You wouldn't call it a comeback even if you could—especially if your ears are still ringing with "I hate that word—it's a return!" Glenn Close memorably growled and grimaced that line as Norma Desmond, the has-been movie star of Sunset Boulevard, crazed with self-delusion and dreams of a big-screen whatchamacallit.
She collected her third Tony Award for that mad-act—and Broadway hasn't seen her since. Until now. On Oct. 20, she will be coming back—sorry, returning—to her roots when previews begin at the Golden Theatre for a Nov. 20 opening of Edward Albee's cryptic domestic drama, A Delicate Balance.
This will be her first Broadway show in 20 years, and it comes in the same month that she marks her 40th anniversary as a Broadway star. If it's hard to believe two decades have slipped by since Sunset Boulevard, that's because her profile has been so omnipresent on screens large and small that she never seems to have been away.
On the small screen, Close has raked in two Emmys and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of high-stakes attorney Patty Hewes on "Damages," doing such a good job that last year Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario) awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Close's stock in feature films climbed considerably after Tony entered the picture. Her first three years in movies got her a supporting actress Oscar nomination each year (1982's "The World According to Garp," 1983's "The Big Chill" and 1984's "The Natural").
Once Broadway started throwing Tonys at her—for two Mike Nichols–directed plays: 1984's The Real Thing and 1992's Death and the Maiden—she was upgraded to Oscar's starring category, where she contended in 1988 ("Fatal Attraction"), 1989 ("Dangerous Liaisons") and 2012 ("Albert Nobbs").
She shares with Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr the unique and dubious distinction of being the most-nominated actresses not to win an Oscar. In fact, she was tapped to hand Kerr an honorary Oscar, so maybe one awaits her in the wings.
It really wasn't another medium that took Close away from the Main Stem. It was motherhood. At age 41 she gave birth to Annie Starke, and two months later she was filming "Dangerous Liaisons." "We traveled around a lot at the beginning," she remembers, "but Annie came to the age—I think she was around fifth grade—when she was on traveling soccer teams, and I couldn't always take her with me, so it became a choice of 'How long am I going to be away from home for this job?'"
Annie is now 26 and settling into her own profession (which happens to be mom's). She just finished acting in her first film, "The Greens Are Gone," and now Close feels free enough to get back into the eight-performances-a-week grind. "I have movies lined up after Balance, but I think theatre will be on a more regular basis now."
Scott Rudin, the man who produced her film "The Stepford Wives," "was the one who got this ball rolling. It was so wonderful to get his call to say, 'Let's do something.'
"We talked about whether it should be a musical. Funny, I love musicals, but, not having done theatre for 20 years, I kind of wanted it to be in something challenging, to get all those muscles going again and to be surrounded by a wonderful ensemble."
Close and John Lithgow reunite in A Delicate Balance—the first time their paths have crossed since they were Oscar-nominated as a nurse and a transsexual in "Garp." This time out, he'll wear the sensible shoes and she'll wear the heels. They play an uneasily married couple whose Connecticut home is further complicated by her alcoholic sister (Lindsay Duncan), their much-divorced daughter (Martha Plimpton), and their best friends (Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins) who have taken shelter there from some unnamed terror. Pam MacKinnon, a Tony winner for helming Broadway's last revival of Albee's Virginia Woolf, is directing.
"I've been working on the script now since May," says Close, "trying to get the lines under my belt, because it's not a kind of syntax that trips off your tongue. There are so many mysteries to unlock in rehearsal, and I didn't want to be concentrating on lines at the same time. I've benefited by reading it and reading it and reading it."
The British imports—Duncan, a Tony winner for Private Lives, and Higgins, a Tony nominee for Vincent in Brixton—may well have been Mr. Rudin's idea, since he brought over Sophie Okonedo, a Jewish-Nigerian Brit, to play a Chicago housewife opposite Denzel Washington in A Raisin in the Sun last season, and she waltzed off with the Featured Actress Tony.
"Scott has [a] deep knowledge of theatre," says Close. "He has seen everything or read everything and was incredibly generous in collaborating as the cast came together.
"For me, the audience is the last variable. You can't have a successful evening without their participation. I think of them as collaborators in the whole event."