by John Martellaro // Fall 2012
Kelly McAndrew (M.F.A. ’98) is living in New York, working steadily as an actor and earning raves for her performance in an independent film tearing up the festival circuit. Living the dream? “I am. I can moan and whine about the difficulties and wish I was further along and doing more, but this is what I signed up for and I am so grateful,” she says.
McAndrew’s comments came by phone from her New York home but only weeks after a triumphant return to Kansas City for the local premiere of In the Family, Patrick Wang’s child-custody drama that earned “best feature” awards at film festivals in San Francisco, San Diego and Spokane, Wash., and a glowing review in The New York Times. The Kansas City premiere was a fundraiser for UMKC’s LGBTQIA Scholarship Fund. It was McAndrew’s first trip back to Kansas City since performing at the Unicorn Theatre in 1999.
Coming back to the city where she played the familiar struggling grad student role was eye-opening. McAndrew says in grad school, she woke up every day and went to class in the same building. “And then you hang out with other theater students and run lines—you don’t get to just experience the city,” she says. “It was nice to be there for the premiere and relax and realize what a beautiful campus and city it is.”
McAndrew’s résumé is varied, but her New York base allows her to focus on stage work. She says theater will always be her preference. “I’m a total theater nerd. I loved doing In The Family. But I could never see myself not doing theater. I love being part of the theater community in New York.”
Nevertheless, making In The Family was a special experience. “Once we got on set it was all about the acting,” McAndrew says. “Patrick and the crew worked out how they wanted to light it and how they wanted to shoot it beforehand so we had time to work out how we wanted to do the scenes. To really get to explore that, like you would with a play, was a gift.”
The story—a custody dispute between a gay man and his deceased partner’s family over his late partner’s biological son—resonated with her. It was one of the things she had been looking for in drama—it’s political just by the fact that it’s about relationships and not because it’s sexual or racial. “The way relationships are dealt with, the way the prejudice and ignorance and homophobia is looked at, is about people simply not understanding what a father-son relationship can be,” McAndrew says. “It was a wonderful way of saying this is about two people who love each other and have that child and lose that child and want to get that child back, and no one in the film ever says the word ‘gay.’”
McAndrew plays the deceased father’s sister, the opponent of the surviving partner in the case. She appreciated the subtlety and depth of the character. “I don’t think of her as the bad guy. I played someone who truly believed what she was doing was right.”