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Amanda Plummer a Study in Contrasts

June 24, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

LA JOLLA — Amanda Plummer opens the door, shy, expectant, smiling, touching the ends of her still-wet hair with long, tapering fingers. "Wuthering Heights" is playing on the VCR; it alternates with "Camille" for her daily morning movie. She loves movies, especially sad, romantic ones, she explains. She saves "A Room at the Top" or "Odd Man Out" for the evenings.

It is the first preview night for "Two Rooms," the new Lee Blessing play she is opening in Sunday at the La Jolla Playhouse. As she ushers in her interviewer, Plummer does not appear to be thinking about her role as the wife of an American hostage in Beirut. Instead, her attention drifts dreamily to Heathcliff and Cathy embracing on the timeless moors. Plummer turns them off reluctantly to offer her visitor a cup of coffee or tea.

Her voice, when she offers those drinks, seems fragile and nervously friendly in the don't-hurt-me fashion of Laura in "The Glass Menagerie," one of the many parts this Tony-award winning and often-nominated actress played on Broadway. Instead of little glass animals, however, she lovingly strokes her videocassettes.

Some actors overwhelm you with their sense of space. The tall and slender Plummer, who turned 30 in March, has an uncanny ability to make herself seem small in an almost childlike way. The result is to draw the visitor in--if only to protect her.

Acting may seem a curious professional choice for such a shy person, but Plummer is a study in contrasts. The stuffed animal on the bed poses an oddly innocent juxtaposition with the ever-present cigarette in her mouth. She drapes pink and white scarfs around her bedroom lamp because, like Blanche du Bois in "A Steetcar Named Desire," she says, "I like soft light, I don't like bright light."

It's a choice at odds with the plain cotton blouse and corduroy pants, and the utter absence of makeup and jewelry on the strong, angular, fresh-scrubbed face that offers the very image of her famous father, actor Christopher Plummer. There's not a trace of her gently pretty actress mother, Tammy Grimes.

Plummer has sometimes been type-cast by the critics as playing roles of women who suffer--including Agnes, the nun accused of killing her child in "Agnes of God," for which she won the Tony for best supporting actress at age 24, the mutilated Ellen James in "The World According to Garp" and the broken-down daughter of a Jewish couple executed as Soviet spies in "Daniel."

In "Two Rooms" she plays a very different, stronger character--Lainie Wells, an ecologist whose free-lance photographer husband has been kidnaped by terrorists in Beirut. Wells, although victimized by her situation, is a fighter who battles the governmental doublespeak that she sees as co-conspirator in keeping her husband hostage.

Is this role a departure for her?

She hesitates, as she often does when asked a question, presses her long fingers against her cheek and closes her starkly penetrating green eyes for just a moment.

"She's so different from me. She's a much more mature woman than I am. And that's fascinating to discover that maturity and understanding. Somehow . . . it's hard to say. . . . I'm still . . . I don't know . . . she's just much stronger than I am."

"Two Rooms" marks Plummer's third appearance at the La Jolla Playhouse. One of the two factors that brought her here was Blessing's script. She had never seen or read a play by Blessing, who was nominated for a Tony for "A Walk in the Woods" this year, but she was impressed by this one.

"I wanted to . . . follow these people from page one, the experience with the hostage problem in the Middle East. When I read the script, it didn't have an end. I found that exciting.

"He (Blessing) is a wonderful writer. There is something very quiet in between the words."

The other force that who brought her here, as he did in 1983 and 1984 when she played in "Romeo and Juliet" and "As You Like It" at the Playhouse, was Des McAnuff, the theater's artistic director who is directing the Blessing play.

"He's very adventuresome and very loyal and very thorough," Plummer says. "He's very inspiring to work with and to meet. I just love the way he talked about the play, not any specific thing that he said. Work that he chooses . . . he has a great deal of passion for."

Like Blessing, Plummer says passion is the quality that is most important to her in a director. "The thing about passion is that it makes you dream yourself into the play's world and then the work comes from that. Without the need to do a play, the work becomes harder, it becomes work. If you have passion for it, you're halfway there already when it comes to creating something. It's easy to dream yourself into the character and living among the people."

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