It was back in 1986 that Cristine M. Loffredo first stepped on stage at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, offering her take on the title role in "Educating Rita."
Thirty-three years later and now 30 productions later as a member of the Schenectady Civic Players, she continues to shine and bring an air of quality to any production she's associated with. This weekend and next she'll be playing the lead in "A Doll's House, Part 2," Lucas Hnath's 2017 play that picks up where Henrik Ibsen's classic from 1879 left off.
Loffredo portrays Nora, a women who leaves her husband at the end of Ibsen's play. While she had never seen a production of the original or Hnath's sequel, Loffredo decided to audition after talking to director Joe Fava and producer Don Mealy.
"They went on about what a great play this was and what a wonderful role Nora was for an actress," said Loffredo. "They were right. I'm having fun and my fellow cast mates are superb."
Back in 2017, New York Times' critic Ben Brantley called the play "smart, funny and utterly engrossing," and Laurie Metcalfe, on a break from her busy television schedule, won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Nora. Collaborating with Loffredo and Fava on the SCP production are Michael Schaefer, Carol Charniga and Maddie Illenberg. Of the four actors in the cast, Loffredo is the only one who never leaves the stage.
"The role of Nora requires an actress who has a lot of theater experience and the acting chops to pull it off," Fava said. "That character is on stage all the time and I'm a blocking freak. I know every move the actors make, and it's wonderful to work with an actress who understands her body. She knows what to do with her head, her arms, she knows how to move."
Loffredo was also directed by Fava earlier this year in "God of Carnage" at Schenectady Civic.
"The reason I wanted to do this play and 'God of Carnage' is because they're not easy to do," said Fava. "I've done about 300 plays so I don't need easy ones. I need challenges, and most actors are bright. If you put them in the right place on stage, they understand why they're there. We had open auditions for this show, but Cristine was simply the best one. She takes direction wonderfully, and she also asks questions. We talk and we figure it out."
Loffredo is one of the most prolific actresses in Schenectady Civic's 90-plus years of history. While Bill Hickman leads the way with 45 appearances and recently performed in "1776" at the Playhouse, Loffredo has been in more shows than any other living actress.
"First and foremost, this is my passion," said Loffredo, who took almost a 10-year hiatus when her kids were in school. "I really love what I do. I truly strive to be the best I can in every part I take on. The older I get, the more 'life stuff' I've experienced. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I take all that stuff and infuse those deep memories and feelings into my characters."
Her process works very well according to Gazette critic Paul Lamar.
"I enjoy seeing Cristine in anything and everything," said Lamar. "She is totally immersed in her characters, whether serious or funny."
Loffredo isn't just scoring big at Schenectady Civic. She also has done quite a bit of memorable work at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham.
"I always enjoy my time at Curtain Call," said Loffredo, who regards her 2016 portrayal of Maude in "Bakersfield Mist" as her favorite role. "Carol Max is not only an amazingly talented director, but also a friend. I love those good, 4-5 week runs they have. Some actors don't want to committ to something that long, but not me. I love developing a character and having a long run give you a kind of freedom. Maude was a beautiful mess. Alcoholic, complex, deeply troubled woman. I loved her."
Max, Curtain Call's founder and artistic director, loves to see Loffredo show up at one of her auditions.
"Curtain Call audiences always look forward to seeing her in a show," said Max. "She's one of the hardest-working actresses I know, and I'm glad to call her my friend."
As much as Loffredo enjoys her gigs at Curtain Call, it's the Schenectady Civic Playhouse that is her home away from home.
"The only other way I am able to do so much theater is that I am blessed with an incredible husband and family that all understand that unless I'm hanging out with them, I'd rather be on stage," said Loffredo. "My history at SCP is long and extensive. I've done all kinds of backstage jobs from lights, sound, stage managing, assistant director, cast suppers, etc. You name it, I've done it."
Loffredo has also served on the board of directors for the past four years, and is currently the theater's vice-president and co-chair of the fundraising committee.
"I have received a lot of joy from the theater and I feel it's important to give back to it," she said. "This place is my second home."
Loffredo was born in Auburn, moved to Clifton Park when she was a young girl, and went to Shenendehowa High School and Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She and her husband currently live in Saratoga Springs.
While playing Maude in "Bakersfield Mist" was her favorite, she also thoroughly relished the role of Sister Aloysius in "Doubt" and Alexa in "As Bees in Honey Drown," both at Schenectady Civic. As for her favorite leading man, she's places Chris Foster at the top of the list, although SCP regulars Mike Schaefer, Jason Biszick and Marty O'Connor also get a hearty honorable mention.
"I think that when Chris Foster and I were in 'Clever Little Lies' at Curtain Call there was a chemistry between us that for me was just dynamic," she said. "He's brilliant to be on stage with. However, by far the most fun I've ever had on stage was with my three amigos (Schaefer, Biszick and O'Connor). The four of us have literally saved each other's butts on stage more times than i can remember."
Here are the most prolific actors in the 90-plus- year history of the Schenectady Civic Playhouse:
Bill Hickman 45 productions
Edward Dahlstedt* 36
Irma Hamilton* 36
David Smart* 36
Fulvia Brun Hickman* 36
Joseph Kilgallen* 36
Bertha Lloyd* 36
Marion McKendree* 36
Cristine M. Loffredo 30
Robert Hegeman 22
"Mamma Mia!" at Home Made
Home Made Theater will open its 35th season Friday with a performance of the ABBA musical, "Mamma Mia!"
Dawn Oesch is directing the production, which stars Melissa Mason Lacijan as Donna and Virginia May Edinger as Sophie. The story unfolds on a Greek Island where, on the eve of her wedding, a daughter's quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother's past back to the island. Also in the cast are Eric Rudy as Sam, John Sutliff as Bill and Richard Jones as Harry.
Richard Cherry is serving as musical director of the production, which includes many of ABBA's greatest hits.
'A Doll's House, Part 2
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Oct. 20; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: Visit www.civicplayers.org or call (518) 382-2081
WHERE: Spa Little Theater, Saratoga State Park, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Oct. 26; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $30-$27
MORE INFO: Visit www.HomeMadeTheater.org or call (518) 587-4427