Broadway is about to discover a talent that Chicago theater audiences have known for nearly a decade. Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Kate Arrington makes her Broadway debut in Grace, a new play by Craig Wright, that opened on October 4 at the Cort Theatre, alongside her life partner and costar, Michael Shannon, as well as film and TV stars Paul Rudd and Ed Asner. “I’m really excited,” the 37-year-old actress says. “The main thing is to remember it’s the same thing I’ve done my entire life.”
She’s not exaggerating. The daughter of two English professors and avid theatergoers, Arrington kicked off her career at age six when she was cast in the ensemble of Camelot starring Terrance Mann and Sharon Lawrence at a professional theater in Raleigh, North Carolina. She later studied acting at Northwestern University, graduating in 1997 with a degree in performance studies.
After college, Arrington moved to New York City, where she worked with playwright Richard Greenberg at Lincoln Center. This led to her being cast in the premiere of his play The Violet Hour in California. Greenberg was so impressed with her performance that when Steppenwolf mounted the production, he insisted they bring her in for an audition. He describes her as “an unexpected actress. Her rhythms are eccentric without being distorting; they’re witty and bring you up short, and are often rooted in this remarkable ability she has to create intimacy—you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on scenes she’s playing. She glows.”
“She was head and shoulders above the other women auditioning,” says Arrington’s two-time director and one of the founders of Steppenwolf, Terry Kinney. “She’s fearless, effortlessly beautiful, and full of grace.” Arrington was cast as the female lead in The Violet Hour and hasn’t left the theater since. She became a Steppenwolf ensemble member in 2007 and has appeared in eight productions to date; number nine, a role in Amy Herzog’s Belleville, is set for next summer.
Though Arrington lives in Brooklyn with Shannon and their four-year-old daughter, Sylvie, when she’s not at Steppenwolf, she still thinks of Chicago as home. “It’s been amazing to have this other place I get to go.” As for her work, “I love doing theater in Chicago,” she says. “There’s a lot more room to take chances and fail, if that’s the case. I think there’s more pressure to get the reviews and be a ‘success’ in New York.”
Whether Grace will be a success remains uncertain, but Arrington is definitely able to withstand the pressure. “She has been ready for her close-up as long as I’ve known her and probably long before that,” Kinney says. “She’s not worked her way to Broadway, Broadway’s found her, and I’d say it’s about time.” Grace opens October 4 at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., New York City, 212-944-3700