Friday, November 9, 2012

Second Look: The Forever Girlish Karen Allen

You’ve seen this face before. That was years ago, but it looks the same, doesn’t it? Look harder. This face has definitely known a few decades since the first time you saw it; a fine tracery of lines lies over it, and resignation now shapes the set of its mouth. And yet you keep thinking, “It’s the same,” while you know it isn’t — couldn’t — be the same at all. 

The face in question is Karen Allen—and the one looking hard at it is Ben Brantley, the New York Times theatre critic. Brantley writes about her timeless and yet time-etched face in his review of A Summer Day, the first play in which Karen Allen has acted in more than a decade. Karen Allen looks much the same as she did in 1981 in undoubtedly her most famous role as Marian Ravenwood in the initial Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark film. Though Karen Allen seems to have hardly aged physically in more than 30 years, the 61-year-old actor has lived at least two successful lives that we know of. 

Sitting in the first row in the tiny and historic Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwhich Village one wet and snowy (yes!) evening last week, Maryl and I agreed with Brantley’s assessment of Allen’s extraordinary face as well as her extraordinary performance. Ironically, the youthful-looking Allen plays a nameless character
identified in the program only as “Older Woman”. The older woman relives a summer day perhaps 25 years ago when her husband set out in a small wooden boat on the lake near their rural home never to return.  A Summer Day, a Rattlestick Playwrights production, is a meditation on love and loss.

A Knitter at Age Five; A Movie Star at 30; A Mother at 39

You probably know Karen Allen from her stage and screen life but did you know that she is also an accomplished fiber artist who designs geometric patterns inspired by ancient tribal textiles? She began knitting at age five, attended the Fashion Institute of Technology at 17, and then returned in 2002 to study machine knitting. Today she is the creator of Karen Allen Fiber Arts She designs, hand-makes (with help from the Brother 910 Knitting Machine) and oversees every pattern, fabric and piece--from hats to scarves to sweaters to coats--in the collection. 

Allen turned her attention to fiber arts when substantive movie roles started to disappear for women her age. The career change also provided her an opportunity to be a hands-on mother to her only son while he was growing up without pulling him out of school when she was shooting on location. She gave up her New York City apartment for a house in the country where--before opening her enchanting store in Great Barrington, Mass.--she also started a yoga studio. (She is a devoted practitioner of both Hatha and Astanga yoga.)  Recently, she said in an interview: "I have a feeling that my life is now shifting back. [My son] is on his own, and he’s living on his own, and he’s working, and he loves what he does. I feel like this transition is taking place for me. And as much as I’ve loved doing the design part of my life, I have a feeling that I’m actually going to be focusing more on working in the theater. I’m so enjoying being here in New York, and I just have a feeling that there’s a tidal shift taking place."

Do you have a first love (or even a second) you'd like to return to in your next life? In this super-stormy season,  stay attentive to your own internal tidal shifts. They may lead you to--or back to--something you once loved but don't have to lose anymore.


  1. Wow! I loved reading this.

    Here`s to tidal shifts!


  2. I really admire Karen Allen. Have met her a few times in her Great Barrington store. She's always gracious and open to chat. I have a few of her scarves...just gorgeous. Worth a trip to GB to visit Railroad St., Karen's shop and Bizen sushi!