The Natural

updated 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A SELF-POSSESSED 14-YEAR OLD WHO loves murder mysteries and the nap duo Salt-N-Pepa, Angela Goethals seems like an updated version of Edna Arkins, her character in cartoonist Lynda Barry's off-Broadway hit The Good Times Are Killing Me. Like Edna—a sensitive sixth grader growing up in a racially mixed neighborhood in the mid-'60s—Goethals is a guileless sort, at once clear-eyed and thoroughly girlish. With an Obie and five movies (including V.I. Warshawski) behind her, she says she has conquered adult problems like stage fright. Still, she bites her nails, fights with her younger sister and moans about her mother's "nagging."

The New York Times's Frank Rich praised Goethals's "fetching precocity that never turns bratty," and Barry believes Goethals is nothing short of perfect for the role of Edna. "Angela's brilliant," says Barry, a Seattle native who adapted the play from her semiautobiographical novel. According to Manhattan-born Goethals, she has never experienced the kind of racial tension that Edna faces. "It's completely foreign," she says.

A ninth grader at academically elite Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Goethals lives on the Upper West Side with mother Rosalind and sister Sara, 13. Father Michael split when she was just 2. "Sara and I never really got to know him," she says, "so we don't know what we're missing." It was Rosalind who introduced Angela to the theater. During a stint as an assistant stage manager for a minor Shakespeare company, she took both daughters to work with her. Angela, then 8, was captivated. At the suggestion of a friend, she began auditioning. By age 9 she was on Broadway in Tina Howe's Coastal Disturbances.

Success or no, Angela isn't sure she wants to slick with performing. "I just can't picture myself as some star," she says. "I want to widen out." For Angela, this means "trying dance and horseback riding" and, perhaps, concentrating on English 101.

From Our Partners