From her famous hazel eyes to her elegant Italian accent, Isabella Rossellini has an unmistakable presence. She enters the lobby of the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport with her two vibrant dogs, Pan and Pinocchio, escaping the February chill. The 66-year-old model/actress/director lives down the road on a 28-acre farm where she has made her home for many years. Now she is bringing her touring one-woman show, “Link Link Circus,” to her hometown theater for two performances, Feb. 16-17.
“Here in Bellport there’s this feeling of country and the sea,” she says. “It’s much colder than Italy, but certainly the farm life and proximity to the city is similar.”
Aside from her entertainment career, Rossellini has gone back to school to further her education. “Since I was a little girl I always wanted to study animal behavior,” she says. “When I went to university, it wasn’t offered as a study. So I went back to school to get my master’s degree at Hunter College five years ago.”
Her passion for animals is the theme of her new show, which serves as a theatrical lecture based on scientific facts — delivered by way of comedy.
“It’s based on the subject: Can animals feel and think? There are many different opinions, all contradictory — it’s a circus,” Rossellini says. “One hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin linked us with animals and discovered evolution. He said we have an ancestor in common with the apes, therefore we are all linked.”
Throughout the show Rossellini, dressed as a ringmaster, shows a variety of her short film clips and interacts with her dog, Pan, who acts as a chicken, dinosaur, lion, bee, sheep and an elephant.
“I talk about the process of domestication, which took centuries,” Rossellini says. “Our ancestors were not aware of genetics or evolution and yet they domesticated animals. They captured and transformed them.”
Pan, an 8-pound rescue mutt, travels with her from city to city as her co-star. She worked with theatrical dog trainer William Berloni to ensure that Pan would be a suitable stage partner. Additionally, Rossellini is assisted by Schuyler Beeman, who works with toys and puppets throughout the show.
“The dog can’t be too shy or too frightened,” she says. “Pan ignores the public. We had to train her not to pay attention to the people.”
The show began nine months ago, premiering at Teatre Akadèmia in Barcelona and touring 10 cities throughout Europe. In the United States, the production came to the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan, then traveled to Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and San Diego, receiving standing ovations and positive reviews.
“There’s always something that changes from night to night because the audience changes in each city,” Rossellini says. “Some audiences are more warm and ready to laugh and sometimes the audience is more contained, therefore my performance changes too.”
Her shows at the Gateway Playhouse will serve as a fundraiser for the theater as well as the Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center in Patchogue.
“One of the things I miss most about the city is access to culture — theater and films,” she says. “I’m here to help.”
FILM & ‘FRIENDS’
While Rossellini is known for her extensive career in foreign films, Americans might recognize her best from her unforgettable performance as Dorothy Vallens in the controversial David Lynch film, “Blue Velvet” (1986), as well as the wife of Gregory Hines in the Taylor Hackford film “White Nights” (1985). But she will forever be known as Ross Geller’s crush on “Friends,” when she appeared as herself in a 1996 episode (“The One With Frank Jr.”).
“When I was asked to be on ‘Friends,’ I was stunned, delighted and very flattered,” Rossellini says. “It was fun to get to know them. I only did one episode, but since the show is so popular, people still talk about it today.”
'LINK LINK CIRCUS'
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at The Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport
INFO 631-286-1133, thegateway.org