Tony Nominee Maxwell Sees Coram Boy Character As a Feminist

Tony Awards   Tony Nominee Maxwell Sees Coram Boy Character As a Feminist Jan Maxwell, the gifted actress who has delivered memorable performances in both dramas and musicals, is back on the stage this season in the British import Coram Boy at the Imperial Theatre.
Jan Maxwell in Coram Boy.
Jan Maxwell in Coram Boy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Maxwell — who received a 2007 Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her powerful performance — plays Mrs. Lynch, who by day works as a housekeeper in the Ashbrook estate and by night leads unwed mothers to believe she will deliver their newborns to safety at the Thomas Coram Foundling Hospital. [Spoilers ahead!] Lynch, however, hands over the babies to her lover, the evil Otis Gardiner (Bill Camp), who disposes of the infants in a more sinister fashion.

About Lynch, Maxwell told Playbill.com at the May 16 Tony nominees press reception, "I do think that she's kind of pro-women. Back in 1742 there was no birth control, there was no choice — there was nothing you could do. If you became pregnant out of wedlock, that was it. Infanticide was a form of birth control. I think a lot of times, she thinks she's doing these girls favors by taking the babies. She's just figured out a way to make money.

"I think that's probably why she doesn't let [Otis] take the girls with him [toward the end of the play]. I think she's very much a feminist, and I think that's where [she draws] the line," Maxwell laughs. "I mean, I can blackmail people, I can kill babies, but you're gonna start a white girl slavery ring? Forget it!"

Although Maxwell says the production, which features a cast of 40, is physically demanding — "we are running up and down stairs, changing clothes" — she has nothing but admiration for Coram Boy director Melly Still, who was recently nominated for three Tony Awards. "I hate to sound hyperbolic," Maxwell says, "but [the rehearsal process] was really quite amazing. We'd come in and we'd do yoga to start the [day], and Melly is so democratic, she'd listen to all of us. All of us had a voice in it. If we had concerns, she took care of them, and she was probably one of the most incredible directors I've ever worked with, just as far as being about the work and unpretentious and an artist."

Maxwell also has high praise for co-star Bill Camp. "He's just a lot of fun to work with," Maxwell says. "Unfortunately, he makes me laugh. I do everything I can to make him mad or to try to piss myself off at him, but he's resilient, so I've given up. His work just tickles me, because it's always different, it's always innovative, and it's always real. So you just can't ask for a better actor to be partnered with." Jan Maxwell has been seen on Broadway in City of Angels, Dancing at Lughnasa, A Doll's House, The Sound of Music, The Dinner Party, Match, Sixteen Wounded, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Coram Boy. She received Tony nominations for her work in the latter two productions. Maxwell is also a Drama Desk Award winner for her performance as Baroness Bomburst in Chitty. The actress recently took part in a workshop of the Broadway-bound musical Cry-Baby.

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Coram Boy, the visually stunning production that was a hit at the National Theatre of Great Britain, recently announced it will play its final performance at Broadway's Imperial Theatre May 27 unless "business improves."

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