Joanna Gleason: Choosing Parts Wisely

Special Features   Joanna Gleason: Choosing Parts Wisely
 
Tony winner Joanna Gleason pays her dues so she can appear in plays like Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet.

Joanna Gleason
Joanna Gleason Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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Tony-winning actress Joanna Gleason (Into the Woods) has plenty to do. She's working on a novel. Her screenplay is being shopped around. She'll accept television and film roles to pay the bills, even when the part is a mother "that they don't even bother to name." So when it comes to theatre, she can be selective. "You really have to have your heart in it for that kind of effort, six days a week," she says.

Sons of the Prophet, the new play she's appearing in at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, had more than enough to draw her in.

"This one came with a note from my agent saying, 'This is by Stephen Karam.' And I know this kid because I saw Speech and Debate." As it turns out, a lot of people saw Speech and Debate. After it drew rave reviews in its initial production as part of the Roundabout's Underground program in 2007, it became one of the most-produced new plays in America.

"And Peter DuBois is going to direct," she continues. "I said, 'A ha! This is a director whose work I like.' I read it and within ten minutes I emailed my agent and said, 'Yeah, absolutely, I'll do this reading.'" Her liking for the script was such that she spent seven weeks at Boston's Huntington Theatre with the play last spring. "I don't really like to go away any more. I've done that. It's time not to do that anymore. But I was so engaged by the play."

In Sons of the Prophet, Gleason plays a fallen-from-grace Manhattan book editor who believes she's found her career-saving book in the story of a Lebanese family in Pennsylvania beset with more tragedies than the House of Atreus.

"She's never exactly sober, and not just with alcohol," says Gleason of her character. "She has a substance abuse problem, brought on by her own inability to cope with the tragedies in her life. There is a connection [between her character and the family]. There's bonding. She reaches out in her desperately needy state for more than that. You can't tell if it's mercenary or emotional at times."

Despite this dramatic set-up, Gleason describes the play as "a little bit drama, a lot comedy" and "wildly funny."

Gleason is a member of a show-business clan. Her husband is actor Chris Sarandon, and her siblings include the television writer–directors Sharon Hall Kessler and Richard Hall. This is all in spite of the efforts of her famous father, legendary "Let's Make a Deal" game show host Monty Hall. "My parents kept show business as far away from our house as possible," says Gleason. "It was a very normal upbringing. It just happened to be that at certain times of the day, you'd turn on the TV and there'd be my father.

"No one encouraged us to define ourselves in this way," she says. And yet, they all did. Jokes Gleason, "Our family crest should be a tambourine."

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