NEW YORK (AP) — To the audience watching the opening act of "A Delicate Balance" on Broadway, a gentle word of warning: Martha Plimpton is listening to you.
The actress is backstage at the Golden Theatre with some time to kill before she appears in Act 2 and she likes to hear the way the crowd is sounding as she puts on her wig and gets into costume.
"I try to get a feel for how they are responding and what they're like. Not that it makes any difference to my performance, but it's nice to have warning," she says. "I listen to the other actors. I listen to what they're doing. I notice variations or things that might get a different laugh."
The extra time backstage turns out not to be so strange, she says. "It's actually quite nice. Normally, you'd think I'd be really freaked out. I thought it would make me anxious, but I'm not."
Once onstage, though, Plimpton is a force of nature. She melts down, screams insults and threatens to use a gun. "I have a very specific task, which is to come in and wreak havoc," the actress says.
Edward Albee's 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes an upper class, suburban WASP family to the breaking point over a weekend. Plimpton plays a daughter who returns home after fleeing another broken relationship.
Plimpton stars alongside John Lithgow and Glenn Close in the revival, which is her first time tackling Albee. She calls it "one of the more challenging roles I've ever played."
That's saying something for a woman who has seemingly mastered everything in show business, from series TV like "Raising Hope" to musical comedy "Pal Joey" to film drama like "I Shot Andy Warhol."
What can't she play? "I can't play a 27-year-old ingénue," says the 44-year-old. "The most any actor can hope for is a career that has some longevity and also has some variety. I am fortunate to have both."
Reviews of the Albee revival have been generally good but not fawning. In any case, Plimpton hasn't read them: "If you read the good ones and you believe them, it messes with your head. If you read the bad ones and you believe them, it messes with your head. It's just better to stay as neutral as possible."
Plimpton was literally born in the business: Her parents — actors Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton — met while touring with "Hair." Plimpton's first breakout role was as a teen in 1984's "The Goonies" with Sean Astin and Corey Feldman. Steady work for the character actress followed.
"I made a deal with myself sort of relatively young that I would pursue this work in as authentic a manner as I could. And that means that I want it to be fun and challenging and interesting," she says. "I don't want to be just famous. And I don't want to be just rich."
Plimpton was able to do "A Delicate Balance" due to bittersweet reasons. Her Fox show "Raising Hope" was canceled this year after four seasons, but not before it reached syndication, gave her lifelong friends and paid for her home in Brooklyn.
"It really did change my life in so many wonderful ways," she says. "Obviously, one hates to lose a steady job, but that's our life. You can't get angry about it. You can't change it. The world of television is unpredictable."
Next on Plimpton's agenda is — nothing. She cleared her schedule to do Broadway and is open to whatever the next project will be. "I like to be scared. I like to be the new guy. I like to not know what's around the corner," she says.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits