''When I got the script for Serial Mom, I couldn't believe it,'' Kathleen Turner says. ''I kept picking it up and throwing it down. And saying to my husband, 'You're not going to believe this!'''
Anyone who's seen John Waters's 20-year-old hysterical black comedy can understand. Turner is brilliant as a gleefully murderous mother, killing people in her suburban Baltimore neighborhood for committing trivial faux pas. ''When I finally realized I was kind of hooked,'' she says, ''I called John and said, 'I really need to know that this is comedy. That this is not going to turn into some kind of schlocky, awful slasher thing.'''
(Photo courtesy Arena Stage)
The end result was better than she dreamed. ''Are you kidding? I had a ball!'' While there's no further work on tap with Waters -- and she knows of no plans to turn Serial Mom into a Hairspray-style Broadway musical -- Turner says the director ''has stayed a wonderful friend, and he'll be here to see this.'' This being the ''music-filled'' adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children at Arena Stage, where she is making her professional singing debut (see review, page 36). ''I never have done a musical before,'' says Turner, adding that Amy Irving got the singing parts to her animated character Jessica Rabbit in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ''I actually wanted to sing that,'' concedes Turner, the husky-voiced actor who resigned herself early to non-singing work. ''There were no leads in my range. The sweet-young-things were sopranos.'' One year after Turner's breakthrough work in the 1981 film Body Heat she appeared in her first Arena Stage production, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mother Courage follows her dazzling return to Arena last season as Molly Ivins in Red Hot Patriot, also directed by Molly Smith, Arena's artistic director since 1998. ''My stars, what Molly has done with Arena Stage is spectacular,'' Turner coos. ''She's built it into one of the top theater companies in the country.''
Turns out, she's a proud mother all around, heaping praise on her own daughter, the bluesy singer-songwriter Rachel Ann Weiss, who performed at the Mother Courage opening night party, as well as the show's ensemble cast, 16 actors strong. ''I'm knocked out by this company. I'm so proud of them,'' she says. ''You've got to remember, we put this together in four weeks. It should have been impossible.'' '
Mother Courage and Her Children runs to March 9 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. Tickets are $55 to $90. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org.