BLOOMINGTON -- After you've been assassinated by poison flapjacks, lay comatose for two years and returned from the dead -- not necessarily in that order -- you pretty much know the full range of human angst.
Such knowledge has earned actress Cady McClain no less than two Emmys via two iconic soaps, "All My Children" (source of the deadly breakfast) and "As the World Turns" (source of the epic coma).
It has also prepared her for the challenges of "Faith," the new play by her close friend Kymberly Harris and featuring an original song score by McClain.
Anything but a soap opera, the show premieres Friday at Harris' downtown Bloomington space, TheatresCool, 403 N. Main St.
McClain will be in attendance and then perform a special post-show benefit concert across the street at Reality Bites.
The production continues for three weekends in what amounts to the 40-seat storefront venue's most ambitious undertaking to date.
Death-by-pancake and two-year comas are nothing, really, when compared to the saga of twentysomething Faith.
She's an addiction-prone young singer who finally ODs, ends up in rehab and finds herself in what Harris bills as "a darkly funny look at therapy, medication, romance, parents and even suicide."
In one of its earliest drafts, before the music was added, the play was presented as a staged reading in New York, with McClain as Faith.
She says she found the role harrowing then and still does today "even though I'm too old to play her now" (Faith is in her early 20s, McClain is 40).
For the world premiere this weekend, Faith is being played by age-appropriate IWU actress Erika Lecaj, while the role of her equally troubled boyfriend, Fitz, "a genius writer," is played by Steve Christopher.
Harris started writing the script eight years ago in New York as part of an Actors Studio assignment. It asked students to write a play from nothing but "emotional terrain that is close to you," she says.
Her teacher ("my mentor") was playwright Romulus Linney, father of actress Laura Linney. "I started out writing about a sculptor, but he said 'What do you know about sculpture? You have to write what you know about!'"
In the know
Eight years later, that personal knowledge has manifested itself in the saga of what she describes as the metaphorical journey "of some lost kids in drug and alcohol rehab."
Says Harris, "I've never been that myself. But I've had a lot of friends in the arts who've struggled with drugs and alcohol, and I have friends who've taken their lives. So I do understand, emotionally, a lot of the issues."
The Harris/McClain collaboration resulted from a crossing of paths in a New York women's group dedicated, says McClain, "to healing arts-type stuff based on the seasons and very feminine things -- making garlands and putting them in our hair and dancing around maypoles."
"Our goddess group," Harris laughs. "Yes, very pagan! Really, it was very much about affirming ourselves as women in the arts and connecting with nature and supporting each other."
Through that support the two women immediately bonded.
And McClain, then at the height of her Emmy-fanned fame as Dixie Cooney Martin on "All My Children" and Rosanna Cabot on "As the World Turns," began her association with "Faith."
"She was playing Dixie, and she was a really big soap star and had won an Emmy," recalls Harris. "We were both doing off-Broadway projects at the time and I knew what a good actress she was."
In the beginning, "Faith" was music-free, and McClain took on the role in that staged New York reading.
Eventually, Harris thought the script would work better if the character of Faith, a writer, became a singer-songwriter who was allowed to convey her state of mind-and-body through actual performance.
McClain had recently released her first album, "Blue Glitter Fish," which caught Harris' ear in an enlightening way, and she concluded, "Here's the perfect person to write the music for Faith."
Adds McClain: "Kymberly contacted me and said, 'hey, I'm making this character a singer-songwriter and would you have some songs that are appropriate, or could you write some?' I thought, yeah, I'd love to, because I understand the journey of this character."
That mutual understanding of Faith's odyssey -- a journey that emerged from Harris' own emotional cortex and then found a fellow traveler in a close friend -- has been liberating and, at times, painful, for both women.
"Faith is a very strong character -- and she's a very enjoyable though exhausting part to play," admits McClain. "It takes a lot of energy and a LOT of strength."
Adds Harris: "I was afraid that writing a play about a girl in her 20s wouldn't be relevant to me anymore --that I'd reconciled all these issues. But now as I watch it, I realize, no, I'm still struggling every day with them, and so, actually, this has turned out to be confrontational and relevant and more painful than I could have imagined."
At a glance
What: "Faith," by Kymberly Harris, with music/lyrics by Cady McLain
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and May 28 and 29, June 4 and 5
Where: TheatresCool, 403 N. Main St., Bloomington
Tickets: Adults, $15; students, $8
Box office: 309-454-5892
Actress will perform her own songs at event
BLOOMINGTON -- Emmy-winning actress Cady McLain is bringing all her children to town.
And she's doing it for our ears only.
The songs she created for Kymberly Harris' "Faith," premiering Friday at TheatresCool, will be performed by the composer herself in a special post-show benefit across the street, at Reality Bites.
Also featured will be selections from her 2006 album, "Blue Glitter Fish."
The "All My Children"/"As the World Turn" star will attend the 8 p.m. performance of "Faith," during which her songs will be performed by local actress Erika Lecaj, playing the title role.
Following the premiere, McLain, Harris and the "Faith" cast will reassemble at Reality Bites at 9:30 p.m. for an after party featuring gourmet appetizers, soft drinks and a cash bar.
McLain will perform the song score herself, talk about her career, sign autographs and generally mingle with the crowd.
Also performing will be local instrumental rockers Citizen Stab, who also wrote and are performing background scoring for "Faith."
Tickets are $75 for both play and party, or $60 for the party only.
Call 309-454-5892 for more details or go to www.theatrescool.com.
Highlights from the eclectic career of Emmy-winning actress and "Faith" composer Cady McLain:
• Acting debut: At age 10, circa 1979, for a Band-Aid commercial.
• Film debut: At age 13, as Peter O'Toole's daughter Tess in 1982's "My Favorite Year," followed the same year as one of the tap-dancing kids in Steve Martin's "Pennies from Heaven."
• TV series (nocturnal): Recurring roles as Paige Baker on "St. Elsewhere" and Coach's niece Joyce on "Cheers."
• TV series (daytime): Dixie Cooney Martin on "All My Children" from 1988 to present; Rosanna Cabot on "As the World Turns," 2002-9.
• Spectacular send-offs: Assassinated via poisoned pancakes on "All My Children."
• Spectacular returns: Woke up from a two-year coma on "As the World Turns"; returned to "Children" as a benign spirit, most recently on April 20, where she welcomed fellow deceased character Palmer Cortlandt to heaven.
• Career highs: Two Daytime Emmys, as 1990's Outstanding Ingenue for "AMC" and as 2004's Outstanding Supporting Actress for "ATWT."
• Addenda: Paints, writes poetry, plays Appalachian guitar, composes music, released her first album ("Blue Glitter Fish") in 2006.