SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Rachel Griffiths is best known in the United States for her work in two highly regarded TV series - HBO's "Six Feet Under" and ABC's "Brothers and Sisters." But she's also well known back home in Australia for her stage work. She's just made an acclaimed Broadway debut in a new play, "Other Desert Cities." Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Rachel Griffiths say she would've been happy if all she had ever done was act onstage.
RACHEL GRIFFITHS: Theater was where I began and what I really thought my career would be in Australia. That was my thing. And the movies were an unexpected joy and television even more unexpected.
LUNDEN: In 1994, the Melbourne native got cast in a quirky independent Australian film, "Muriel's Wedding," which starred Toni Collette.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MURIEL'S WEDDING")
LUNDEN: The film's success led to more movie roles and eventually to television roles in the dark family dramas "Six Feet Under" and "Brothers and Sisters."
GRIFFITHS: I've been playing in families for 10 years, which is quite absurd, exploring the dichotomies and seething undercurrents in the American family.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SIX FEET UNDER")
LUNDEN: In "Other Desert Cities," Griffiths plays Brooke, an author who's working her way out of a nervous breakdown by writing a tell-all memoir about her family. Her parents are Hollywood Republicans, with some shocking family secrets. Stacy Keach plays her father.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY "OTHER DESERT CITIES")
LUNDEN: New York Times critic Ben Brantley is a fan of both the play and of Rachel Griffiths' performance in it.
BEN BRANTLEY: I was fascinated by the physical life she gave to someone who is recovering from a nervous breakdown and trying to keep in balance and always afraid of doing it. And the selfishness that inevitably goes into that kind of balancing act.
LUNDEN: Playwright Jon Robin Baitz, who worked with Griffiths on TV, wanted to look at a very public family in very private pain - in this case, the suicide of the eldest child, which the family never speaks about.
JON ROBIN BAITZ: It costs either way, if you tell the story or you don't. I don't know why secrets and family go together like apples and cheese, but they really do.
LUNDEN: It's Rachel Griffiths' character, Brooke, who provokes some explosive truth-telling on a highly volatile Christmas Eve in 2004, forcing the family to confront what happened to her brother Henry by bringing the manuscript of her memoir to the annual gathering.
GRIFFITHS: So she sets out to make sense of these shadowy spots that don't add up, things that don't add up. And in that act, brings this family to face real truths.
LUNDEN: Griffiths says in many ways Brooke is unlikable.
GRIFFITHS: You know, a one point I remember kind of texting Robbie and saying, well, why do we like this girl? She's a terrorist in this family. And I guess I had a little moment of, like, oh, how do I make us care about her? She's about to do something so terrible. But I thought about, you know, the core of it, I think, is this unresolved grief.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "OTHER DESERT CITY")
LUNDEN: Baitz says Griffiths can convey complex emotions onstage.
BAITZ: Part of Rachel's beauty is in her profound sense of ambivalence. And ambivalence is something I really write about. I'm really interested in the yes and no, you know, at the same time. She got that.
LUNDEN: And for her part, Griffiths appreciates a play that allows her to embrace that complexity.
GRIFFITHS: If I have to be put through an unhappy family, I want what they're saying to be fabulous.
LUNDEN: Rachel Griffiths will be performing on Broadway in "Other Desert Cities" through March 4th. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.