Washington's a good place to star in a Shakespeare play, but Goodbye Girl Marsha Mason doesn't have a lot of good to say about the city's main business: politics and media. "I find that there is a real problem in communication between what's going on in Washington and what's taking place in the rest of the country," she says.
Whispers had a chance to talk to the lively, two-time Golden Globe-winning actress recently as she began rehearsals for All's Well That Ends Well, set to open at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre September 7. Mason plays the Countess of Rosillion, kind of like the first lady of her time. So of course we asked her about the real first lady, Michelle Obama. "I think she's terrific," she says.
A student of history, Mason described her character as a mix of two Democratic first ladies. "She's more like Eleanor Roosevelt and a bit more like Michelle Obama in the sense that she is a strong woman who is very confidant and yet has a great deal of warmth and compassion," explains Mason, who served on the National Endowment for the Arts under former President Bill Clinton.
As a regular visitor, Mason says she's seen the city's politics change, and not for the good. Since coming to Washington during her NEA years, "What I began to notice was that a lot of times that there is a kind of closed Beltway thinking and the elected presidents that come in thinking they can change everything quickly really run into a lot of difficulties."
What's more, she adds, "I feel to some extent that the elected officials that have been here a while have lost touch with what's really going on in the rest of country."
Enter President Obama. "I feel he has to be given enough leeway to be able and try to do what he wants to do and I think he has actually been more successful perhaps than some of the others in their first term, I was thinking more like Jimmy Carter or even some of the flack that [Bill] Clinton and Hillary Clinton took in his first four years. But I think he's doing a good job," says Mason.
As with the city's politics, she's also not keen on the new media landscape, especially the recent trend toward opinion journalism.
"The other element to all of this now is that we have reportage that is no longer objective so that's an issue too," she says. "If I look at the blogs or if I look at some of the editorials out of the New York Times, and everything I just find that everybody feels that they have to be more critical as opposed to being more objective," she says. "Have some level of balance. That seems to be what we're lacking and I think then of course, the rest of the country feels that lack of balance and we're all kine of edgy because of it."
To get the full story, she reads left and right media, and watches little TV. Her preference is for the Economist, The Nation, the New Republic "and even some of the more conservative publications just to be able to have a better sense of what's really taking place."