Sunday, April 6, 2003

Actress enjoying life in Big Apple

By Melissa Knific
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Shortly after Marni Penning left Cincinnati for New York 2 1/2 years ago, she said the city was lonely.

Today, the co-founder of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival seems to have a different outlook on the Big Apple.

"It's rare to meet someone now that doesn't know someone I know," she says.

Hundreds of auditions later, Penning continues to forge ahead with her acting career.

"I feel like if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," she says. "And I'm doing it. I'm working."

Since she left Cincinnati in August 2000, Penning has landed several roles in television, film and theater.

Perhaps her biggest accomplishment so far is 20 days of work filming Mona Lisa Smile, a 1950s drama starring Julia Roberts expected to be released in November. Penning plays one of Roberts' art history students.

This summer, Penning has been cast as the lead (Mrs. Manningham) in Gaslight at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. The play, which runs July 9-Aug. 2, is a suspense thriller about a young wife slowly being driven crazy by her husband.

She also has played background parts on NBC's Ed and Law & Order.

When asked to choose her favorite role since living in New York, Penning can't pinpoint just one.

"Every new job is my favorite," she says. "Every new challenge, every new chance to work with actors is very exciting for me."

The biggest difference between the theater scene in New York versus that in Cincinnati is the size, Penning says.

"In New York, the networks are bigger," she says. "Every time you start a new project, you're working with a new group."

Aside from acting, Penning also shows interest in coaching classical monologues.

"If I can get people to become comfortable speaking Shakespeare, then that's the best gift I can give with the experience I've had," she says.

Penning will return to Cincinnati at the end of August to play Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, which opens the 2003-04 Shakespeare Festival season.

On a recent trip to Cincinnati, Penning had a chance to visit the theater company she helped frame with her former husband, Jasson Minadakis, and current festival artistic director Nick Rose. She says she was impressed with how well it was running.

"To see something that you have created grow up and run on its own, that's incredible," she says.

While Penning says that she probably won't be moving back to Cincinnati, she is quick to attribute her success to the experience she gained while living here.

"It was a great place to 'grow up' in the theater," she says. "It trained me for a professional life in New York City."


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