but it’s quite rich. The language, the structure, the relationships and how fair and seemingly simple it is – I just think it’s an extremely well-written play. The more I rehearse it and the more I study it the more admiration I have for the writers.

Bebe Neuwirth

What about your character specifically?

The nuts and bolts of it are that she is a very successful woman who owns and runs her own construction company. She’s been the boss of that company for some years. She has a husband, and one child, and her daughter is about to get married. This mysterious kind of bizarre illness happens to her and it’s increasingly debilitating. Those are the bare facts of what happen to her.

Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the show?

No matter what the show is or what the performance is, I hate to say it, but I just hope the audience has a good time. It sounds really simple but I hope that they are engaged and I hope they have an experience that is more than just a surface experience. I hope that we’re good enough to have it go to a place in them that’s meaningful.

Catch Bebe Neuwirth in “A Small Fire” now-Nov. 10, for tickets and more information visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org

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