The Bad with the Good

Marianna Bassham M.F.A.’02
Photo by Bryce Vickmark
Marianna Bassham M.F.A.’02

Marianna Bassham, M.F.A.’02, isn’t afraid to get down and dirty at work.

Take her most recent gig. This spring, Bassham starred in “The Luck of the Irish” at the Huntington Theatre. Written by Kirsten Greenidge, the play focuses on the racial conflicts that burst open when an upwardly mobile African-American family buys a house in an all-white Boston neighborhood in the 1950s.

“I play another bitter, where’s-the-money wife,” says the Cambridge, Mass.-based actress. “She’s the ‘villain’ of the piece, but she has her reasons. I put ‘villain’ in quotes because no villain ever sees him- or herself that way.”

Bassham has played a variety of roles on stage and in films and commercials. “People have let me do all kinds of things,” she says. And yet, she reports, she does get offered a lot of “bitter wife” parts.

“I guess there’s something dark about me,” she says with a laugh. “It’s nice to do some comedy.”

Bassham says the key to playing all characters, nice or nasty, is to conjure their motivations and live in their world. “I like telling stories that might change people or illuminate something about the world,” says the Kent, Ohio, native.

After finishing her master’s at Brandeis, where she studied acting, Bassham spent four years in New York before moving back to Boston. She’s worked with the New Repertory Theatre, a relationship she developed while at Brandeis, as well as Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. She even worked with theater director Scott Edmiston after he joined Brandeis as director of the Office of the Arts, though their paths never crossed on campus.

“Marianna has become a leading light in Boston theater through her astonishing versatility,” Edmiston says. “She can move effortlessly from comedy to drama to new plays to Shakespeare. She has grace and talent, but also technique and a kind of creative intuition about how to find the inner truth in her character.”

Many of the film roles Bassham has done in recent years were in movies shot in the Boston area. For instance, audiences can see Bassham in the romantic thriller “Rubberneck,” co-written and directed by Alex Karpovsky, who appears in HBO’s new series “Girls.”

She also has a role alongside Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Ed Norton and Frances McDormand in director Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which opened the Cannes Film Festival in May.

“I have a strategy of staying put,” Bassham says. “I don’t mind if opportunities take me to other places, but there’s also a really strong theater community here, and [the producers] use us.”

She’s not bitter about that at all.

Debra Filcman