Few theater ingenues unwind after a performance with a shot and a pint. But actress Lee Stark, who stars in The Pearl Theatre Company’s “Misalliance” at the New York City Center through Sunday, is hardly a theater geek. The Houston native drinks whiskey to relax, dances up a storm at Santos Party House and satiates her off-beat sense of humor with episodes of “Wonder Showzen,” a comedy series akin to a twisted version of “Sesame Street.”
“I’m serious about my work, but I want to have fun,” she says one recent afternoon in Williamsburg before a matinee. “I’m always looking for something new.”
With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder Stark is perfect for her current role in “Misalliance.” She plays Hypatia, the rebellious daughter of John Tarleton (Dan Daily). Though engaged to the clever yet irksome aristocrat Bentley Summerhays (Steven Boyer), she longs for adventure, which she finds when a plane piloted by the dashing Joey Percival (Michael Brusasco) crashes into her family’s home.
“Hypatia is always looking for the next thing and not certain if what she has is really the best that she can get,” says Stark. “She’s treated like a child, so she tries to blow up conventions. She really wants to be an active verb.”
Stark’s nuanced performance has already received raves, including from The New York Times, which called it “wonderfully spirited.” Yet the Northwestern theater graduate, whose credits include Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 2007 production of “The Crucible,” tries to keep reviews in perspective, good or bad. “Critics are the only ones who honestly tell you what they think,” she says. “But it doesn’t really get under my skin. It feels really public and that can be embarrassing, but nobody remembers.”
Stark, 24, caught the acting bug early — playing Mother Goose in “The Goose Is Loose” in kindergarten — and spent much of her time in middle school and high school performing in musicals such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” But she got frustrated trying to develop her own style. “You knew what those songs were supposed to sound like, and I stressed myself out trying to get it as close to the original as possible,” she says. “Acting seemed like it had more potential for different kinds of flexibility.”
It appears Stark chose the right route. She has already secured her next project, Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” which starts rehearsals next month. But she acknowledges that landing the next role is never easy. “It changes so much,” she explains. “I would love to be settled for a year or more, but I can’t imagine that far ahead.”
Still, being ever on the audition circuit has its upside. “There’s no end of single available actors to date,” Stark laughs. “It’s definitely one of the perks of the job.”