BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield resident Anne Kenny Simpson is an especially busy woman these days — and nights. A Bloomfield High School paraprofessional, she and her husband are busy at work on their Morton Street fixer-upper home.
Last week, sitting in her living room among unopened boxes of recently delivered cabinetry, Simpson said that while the house is her first priority, she did find the time for another commitment. Bitten by the acting bug as an eighth-grader in summer camp, and not far from a stage ever since, she has been cast in the upcoming Nutley Little Theatre production of “The Heiress,” the 1947 adaptation of the Henry James novella, “Washington Square.” Simpson has performed at the Little Theatre before. When she saw the opportunity to work with a favorite director, Alex Oleksij, she tried for a part.
A dramatic arts and communications major at William Paterson University, Simpson first performed at the Little Theatre in the 2006 production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“I was a courtesan in that show,” she said. “The only reason I auditioned was because I was in ‘A Funny Thing’ in college.”
In her college production, she also played a courtesan, a non-speaking part. In the Little Theatre production, she was hoping for a speaking part, but again her character had nothing to say. Oleksij, who was directing, gave her a line of dialogue.
Born is Scotch Plains, Simpson worked for 21 years as an executive assistant at the Metropolitan Opera House. There, she met her husband, Jim, who currently heads the props department at the Met. While raising her family, Simpson lived in Nutley.
Simpson said she wanted to act again when her daughter was about 14 and became involved with theater projects. They performed together in “Hello, Dolly.” She had seen advertisements for shows for the Little Theatre, but the titles weren’t popular.
“I didn’t want to spend the time until ‘A Funny Thing,’” she said.
At the Little Theatre, she has performed in “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Noises Off,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Measure for Measure,” and “Broadway Bound,” among others.
“I like comedy,” she said. “I like doing characters that are different, that aren’t me.”
The character of Mrs. Almond, which she will play in “The Heiress,” isn’t so different from her, she acknowledged. Her character appears in the first act.
Written by husband and wife Augustus and Ruth Goetz, “The Heiress” opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in September 1947 and ran for 410 performances.
The drama is the story of a shy, young and plain-looking woman, Catherine, who stands to inherit a fortune when her father, Dr. Sloper, dies. She is courted by a young man, Morris, whom her father suspects is a gold digger. Dr. Sloper takes his daughter to Europe to test the courtship and upon returning, finds that the couple remains seemingly in love. Catherine tells Morris she cannot live anymore in her father’s house and plans an elopement. But the threat of disinheritance looms over an elopement. Morris, under the pretense of collecting his belongings to depart with his beloved, leaves Catherine and does not return. Dr. Sloper dies and Catherine becomes wealthy. Morris returns, but she rejects him. “The Heiress” has been given a number of Broadway revivals. In 1949, it was made into a movie starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift.
While the part of Mrs. Almond may not be too much of a stretch for her, Simpson has played male roles. She did this in “Becket” and “The Tempest.” In these shows, she performed with her husband, then fiance, who said his test as a suitor was to join the company of “Measure for Measure.”
Simpson recalled another gender-bending role she played at the Little Theatre.
“I was in ‘‘Li’l Abner,’” she said. “It was a great show. When I originally auditioned, I was given a bit part as a woman. But an actor playing a male character dropped out. That part could be played by a man or woman. That was Marryin’ Sam.”
Simpson had worked at the Metropolitan Opera House for 21 years when she was laid off in 2009. She did not know what to do at first and in 2011 became a substitute teacher with the Bloomfield School District.
“I really needed a steady salary and saw a posting for paraprofessional,” she said. “I had only subbed for two months.”
Simpson will sometimes work backstage at the Little Theatre. Between that and acting, she is involved with about two productions a year. The theater, she said, is time consuming.
“I stay away from building sets,” she said.
Not altogether. The main stage set on which she is working is the one she and her husband call home.
“We have to save our time and energy to get this done,” she said motioning toward the unopened boxes crowding the floor.
The show dates for “The Heiress” are: Nov. 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 4, 11 and 17 at 2 p.m. Admission is charged.
Opening Night will benefit the Franklin Reformed Church, in Nutley. The theater is located at 47 Erie Place.