Tatiana Maslany might be a little weird. But she doesn’t take it as an insult. She knows there’s something a little unconventional about her and the work she chooses. Or, maybe rather, the work that chooses her.
The actor came to fame in the series Orphan Black, playing a con-artist who discovers that her birth—not to mention her many doppelgängers (also played by Maslany)—was the result of a human cloning experiment. The sci-fi thriller ran for five seasons, earning Maslany an Emmy Award in its second. Her latest television role is Jennifer Walters, the lawyer whose alter ego is the titular superhero in the irreverent She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
Now Maslany is bringing her slightly off-kilter persona to the stage, treading the boards eight times a week in the Broadway premiere of Levi Holloway’s Grey House, now running at the Lyceum Theatre. And those boards she’s treading? They’re creaky.
Even on the page, Grey House is eerie. “When I was auditioning, I was thinking, ‘I want to do this so badly, and even if I don’t get to, I can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait to see how it’s done,’” the star says of the play, which sits somewhere in between psychological thriller and horror. Neither are genres seen terribly often on stage. From the get, the audience is prepared to be scared. A scrim hides the set as they make their way to their seats, and a collective gasp is heard as the theatre quickly goes black before the start of the show. The lights come up revealing the interior of mountain cabin. It’s harmless enough. But what floats above it, a shroud of grey webs and roots with a dark hole in its center—is it a passageway?—seems to indicate that this cabin is not the literal location it appears to be.
The house is inhabited by a plain mountain woman, coarse in her manner, practical in her style. She is mother to one young boy, who is mostly silent, and four teen girls, who are not. It is not long before the family scatters to the upstairs and downstairs, seemingly leaving the house empty, and Max (Maslany) and her husband Henry (played by Paul Sparks) enter, seeking aid at the remote cabin. They’ve wrecked their car in the snowstorm, swerving to avoid hitting a deer.
“I’ve seen this movie,” says Henry. “We don’t make it.” That joke is one of many that ease the audience when tensions begin to strain.
“It’s scary to read,” says Maslany. “But what’s wild about it is that it does a lot of other stuff, too. It’s very funny. It doesn’t sit in one place for very long.”
Max and Henry frantically search the cabin. As they do, its mysteries begin to reveal themselves. As the children and their mother Raleigh (two-time Tony winner Laurie Metcalf) introduce themselves to Max and Henry, even more mysteries arise.
The play then hints that Max and Henry’s arrival at the house wasn’t entirely accidental. That maybe things they’ve done in their past have led them here. When Raleigh talks about the children, she says things to Max like “you’ll see,” as if Max’s stay might be longer than a day or two. The audience, much like Max and Henry, to an extent (although his injuries require sedation), must put the jigsaw pieces into place. “[The play’s] not spoon-feeding you anything,” laughs Maslany.
The actor’s own feelings towards the play are equally mysterious and difficult for her to articulate. “It hit me somewhere emotionally, and I couldn’t name what that was,” she says of her attraction to the script. “There were scenes in it that felt vital and resonant. Like, motherhood…something in that felt very interesting to me, just given the age that I’m at and how many of my friends are having kids. That part of life is facing me down right now. We’re staring at each other.” She says that with a laugh, shifting her voice down in mock seriousness to add levity to a matter that is all too serious.
Though Grey House is meant to spook, it eventually settles in a quiet, sentimental space. Violent pasts are revealed. There is a scene that trades in revenge horror, eliciting repulsed squeals from the audience. But ultimately, it becomes about a group of young women, and a lone little boy, who need someone to care for them. Who need someone to protect them. Who desperately need a mother.
This production marks a transition in Maslany’s life. She started acting professionally at age nine and never stopped. Until the pandemic forced a two-year hiatus. She’s now re-entering her career having been able to separate from her childhood work, feeling (“it’s a silly thing for me to say”) like she is one of the adults in the room. “It’s an interesting time for me to be making work. There are big question marks over everything,” she says. “I feel like I’m in a new phase.”
The former-child, now solidly-in-her-adulthood actor couldn’t be more impressed with the young people she shares the stage with in Grey House. “They’re such pros. And they’re still kids, which is my favorite thing to see—actors who are young who still have access to being a kid,” says Maslany. “When you’re working with adults, that can get squashed out pretty quickly. But this play has a lot of child logic in it. So, there’s something actually more alienating for some of the adults. It’s a scarier world for the adults than it is for the kids.”
It's that walking between worlds that Maslany finds fascinating. The way the play teeters between startle and comfort. Between childhood and adulthood. Somewhere unknown. That…well…that grey space. “I have more questions than I have any sense of what I know. Maybe I should have more answers than I do, but there’s an unconscious working that’s happening. A lot of the play feels like a dream.”
And those difficult spaces—the ones that live just in feelings—are the ones that Maslany insists are most worth examination. “I feel like when I have a visceral response to something, then that’s the only color I can see and then I don’t investigate why I feel that way. But those uncomfortable feelings are often the most exciting to actually look at,” she says, before adding, almost as a dare, “If you want to.”