It was a lifetime ago that actress Tana Hicken rejected the obvious path leading to New York and the bland rags of ingenue parts.
“I wanted to be an actor,” Hicken says. “I wanted to do transformations.”
The current stretch for Hicken, 68, is playing the 91-year-old socialist grandmother at the center of Amy Herzog’s acclaimed drama “4000 Miles,” now at the Studio Theatre. Washington theatergoers know full well she can do it: In a highly regarded career that began immediately before “The Great White Hope” at Arena Stage in 1967, there isn’t much Hicken hasn’t done.
So when she volunteers that “this may be my last play,” it’s slightly alarming. Hicken has never been a Streep-y chameleon — her sharp features and patrician voice are unshakably distinctive — yet she somehow makes herself over again and again. Reflecting on Hicken’s body of work generates a prism of light:
She’s been the life-giving Dolly Levi (in “The Matchmaker,” opposite Robert Prosky) and the life-annihilating Hedda Gabler. She has played Madames vain (Arkadina in Chekhov’s “The Seagull”) and dotty (Arcati in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”). She’s starred in Shakespeare and Shaw, Chekov and Brecht; she has shined in mighty Irish works such as “Dancing at Lughnasa” (at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Arena Stage) and “Juno and the Paycock” (at Arena).