Globe Feature

Versatility is Her Calling Card:  by Terry Byrne Boston Globe 2009

Over the last few months, Bobbie Steinbach has played aging warriors and witches in an all-female “Macbeth”; a very sexy “other woman” in “The Clean House”; and now the domineering dowager in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which is running at the Lyric Stage through June 7.

It’s an impressive set of roles, and each of Steinbach’s performances has been distinct, displaying her range and earning praise along the way. “I didn’t start acting until I was 35, and I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was,” she says during a dinner break on a matinee day for “Earnest,” “but I feel very grateful to have new challenges at this point in my career.”

Steinbach has primarily been known as a comic actress, so she thought stepping into the imperious Lady Bracknell’s shoes in “Earnest” would be a breeze. “I’m known for making large choices,” says the petite actress, arching one eyebrow for emphasis, “so I thought I’d try for nuance. [Director Spiro Veloudos] let me play for a while and get comfortable with all of Oscar Wilde’s convoluted and oh-so-specific language, but then he reminded me that Lady Bracknell has to command the stage. Once I put on Gail Buckley’s costumes, especially the hat, I knew exactly what to do.”

But if Steinbach found the comic role a challenge, how did she approach the bloody world of “Macbeth” with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project?

“I was always kind of afraid of Shakespeare,” Steinbach admits. “When [director] Steve Maler asked me to play the Nurse in [Commonweath Shakespeare Company’s 1997 production of] ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I told him I was terrified. He said he was too, and we jumped in together.

“Working with directors who allow you to be vulnerable makes all the difference,” she adds.

Playing the sexy but terminally ill Ana in New Repertory Theatre’s “The Clean House” brought out different emotions in Steinbach.

“I was shy about the love scenes,” she says. “I’d really never done anything like that before, and Will Lyman (who plays Ana’s married lover Charles) and Ana are supposed to be all over each other. I finally told Will I was apprehensive, and he said, in those mellifluous tones, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.’ How could I resist?”

Steinbach says director Rick Lombardo guided them toward the humor in the play because it made the tragedy more powerful. “Ana is an enormous life force, and when you’re sharing the stage with people like Paula Plum and Nancy Carroll, you worry you can’t possibly be as strong as them,” she says. “But at the time, my dear friend [local actor] Phil Patrone was in hospice, and watching him be so brave and generous helped me find my way to Ana.”

After such a busy season, Steinbach says she has no intention of slowing down. This fall she’s set to star in the Lyric’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” and in March she’ll take on Volumina – “the mother from hell,” she says – in ASP’s production of “Coriolanus.”

“But my new love is directing,” she declares, “and I’m hoping to have a chance to do more of that.”

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