LEWISTON — Tony Award-winning actress Judith Ivey added to her 40-year career in TV, the stage and movies by playing Margaret Thatcher opposite Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth II on Broadway last spring.

She arrived in Maine on Jan. 3, her first time in the state, after fielding a fair number of “really?”s.

“All my friends have teased me, ‘You’re going to Maine in January to work? Did you think that through?'” said Ivey, 64.

Ivey, a TV series regular (“Will & Grace,” “Designing Women”) and star in dozens of films (“The Devil’s Advocate,” “Flags of Our Fathers”), is here in a rare turn as a guest director at The Public Theatre for its production of “The Ladies Foursome,” a play described as “‘Sex and the City’ on a golf course.”

Previews open Tuesday.

During a break in rehearsals last week, as the sound crew worked out a convincing metallic “pock!” to mimic the sound of a golf ball struck off a tee, Ivey said she was enjoying the breakneck speed and the experience.

“I’ve done a lot of plays with women, I like working with women and I love comedy,” she said. “I’m just an absolute laugh whore — the more laughs I can find, the happier I am.”

Ivey, who had her last turn directing a play last fall in San Diego, said the Public Theatre was one of several she’d reached out to after hearing good reviews.

“Janet (Mitchko) and I went, ‘Judith Ivey, that would be great, how do we make this happen?'” said Executive Director Christopher Schario.

Schario and Mitchko, co-artistic directors, direct most of the theater’s productions. They set this season’s schedule, offered Ivey two potential plays and finally met her in New York while casting “The Ladies Foursome” in November.

The story revolves around four women — Tate (Tarah Flanagan),  Connie (Brigitte Viellieu-Davis), Margot (Mitchko) and Dory (Caralyn Kozlowski) — who play a round of golf the day after their good friend’s wake.

“It has a sweet story to it that’s about friendship, how do you deal with losing a friend,” Ivey said. “There are four very funny actresses, which helps when you’re doing a comedy.”

Part of the challenge for Ivey: laying the actual groundwork. The actresses crisscross, enter and exit the stage over the course of the play to simulate teeing off at all 18 holes.

She joked that she’s had a little help. Ivey has one nephew on the PGA tour and another who plays in his spare time. “He’s my source, I email him, ‘What would you do?'” Ivey said.

The joy in directing, she said, is being able to make choices and take control. 

“It’s kind of nice to go back and forth,” she said. “It’s a much heavier responsibility as a director, so then lots of times I love going back to acting because, ‘I just have to do this part, I don’t have to do the whole thing.'”

Schario called working with Ivey incredible. 

“We love her,” he said. “From our point of view, this is working out beautifully. Her cast adores her.”

“And (from) my point of view, too,” Ivey echoed. “Mutual admiration society.”

“The Ladies Foursome” has preview shows Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before officially opening Friday, Jan. 22. Ivey will fly home to New York after opening day. This summer, she’ll appear in a new play at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York with actress Estelle Parsons.

After all the roles she’s played, Ivey still gets nervous before a performance, pointing to “The Audience” with Mirren last spring as just the latest example.

“As Helen said to me one day, I came out in my baseball cap and was leaving, we’d already done the show, and I passed her dressing room, she looked at me — and she’s always impeccably dressed, it doesn’t matter if it’s casual or upscale, she’s always beautifully dressed and coiffed — she looked at me and said, ‘Judy, there’s not a jot in common with Margaret Thatcher and you, is there?’ I said, ‘No, there isn’t,'” said Ivey. “That reach for her (Thatcher) as a character was challenging, which is what I loved, but it was really hard.”

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