Jane Alexander Is Back on the New York Stage, by Way of Dubuque

By Harry Haun
02 Mar 2012

Alexander and Laila Robins in The Lady From Dubuque.
Photo by Joan Marcus

The film versions of the last two, sans Alexander, were less effective. "They did ask [Henry] to do First Monday, but he chose On Golden Pond instead. Had he done it, he would have wanted me to do it with him, but that was okay. We had a wonderful run here and at the Kennedy Center. All of the Supreme Court justices came to see us, except for Thurgood Marshall. Henry and I had an open gate: Anytime we wanted to go to the Supreme Court, all we had to do was to walk in. Warren Burger was chief justice, and he invited me twice to his chambers to have tea. We had such fun."

There was no female Supreme Court justice when Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote First Monday in October. "This is how prescient they were: My character was a conservative, from the Southwest, who played tennis and put plants in her chambers," says Alexander. "Plus, I played her in a blonde wig. Guess what? A year later, Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor. Jump to ten years after that: When I was sworn in as NEA chairman, I called up Sandra Day O'Connor — by then we were friends — and said, 'Would you swear me in at the ceremony?' So there was a huge luncheon at the Library of Congress, and Sandra Day O'Connor got up, and before she swore me in, she said, 'Well, you're looking at a perfect imitation of life imitating art.'"

Alexander chronicled her Washington wars in a book called "Command Performance: An Actress in the Theatre of Politics" and then returned to Broadway and her first calling with Honour, earning honor (a Tony nomination) for it.

Since then, except for a run Off-Broadway in Tina Howe's Chasing Manet, her work has been regional. "At Westport, I did David Hare's Breath of Life, and at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and George Street Playhouse, I did Thom Thomas' A Moon To Dance By, which I was thrilled with, about Frieda Lawrence, D.H. Lawrence's widow, and her young lover. We got out-of-town raves, and in the old days of Whitehead and Stevens and Bloomgarden, we would have come in. Now...."

Now, she clears up some long-unfinished business with Edward Albee.