Lin Snider has always been drawn to the impressionists. So much so, that she believes she might have been better off living in that era.
“What a time,” the veteran stage actress mused, referring to the late 19th century when masters like Edgar Degas were breaking convention and stirring up a cultural revolution that resulted in one of the world’s most beloved painting styles. When impressionist paintings first appeared in the salons, Parisians clawed at them with their fingers they were so overwhelmed by what they saw.
This weekend, Snider gets her chance to experience the revolution when she reprises her role as Mathilde, the opinionated maid in Susan Courtney’s historical drama, “Girl in Blue Armchair,” about American painter Mary Cassatt and her relationship with Degas, who exposed her to the style that would allow her talent to blossom and become synonymous with the movement. The play is being performed at The Black Box Theatre at the in Katonah.
“It’s the kind of role I love to play,” Snider said before rehearsal Monday afternoon. She had just raced up from Tarrytown, where she lives and teaches piano after school at the Hackely School. “Mathilde is very protective of Cassatt’s family; she has her opinions about things going on with the family.”
Passion drives the play, named for an iconic Cassatt’s painting of a young girl slouched in a blue armchair. Cassatt defied her father’s wishes and pursued her dream of being a painter when such a profession was not considered ladylike. The play explores the many sacrifices artists, particularly women, made to be part of something larger than themselves. Mathilde is privy to Cassatt’s inner life and isn’t afraid to let the audience know what she’s thinking with a subtle, or not-so-subtle, glance.
Snider is most excited about her latest turn as Mathilde – she’s been reading the role for eight years by her own recollection – because director Steve Boockvor has infused humor into character.
“Sometimes my job is to add something humorous to a scene,” Snider said. “The character was more subservient in the past.”
Snider knows well how passion drives choices like the ones Cassatt made. After completing a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, Snider found herself dreaming of the stage.
“I was sitting there with a client at one point and I realized if there was a really good audition I would cancel this appointment, and that’s not a good social worker,” she recalled, laughing.
From there she studied the Meisner technique and has performed in the national tour of “Anything Goes” with Mitzi Gaynor. When she’s not acting or teaching piano, Snider is the artistic director of Yeshiva College’s Dramatic Society in New York City, and performs in her two-woman cabaret act, “Just Between Friends,” with Sally Sherwood.
With an endless list of accomplishments like Snider's, artistic creation can seem effortless. But, as “Girl in Blue Armchair” seeks to reveal, with art comes struggle. When Snider moved from Manhattan to Tarrytown in 1997 with her husband, Scott Vooth, her self-concept was challenged as she pushed herself to be more than “a suburban housewife.” Art and performing have been her lifeline and Tarrytown has connected her to other artists and even served as muse.
Snider co-wrote a children’s musical with Bobbe Bramson, of Katonah, called “Change Reaction,” about a river, much like the Hudson, polluted by a corporation. A rabbit, squirrel, tree and fish team up with children to work out the problem. The musical was performed last year in Peekskill, and Snider hopes to stage another production.
She’s also on the board of a new Ossining-based theater company called Westchester Collaborative Theater. The company is presenting WCT Summer Blast: Festival of One-Act Plays June 17 and 19 at Ossining Public Library’s Budarz Theater. Snider is one of the directors.