`New York Times` Newspaper, April 26, 1987, Sec 2

`Role Call: Waif, Wife, Drummer Girl`
Written by Esther B. Fein

In Beth Henley's new play, `The Lucky Spot,` Mary Stuart Masterson is a 
waif, a smudged-face, dirty-nailed, pregnant 15-year-old who was won in 
a poker game. Dressed in a tan apron and pants, heavy workboots and a 
battered hat, she is Little Orphan Annie from the school of hard luck.

In Cosmopolitan magazine, Ms. Masterson is a knockout, wearing a chic 
ivory dress with padded shoulders, her lips glossed in raspberry, her hair 
moussed and gelled to look appropriately tousled.

In person, as she attacked a plate of chicken in a restaurant near 
Manhattan Theater Club's Stage I, where `The Lucky Spot` will open on 
Tuesday, Ms. Masterson was neither so sad nor so sassy. She seemed really 
quite ordinary, her face scrubbed and dainty, her clothes typical of a 
20-year-old New Yorker: white T-shirt, denim skirt and sneakers.

Then she started to talk about acting and suddenly, it was so easy to 
imagine her as an unwed mother or a Cosmo girl -- or a punk-rock drummer 
(which she plays in the current John Hughes movie `Some Kind of Wonderful`) 
or the young wife of an Army officer-in-training (which she plays in the 
upcoming Francis Coppola movie, `Gardens of Stone`) or any number of other 

She talked, eloquently and enthusiastically, about parts she has played, 
particularly on this day about Cassidy Smith, her character in `The Lucky 
Spot.` The play, directed by Stephen Tobolowsky, is a romantic comedy about 
Reed Hooker (Ray Baker), a gambler trying to open a taxi dance hall in 
rural Louisiana during the Depression; his wife, Sue Jack (Amy Madigan), 
who has just returned from prison, and Cassidy, the teen-age orphan who 
lands in their lives through the luck of a card game.

"Beth Henley always gives you a map," Ms. Masterson said. "The character 
starts off in one place and ends up somewhere else, and if you backtrack 
over the story you can figure out how to get there. It takes a while, but 
the journey is always worth it."

"The first act is about taking, for survival. The second act is about 
learning how to give. The whole first act I don't believe in love. I want 
to marry Hooker only because I don't want my baby to be a bastard. In the 
second act, I come to believe I deserve love. There are several stops along 
the way where the transformation from surviving to giving takes place. But 
describing the minutiae of it would undermine what I do."

Directors and critics alike apparently like what she does. She was praised 
for her work in `Some Kind of Wonderful,` and for her part as Sean Penn's 
girlfriend in `At Close Range,` a movie which, overall, was only tepidly 

"She always has a strong sense of emotional truth and intelligence," said 
Mr. Tobolowsky. "Not only that, I worked with her in the audition and she 
was able to adapt. She wasn't, `What you see is what you get.` She believes 
in the process. And something that constantly astounds me about her is that 
there is a compassion and intelligence to her acting that far exceeds her 

Talking about herself makes Ms. Masterson uncomfortable. When asked how she 
prepared for the role of Cassidy (aside from strapping a bag of birdseed to 
her lean waist to effect pregnancy), her response was straightforward and 
technical: "I learned my lines first to get them out of the way." Then, 
she said, to get her character down physically she did exercises where she 
"went from being a beat dog to a fierce lion." Beyond that, she declined 
to elaborate. "I do it in private, for my own knowledge," she said. "If I 
describe the exercise, it would ruin it for me."

One personal subject she would talk about readily was her relationship with 
her father, Peter Masterson, the writer, actor and director, and her 
mother, the actress Carlin Glynn, who won a Tony Award for her role as the 
madam in `The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas` and recently appeared in 
`The Trip to Bountiful,` which her husband directed. Ms. Masterson made her 
acting debut at 8 in the 1975 film `The Stepford Wives,` in which her real 
father played her screen father. He once again plays her father (and Ms. 
Glynn plays her mother) in `Gardens of Stone.` And father will soon direct 
daughter in the movie `Little Miss Little Rock,` about a child beauty 
pageant winner who tries to become a jazz singer.

Ms. Masterson said her work is imbued with the "artistic purity" her 
parents emphasized: "Never take a role for the money; it will be a bad 
investment." But the very fact that the field was so accessible to her 
almost drove Ms. Masterson away from the stage and screen.

While attending the Dalton School in New York, she decided to pursue 
acting, and at 17, landed a part in the movie `Heaven Help Us.` Filled with 
adolescent insecurity, she said, she was sure it happened only because of 
her parents. She decided to distance herself from them and from acting. She 
moved into her own apartment and enrolled at New York University to study 

"Partly, I was running away from acting because I felt it was handed to 
me on a silver platter," said Ms. Masterson, who left college after one 
semester. "But after some therapy, some time on my own, some exploring, I 
came back and loved it. You can be led to a door, but it's up to you to 
walk through it."

As she spoke, Ms. Masterson did something that seemed peculiar: she smoked. 
For someone who espouses all kinds of healthy rituals -- she often bikes to 
the theater on West 55th Street from the West Village apartment she shares 
with her boyfriend, Tim Ransom, an actor; drinks two bottles of mineral 
water a day; is active in the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy -- it was 
surprising to see her with a cigarette in hand.

"Only a half-pack a day," she said, somewhat defensively. "I did a movie 
where I had to smoke, `Heaven Help Us.` I wanted to know why people smoked, 
why my character smoked. I decided she did because she really wanted to 
blow people away. Besides, I don't drink, I don't do drugs. I needed a 

Realizing that she had inadvertently begun to talk about herself, Ms. 
Masterson started to fidget. "I really prefer not to have people know that 
personal stuff," she said. "I don't want to be stand-offish but sometimes 
when you get personal, you start getting weird letters."

The conversation stalled for a bit. Ms. Masterson buttered and ate a few 
slabs of bread. Then she caught the time on her watch and realized it was 
about 30 minutes until curtain call and quickly gathered her things.

"I've got to go get ready," she said, but she would not say how.