Southern-born stage actress Cherry Jones, who took home Tony Awards for her performances in the award-winning productions of the 1995 revival of The Heiress and the John Patrick Shanley drama Doubt, reluctantly admits that Amanda Wingfield — the faded and flawed Southern belle brought to life in The Glass Menagerie by iconic playwright Tennessee Williams — was never a role on her radar. Laura Wingfield was. However, the actress never got the chance to play Laura — the role crafted by two-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger in the 2013 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, which will officially open Sept. 26 at the Booth Theatre. Instead, Tony-winning director John Tiffany (Once) convinced Jones to play Amanda in a reading of Menagerie, and the rest was history.
The actress, who now cannot explain the thrill she is given from stepping into Amanda's shoes nightly in Menagerie, returns to her Southern roots to navigate Williams' language and explore the classic memory play set in 1937 St. Louis. Playbill.com spoke with Jones — whose Broadway credits also include A Moon for the Misbegotten, Our Country's Good, Mrs. Warren's Profession, Angels in America and Faith Healer, among others — at press day for The Glass Menagerie.
What I find so fascinating is that you've said before that you did not want to play this role…
Cherry Jones: I'm so embarrassed about that! I'm so sorry I ever admitted that. Clearly, I lacked depth and life experience when I felt that way about this play because now, at almost 57 years of age, I've realized what a gift it is to us — what a masterpiece [The Glass Menagerie] is. I've never enjoyed performing anything as much in my life. I've never gotten the rush that I get performing Amanda Wingfield. This cast… We're not close; we are exceptionally close — as people — and, obviously, it is one of the most intimate units of characters that have ever been written in the American theatre. To be doing [the show] with [director] John Tiffany — whom I really, truly believe is at least kind of a genius — it's just been, of my 30-some-odd years in the theatre, the most exquisite production that I've ever had the privilege of working on. And, I don't mean to oversell it! I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
You're from the South — born in Tennessee — so tell me about interpreting Tennessee Williams' language. Did you feel a strong connection to the world when you approached the script?
CJ: You almost feel like you're cheating because he writes so true to the poetry and the melody of Southern women of a certain period. I grew up with those women. When I was ten, the women who were actually Edwina Williams' [the mother of Tennessee] age were in their 80s, and I knew those women well. They were the choir mistress at the church, they taught me piano — Ms. May Coram, Ms. Margaret Porter, Ms. Jule Compton — and they all sounded like Amanda Wingfield. They were very different than Amanda Wingfield, but I almost feel like I'm cheating. It's almost too easy for me because I crave getting to do it. It's like my childhood.
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