Eva Marie Saint is particular about one thing.
“It’s Eva Marie, not Eva,” she says with the trademark lilt, the one that melted the likes of Marlon Brando and Cary Grant in such classics as “On the Waterfront” and “North by Northwest.”
“I don’t want to embarrass you,” she adds to her temporarily flummoxed interviewer. “I like the name Eva, but it just sounds better with Marie attached to it.”
Saint has agreed to a rare interview to promote “The Bus Ride,” a roughly 10-minute audio play that is premiering this week as part of “The Pack Podcast.” The Oscar-winning actress, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, appeared as an elderly aunt without a filter in the episode opposite Marisa Tomei as her mortified niece.
“It’s exciting to get to feel what the chemistry with Eva is like and to get to experience what it’s like to play a scene opposite her,” says Tomei.
Plus, the episode in question, which finds her character meeting cute with a handsome fellow Manhattanite (voiced by Tate Donovan), also felt refreshing after a year-and-change of plague and pandemic.
“The piece was a little bite-sized gem and it didn’t have anything to do with COVID,” says Tomei. “I love romantic comedies, and I’m kind of hoping for a resurgence of the genre. Anything that activates the heart and spreads joy and silliness is so welcome these days.”
The podcast part of “The Pack Podcast” emerged out of necessity. The short plays, all of them written by Drama Desk winner Eugene Pack, were originally staged as book-in-hand live readings. The pandemic necessitated an overhaul for those plans. But Pack forged ahead, lining up not only top talent such as Tomei and Saint, but also attracting the likes of Marsha Mason, James Caan, Martin Short and Stockard Channing for other recorded plays. Each taping took between 45 minutes to an hour, and the actors responded to the loose style of performance.
“Everyone’s time is so limited,” says Pack. “It’s usually perfectly cast. So we call in. We talk about it. We do it once. I give notes. And we’re off. When people know what they’re doing and are talented you don’t need much time to achieve what you need to achieve.”
When Saint read the script for “The Bus Ride,” the public transit setting reminded her of her early days starting out in New York City. Back then, she and a friend and fellow actress would amuse themselves by speaking animatedly in a made-up language while on the subway.
“We were so frustrated about not getting jobs, so I suggested that we do something so people would notice us,” says Saint. “When we’d start gabbing, we’d get a little audience. People would put down their papers and wonder what language is that? When I read Gene’s play, I started giggling and my past just came back to me.”
New episodes of “The Pack Podcasts,” which include dozens of short comedies all penned by Pack, will be released every Thursday. The podcast is also being used to attract donations to the Actors Fund, a non-profit that provides social services, emergency financial assistance, and healthcare to members of the performing arts community. That mission has become more urgent as COVID shuttered theaters, left productions at a standstill, and resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.
“Actors are so uniquely vulnerable,” says Tomei. “Our lives are always up and down and dependent on where the next role or money is going to come from. We need to do what we can to keep the spirit of art alive.”
For Saint, “The Pack Podcasts” weren’t just a chance to do something good. They also offered the 97-year old screen icon a fun and feisty role in a compelling work of art. “The Bus Ride” is her third collaboration with Pack, who is perhaps best known for his long running hit “Celebrity Autobiography.”
“Eugene’s work is so honest,” says Saint. “I’ve lived long enough to know what’s honest and what isn’t and Eugene’s plays are. They’re charming, they’re positive, but they’re not saccharine.”