By Mary Ann Bourbeau
RED BANK – Many people recognize actress Annette O’Toole for different roles she has played. For some, she is best known as Martha Kent, the adoptive mother of Superman in the television series “Smallville.” For others, it’s Lana Lang from the movie “Superman III.” Others may remember her as Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy from the 1990 miniseries “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” or from the Stephen King miniseries “It.”
“What people remember me from depends on their sex and age,” she said. “Younger people know me from ‘Smallville.’ A lot of guys in their 50s remember me from ‘One on One,’ a basketball movie I did in 1977 with Robbie Benson.”
O’Toole has worked as a singer, dancer, writer, producer and even a composer. She was nominated for an Academy Award for “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” a song she co-wrote with her husband, actor Michael McKean, for the film “A Mighty Wind.”
These days, the Houston-born actress is back on the stage, currently starring at the Two River Theater in “Third,” written by acclaimed playwright Wendy Wasserstein. The play, directed by Tony-nominated actor Michael Cumpsty, is running through June 22. It also features Amy Hohn, J.R. Horne, Christopher Sears and Emily Walton.
“We’re having a ball,” O’Toole said during a telephone call from her temporary home overlooking the Navesink River. “We all love this play so much. I didn’t know Wendy’s work, but this is so beautifully written. It’s a very hopeful play.”
“Third” is set on the campus of a New England liberal arts college. O’Toole plays Professor Laurie Jameson, who accuses one of her students, an outwardly stereotypical jock nicknamed “Third,” of plagiarism. As a result, her own life is thrown into disarray.
“Every major relationship in her life is in flux or terrible turmoil,” O’Toole said. “This one event propels her into the next part of her life in a very interesting way.”
O’Toole has been performing ever since she can remember.
“I never thought about doing anything else,” she said.
She attended a performing arts high school and didn’t think college was necessary, even when her guidance counselor suggested she should have a backup plan.
“I didn’t think I needed anything to fall back on,” O’Toole said. “Looking back, I can see how arrogant that was.”
But, she was apparently on to something. It wasn’t long before she landed roles in the television shows “My Three Sons,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Partridge Family.”
Most recently, O’Toole has been working on another project that she hopes will make it to the New York stage. For “Southern Comfort,” the true story of a transgender man dying of ovarian cancer, she cut her signature long red hair and let it go gray.
“I always knew I would cut my hair if a part required it,” she said. “This was pretty radical, but I absolutely love it.”
Broadway may be in her future, but for now O’Toole is enjoying her time at the Two River Theater.
“I had heard from friends that this is a great place to work,” she said. “It’s a gorgeous theater in a gorgeous town and the people here are truly lovely.”
Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third,” at the Two River Theater, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank, May 31 through June 22. Tickets, $65 – 37, available by calling 732-345-1400 or at www.tworivertheater.org.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.