After 4 Decades in the Business, Star Judith Ivey Still Found Uncharted Territory in This New Play

Interview   After 4 Decades in the Business, Star Judith Ivey Still Found Uncharted Territory in This New Play
Though she’s played Amanda Wingfield and Margaret Thatcher, the two-time Tony Award winner takes on a greater challenge in Off-Broadway’s Greater Clements.
in <i>Greater Clements</i>
Judith Ivey in Greater Clements T. Charles Erickson

With some scripts, a reader can hear the voice of a particular actor over-powering his or her own inner reader—and that is certainly the case with Samuel D. Hunter’s Greater Clements and two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey.

Even casual readers can hear Ivey’s warm, distinctive voice on Maggie’s dialogue. Pragmatic, a little disappointed by life but still cheerful (if occasionally frustrated into speaking sharply), Maggie is a new, welcome riff on Ivey’s gallery of complex, everyday women.

“A dear friend auditioned for another role and texted after the audition, ‘Oh my God, if you don’t know about this play you have to. It’s a Judy Ivey part!” Ivey recalls, then comes the punchline, in that inimitable Ivey drawl. “I texted back, ‘I already got it, thank you!’”

Deep in the throes of rehearsal with her fellow castmates and director Davis McCallum, Ivey was delighted at the chance to dig deep into the script, an epic tale about ordinary characters in a small, recently unincorporated Idaho mining town.

“There are 15 different ways to read one sentence with just three words in it,” Ivey points out. “When you have the playwright, you can do all 15 and then say, ‘Which one do you like? It’s thrilling! These are moments in one’s career that don’t come around nearly enough.”

Ivey’s career has recently involved more directing than acting, which means fans can rest assured that if she’s back on the boards, the role must be a juicy one.

“This was something I’d never been asked to do before as an actress,” Ivey says of Maggie, a role that hews closely to her own personality and no-nonsense approach. “I’m never really asked to play myself onstage, so it’s a challenge to rely on my personality. Especially a play this epic and what she goes through, it’s really a challenge to look at oneself and rely on my own personality rather than going and putting a big wig on and a fake British accent.”

Part of the allure was also Hunter, who Ivey compares to Lanford Wilson. “He’s going to be one of our greatest,” she says. “He’s capturing the extraordinariness of the ordinary and how the impact on our lives is much greater than we acknowledge when it’s happening. He clearly has a very distinct voice in the way that Lanford Wilson had a very distinct voice.” She pauses, then there’s that Ivey drawl again, sounding as if she’s had enough of her own articulate take on Hunter’s skills and eager to get back to brass tacks. “In his own Idaho way.”

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