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New York plays host to the latest Redgrave

The Associated Press, Monday, December 6, 2010, 9:28am (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Despite her famous name, Jemma Redgrave insists she's no prima donna.

"I hope I've never been a diva," she says, laughing. "I really hope."

The 45-year-old actress is certainly proving that as part of a company of 14 actors now performing "The Great Game: Afghanistan," a three-part cycle of short plays covering 200 complicated years of Afghan history. The work opened Wednesday in preview.

Redgrave, a niece of both Vanessa Redgrave and the late Lynn Redgrave as well as a cousin of the late Natasha Richardson, appears in four of the 12 plays and a few monologues. In a fifth play, she has just two lines, shouted from offstage.

"You'd be hard put to know it was her who was doing it," says Nicolas Kent, the artistic director of The Tricycle Theatre in London, which produced the marathon work. "She's certainly not standoffish in any way. I mean, she mucks in with everyone else."

Redgrave agrees, saying no one actor takes precedence over any other in this more than seven-hour piece that comes to New York's Public Theater on its final leg of a U.S. tour that included stints in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Berkeley, Calif.

"You hand the baton on to the next actor and the next actor and they take the story forward, and then you pick it up and you move on with it," she says. "That's the strength of it and one of the reasons I wanted to do it."

Redgrave credits the plays with transforming her view of the latest Western intervention in Afghanistan. She says working on the plays by 12 British and American playwrights has been an education and left her able to see multiple sides.

"Yes, I suppose I've changed. I had a knee-jerk response. I felt we shouldn't be there," she says. "And I've thought a lot about it since, about whether we should be there, or how you get out and what does victory mean. All those questions."

With a last name such as Redgrave, Jemma was almost guaranteed to follow the rest of her family into the arts, like the Barrymores or the Fondas. Her theater credits include West End stints in "Major Barbara" and "The Three Sisters," as well as "The Cherry Orchard" at the Chichester Festival Theatre. On TV in England, she's appeared in such series as "Cold Blood," "Miss Marple" and "Bramwell." She's also the mother of two sons, Gabriel, 16, and Alfie, 10.

With her latest project now in New York, Redgrave has had a chance to reconnect with her aunt, Vanessa Redgrave, and see her in "Driving Miss Daisy" opposite James Earl Jones.

"I think she's one of the most inspiring people in my life, creatively and on so many other levels," she says. "I definitely go to my family for advice because you can't get better advice."

In some ways, Jemma Redgrave was returning the favor. Vanessa Redgrave, along with Jemma's father, the late actor Corin Redgrave, and her stepmother, actress Kika Markham, saw a version of "The Great Game: Afghanistan" last year in London.

"It was heroic of them because it is 7 1/2 hours straight through," Jemma Redgrave says. "They came and did the whole thing and were absolutely wonderful. It's always nerve-racking to play for great actors."

When the cycle of Afghan-related plays ends on Dec. 19, Redgrave says she'll be distraught. "It's a very sad thing always to say goodbye to something that's been such a positive and creative and brilliant experience," she says.

And what's next after that?

"I've got children. I've got to go home and get Christmas ready in four days. I've seriously got my work cut out," she says, laughing. "This is nothing."

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Online:

http://www.publictheater.org

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