"It's such a bizarre script!" Young exclaims, her instantly recognizable contralto pinging with intensity. "It's so macabre. We've all heard of them: Alfalfa, George Reeves, Barbara Payton, and of course Susan [Cabot]... it's a lot of tragic heavy hitters."
Ode to the Wasp Woman follows the last 48 hours of four different 1950s B-movie stars who were either slain or discovered dead under suspicious circumstances: Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, a child star who was fatally shot during a financial dispute; famous Superman George Reeves, whose "suicide" remains heavily debated to this day; screen siren Barbara Payton, who was discovered dead in her parents home; and Roger Corman's muse Susan Cabot, who was bludgeoned to death by her own son. It runs Off-Broadway at Actors Temple Theatre until January 31, 2024.
Young plays Cabot, whose death lead to a media circus of a trial. While Young had personally worked with Roger Corman in her early career, she connected to Cabot through their shared experiences as women in Hollywood after their career peaks.
"It's our tragedy. You see the sinking ship, and don't knowing what to do," Young takes a moment before continuing on, seemingly reflecting on her own struggles at the end of the 20th century. "There are a lot of people in Hollywood who have experienced that: When you're on a good wave, and then the phone stops ringing for whatever reason. It could be for just about any reason, really. I think every actress understands that."
A star in the original Blade Runner and Dune, Young was one of the brunette bombshells of the 1980s, fierce with wit and confidence as the face of the new sci-fi movement. After clashes with a number of controversial directors, a run in with sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, and an accident during rehearsals for Tim Burton's Batman that led to her exiting the project—the very same self assuredness that had previously been prized in Young was used to exile her from Hollywood's upper echelons.
"I'd be really surprised if anybody escaped," Young states, referring to the struggles thrown at individuals trying to remain emotionally unscathed in the entertainment industry. "Fame is trauma, you never escape alive."
Like Young, Susan Cabot achieved fame at a young age, working as a contract player for Universal Pictures where she starred in a number of Westerns before asking to be released from her contract in 1954. After attempting to kickstart a stage career, Cabot returned to the screen as a muse for the "King of Cult" cinema Roger Corman. While filming Corman's 1959 film The Wasp Woman, Cabot's affair with King Hussein of Jordan began to overshadow her life, and she voluntarily stepped away from the spotlight.
Hussein later left Cabot, and she was unable to resume her career for a third time—the loss of which she was unable to manage. Suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, Cabot spent much of her final years in a haze of paranoia.
"She definitely had attachment trauma," Young details, referring to to Cabot's rocky childhood and lack of a support system. "You can just imagine what was not functioning properly, in an emotional sense. There was quite a bit of childhood trauma. She fell into the category of somebody who, when they become famous, it gives them their sense of self esteem. And when that's taken away, it's like they collapse." Young sees this as a contrasting point between the two of them. "I've always known who I am, with or without it."
When looking at the four central characters of Ode to the Wasp Woman, "they all had careers that fell apart," Young explains. "Everybody hopes that their career will last forever. Fame chews people up, but you can't get chewed up without your consent. I'm the one opening the door, and so I do have a choice. There's a lot of people who have been actors that live perfectly normal lives. But fame is something different. This is certainly a profession that attracts the type to consent to it, though—people who need attention and approval and stuff like that."
Young's career began while she was still a minor, attending Interlochen Arts Academy and the School of American Ballet, where she trained as a dancer. Upon reaching legal maturity, Young made a conscious choice to open the door to fame, knowing all that likely awaited her on the other side.
"I was so beautiful as a teenager; I immediately got into modeling when I was 18," Young recalls. "For me, it was a practical decision: I looked at what I could do, and I made a decision in the beginning that I would do this. I got lucky, because I'm not terribly insecure. I always knew that I wanted to have a family, which I did. And I left Hollywood at around 30 to have my kids when things got bad."
That foresight to shift her focus from her career to her family, likely saved Young from a fate suffered by many young actresses who have been discarded by the industry as they age. Not to say Young has not been working—over the years she’s taken small parts in film and TV shows, including a cameo in Blade Runner 2049. But Wasp Woman is the biggest project that actor has undertaken in decades.
Today, Young is a woman of many faces, occupying a number of different positions: devoted mother and wife, actress undertaking a comeback, and (following a recent New York Times profile) a public supporter of former President Donald J. Trump. When asked how she squares his abuse allegations with what she herself has experienced, Young told the Times the following.
"I don’t care what kind of a person he is. What I care about is that he put a border on the southern part of our country. That’s the priority I feel... If you’re going on the assumption that [abuse] actually happened, you also have to ask yourself why this woman’s [expletive] was right there to be grabbed."
Young is aware that her position is often considered less than favorably within the entertainment industry, although she doesn't believe it has affected her career up to this point. "I don't take Trump coverage to be fact," Young said in a follow-up statement to Playbill. "Nothing has been verified," regarding the assault allegations against Trump.
Now 63, Young is checking off a performance goal she has hungered for since training as a child at Interlochen: performing on a New York stage. "I so enjoy the continuity of the stage, and when the writing is this good, it is a joy. And hey, it's true: If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere."
Ode to the Wasp Woman will play a limited engagement at The Actors Temple Theatre October 30–January 31, 2024. Opening night is November 9. Visit WaspWomanplay.com.