British actress Jane Carr, touring with the cast of "Nicholas Nickleby," got a lot of marriage proposals last year. Most of them were from people she didn't know, enthusiastic audience members. But then one fellow who hadn't even seen the show, actor Mark Arnott, proposed. Carr married him anyway.
Nowadays, Mrs. Arnott has her hands full: settling into domestic life (after six months, they're contented "old marrieds") in Los Angeles and preparing for her role in Joe Orton's "What the Butler Saw," at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
"The story is difficult to tell," Carr said. "A psychiatrist called Dr. Prentice is interviewing a secretary and gets her to take her clothes off. Just as he's about to seduce her, his wife (played by Carr) arrives. They're having a terrible marriage; she's been out all night at the Station Hotel having an affair with the bellboy, and she's lost her dress. So she takes the dress he's got in his hands and is trying to hide--the secretary's dress. Chaos ensues. Dr. Raft comes in--he's been checking on the psychiatric clinic--and decides that Dr. Prentice is completely insane. Then the bellboy arrives.
"It's a farce, but not in the sense of Feydeau or any of those famous people who wrote farces," she added. "It was first done in 1969 at the Royal Court (where she played the secretary) and wasn't a success. There was a great controversy over the end, which has to do with certain missing parts of Sir Winston Churchill. . . . But it is a funny play, irreverent and anarchic. Men dress as women, women dress as men, people lose their clothes. Everyone has--or has had or tries to have--sex with everyone else.
"If you know anything about Joe Orton, or the time he was around," she gushed, "well, the '60s in London were wonderful . Young people ruled. I was working by the time I was 14; by the mid-'60s, I was in the West End doing 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (a role she reprised in the award-winning 1969 film). We were young and had money--it was an extraordinary sense of freedom."
Carr's credits in England include "The Merchant of Venice," "Caucasian Chalk Circle," "As You Like It" and "Peter Pan." In America, she has worked on "The Tracey Ullman Show" and in the Disney TV movie, "Return of the Shaggy Dog". Because she worked from such an early age, Carr is only recently beginning to step back and assess her choices.
"Could I ever be just Mrs. Housewife? Yes. The ambition becomes a habit; you're addicted to it. When you're not working, you keep thinking, 'Shouldn't I be doing something around 5 in the evening?' But it gets to the point where you needn't do it if you really didn't want to--and it becomes what you do for a living." She sighed. "Actors are such contrary beasts; when they're not working, they long to work. Ideally, I'd like to be at the point where people sent me scripts and said, 'Would you like to do this, Jane?' I'd sit there and say, 'This would be nice,' or not--pick and choose and have my babies."
Carr realizes that such choices may be a bit down the road.
"In England, my career is in very good nick (shape)," she said simply. "I'm sent scripts. Here, one has to audition all the time." Hoping to jog people's memories, the actress used to show up for auditions wearing her "Nicholas Nickleby" T-shirt. "It doesn't work anymore," she said. "A lot of people saw the show, a lot of people didn't. Nobody really cares. They say to me, 'Can you do this three-line part?' I had to eat a lot of humble pie; your ego gets bruised. Then you realize it's just the way things work. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Carr realizes that few professional experiences will equal her tour with "Nicholas Nickleby."
"The feeling that remains," she said, "was when everyone would come up afterwards and say, 'It was the theatrical experience of my life,' and you'd say back, 'It was the theatrical experience of my life too.' And it was. "
Nowadays, the teamwork continues--at home. "We've been working a relay race," Carr said. "If I'd married a doctor, he could say, 'No, darling, you can't possibly go to the theater tonight.' Actors at least understand. Mark is doing a Craig Lucas play ("Prelude to a Kiss," opening in January) at South Coast Repertory, so he's up at the crack of dawn every day, driving to Costa Mesa. Then I come home from rehearsal at 11 p.m." She smiled. "That's what you get for marrying an actor."