Blanche Rothstein remembers when she first knew she wanted to be an actress.
That was at P.S. 63 in The Bronx — when Calvin Coolidge was president.
“I was so enamored of being on the stage that I wanted to do that forever,” she recalls.
It may not be forever, but Blanche Rothstein has been involved in theater of one kind or another ever since, going on 83 years.
For the past 23 years, she has been an active member of the Antrim Players in Wesley Hills, appearing onstage, directing and coaching actors.
Now, at 90, she’s directing the first show of Antrim’s 72nd season, the comedy “A Month of Sundays,” which opens Friday for a run that continues through Sept. 28.
The show revolves around John Cooper, who lives in a swank Westchester nursing home, rails against the system and bemoans “the zombies” who surround him — senior citizens who are shells of their former selves.
No one could ever confuse Rothstein with a zombie.
She uses a walker to get around, but it appears to be her only concession to age: Otherwise, she’s working hard, and keeping her cast and crew on their toes.
Bill Conroy, Antrim’s president, plays Cooper.
“She’s been having rehearsals four times a week since the beginning of July,” he says. “When I’m 90, I hope I can do half of the things sheâ’s doing.”
“She’s pretty tough,” Conroy adds. “She has such passion for theater and she used to teach it. Her background goes way back. Every word is important to her, every feeling, and she wants it all.”
Conroy has admired Rothstein’s acting ability as well.
“She’s one of the funniest comedians I’ve ever seen. She had me rolling on the floor in ‘Come Blow Your Horn.'”
But she can also play a serious role, as Rothstein did under Conroy’s direction in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.”
“She played the stern grandmother and she was magnificent. And this was about five years ago, when she was a kid of 85,” he says with a chuckle.
Rothstein came to Antrim in 1985, when she was 67. She had moved to New City from Long Island to take care of her grandchildren while her daughter, Jane McKenna, taught school in the Bronx.
By day she changed diapers and helped to raise McKenna’s five children. At night, though, she was drawn to the charming theater on Spook Rock Road.
Her first role at Antrim is still among her favorites: She had three lines in the thriller “Rope.”
“When I gave the director my resume, he looked at it and asked ‘You’re not going to leave the cast, are you? You don’t have many lines in this.”
“I said, ‘Well, I auditioned for it so I’ll be here,'” she says matter-of-factly.
And here she has been for 23 years, sharing the stage several times over the years with Tom France, an Antrim fixture who died last year. The theater now bears his name.
“It was a dream cast, the two of us,” she says wistfully. “We each knew what the other was going to do and it was glorious working with him.”
There are a lot of things she’s done through the years, but singing hasn’t been one of them.
“I was in ‘Mame,’ but I practically talked my role,” she says. “When I told them I didn’t sing, they said ‘Don’t worry.'”
And it has been character roles for her throughout.
“Even when I was 19, I never played an ingenue,” she says.
She credits her longevity with good genes. “Even in the old days when people lived to 45, mine lived to 83, 86, 93,” she says.
“One of the doctors asked me how I account for the length of my life and I almost said what my father used to say: ‘Plenty of trouble, no money and a lot of aggravation.'”
“He figured every day was going to be better. He only lived to 75 and he died of cancer. In that family, if you didn’t get cancer, you lived to 90,” she says.
Genes may have given her a long life, but theater has made it worth living, she says.
As a director, she’s called on “to be psychiatrist, mother, a nursemaid, a doctor, all of those things.”
Still, she concedes with pride: “I’m not a sweetheart. I want what I want and I try to get it. I consider myself a fairly good director — God knows what they think of me.”
Jim Guarasci, a longtime Antrim producer, says Rothstein needn’t worry on that score.
“There’s a select group of people who go to her home and she’s one of the best acting coaches in the area,” he says.
“It’s a discipline,” Rothstein says. “Theater is a discipline.”
That discipline has carried her a long way from that oak leaf at P.S. 63.
“Every year I say ‘This is the last thing I’m doing,’ but then I end up back again,” she says.
Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she adds: “I can’t imagine the world without me. I’ve got my finger in so many pies.”
“A Month of Sundays”
Where: Antrim Playhouse, 15 Spook Rock Road, Wesley Hills.
When: Sept. 12-14, 19-21, 26-28; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20, $18 for seniors and students.
’08-’09 at Antrim
The season continues with:
- 110 in the Shade, the musical based on The Rainmaker, Oct. 24-26, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Nov. 7-9, Nov. 14-16.
- The Diary of Anne Frank, Jan. 16-18, 23-25, Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
- Dancing at Lughnasa, March 6-8, 13-15, 20-22.
- Miss Saigon, April 17-19, 24-26, May 1-3, 8-10, 15-17.
- A Bad Year for Tomatoes, June 12-14, 19-21, 26-28.
Tickets are $20 for plays, $23 for musicals, with seniors and students paying $18 for plays and $21 for musicals. (Discounts don’t apply on Saturday nights.) Subscribers pay $105 to see all six shows, $99 for students and seniors.
For the kids
“Jack and the Beanstalk,” Dec. 5 and 12 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, not included in the subscription package.