By Edie Gross
Ilona Dulaski ’64 has literally done theater with her eyes closed.
While playing a blind character in Signature Theatre’s spring 2018 production of John, Dulaski opted to spend most of the 3½-hour run time with her eyes shut – except for the moments when she had to negotiate stairs. She didn’t get to see much of the show, but according to a review in the Washington City Paper, it appeared that Dulaski was “having more fun than anybody” as the play’s quirky free spirit, Genevieve Marduk.
That’s not an act, according to Dulaski. After more than 50 years as a professional actress, singer, and voice-over artist, the Annapolis, Maryland, resident says she still loves the work.
“I have had a need to be an actress from the time I was 7,” said Dulaski, who has performed on stage and television since graduating from Mary Washington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater and a minor in music. “I do it all, and I love it all. I even like ‘extra’ work to a point.”
The daughter of a concert pianist and a member of the Foreign Service, the Washington, D.C., native grew up largely in Mexico City – where she became fluent in Spanish – before finishing high school in Maryland. She said she was a terrible test-taker and worried how that might affect her ability to go to college. But her father accompanied her on a visit to Mary Washington, where then-President Grellet C. Simpson explained that the college wasn’t interested only in her test scores.
“He said, ‘We take students of all variations. We don’t seek out only the top intellectual people. We seek out rounded individuals,’ ” Dulaski recalled. “Well, they got rounded.”
Dulaski wasted no time in auditioning for on-campus shows and was cast in several productions her freshman year. Dulaski jokes that the drama department, composed of “the misfits of Mary Washington,” was very much a family. After a particularly good show one evening, department head Mark Sumner took the entire cast and crew out to Howard Johnson’s to celebrate – blowing the ladies’ campus-mandated curfew, for which they were grounded.
Dulaski recalls being “in almost every show all four years” while serving as the president of the Mary Washington Players her senior year.
“The thing Mary Washington was wonderful for is they gave me the experience,” she said. “I chose a school that would allow me to practice my craft.”
After leaving Fredericksburg, Dulaski studied drama as a graduate student at Catholic University, toured for two years with the National Players, and then moved to New York City, where she met a dashing young theatrical technician at a party. Within six months, she and Steve Williams were married, and for the next 45 years, they’d pursue their crafts in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. In addition to stage work, Dulaski has voiced commercials, recorded books for the blind, performed in a quartet (in nine languages!) and posed as a patient in need of critical care for medical students at the University of Maryland Baltimore campus.
Along the way, “I found out I was lousy with anything Shakespeare, but I was really good at avant-garde, stuff that was way off the wall,” Dulaski said.
In fact, “quirky,” “eccentric,” and “sharp-tongued” are words used to describe the characters Dulaski has embraced over the years, everyone from the sarcastic and gruff Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias to the temperamental diva Maria Callas in Master Class. Among her most memorable experiences was working for composer Stephen Sondheim in A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd at the Kennedy Center.
At 76, Dulaski, who was widowed in 2014, continues to audition. She even hired a personal trainer over the summer to make sure she keeps her energy up.
“There are always things in the fire,” she said. “I love the joy I can give people with my soul. I’m a very giving person, and this is my gift.”