Jessica Lange on Returning to Broadway in ‘Mother Play’: “It Still Thrills Me” (2024)

Paula Vogel’s Mother Play is Jessica Lange’s fourth Broadway show, among the many other film and television projects that have populated her decades-long career.

But unlike her past roles, in which she has put her own spin on well-known characters, such as Mary Tryone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, she had a chance to do something different with this play: originate a part in a new piece of theater.

“I wasn’t nervous. I just honestly had no idea what to expect,” Lange said. “It was a great unknown to me.”

In the play, Lange takes on the role of Phyllis, mom to Carl, played by Jim Parsons, and Martha played by Celia Keenan-Bolger. The story, which is loosely based on the playwright’s own family life, follows the family through several decades, and several apartments, as Phyllis, a aesthetics-focused, gin-swilling force, grapples with her circ*mstances as a single mom, loneliness and the contradictions between how she wants her children to behave versus who they truly are.

The Oscar, Emmy and Tony-Award winning actress spoke with The Hollywood Reporter after receiving a Tony nomination for her role in the new play, in addition to the show’s three other nominations, including best play.

Do you still get excited about a Tony nomination?

Yes, absolutely. It was a real leap of faith to do an unknown play, create a part that’s never been done before and have a living, breathing playwright in the room with you. We’re changing things and adapting and moving. It was a great experience and something I’d never done before, because the other three plays I’ve done have been in the canon of American classics. And it’s a small play. I mean, there are just the three of us on stage for an hour and 45 minutes, so you have to really trust and believe in the other two actors up there with you. And it’s just been a joy working with Jim [Parsons] and Celia [Keenan-Bolger]. The best news of all was that the three of us were nominated.

Even so, a lot of your career has involved family plays. What draws you to them?

I mean, certainly in the American theater, the family plays, to me, have always been some of the most important. Like Eugene O’Neill — I’ve done that three different times, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, —and of course, Streetcar Named Desire and Glass Menagerie and then you’ve got Death of a Salesman. I would say some of the most powerful plays are about families. And, I mean, what is more emotional or riveting than family dynamics? I don’t know.

How did you find your way into your character for Mother Play? Were you working with Paula Vogel on it?

She wrote it, then she kind of turns it over to the actors. But the writing is so precise and so clear. You know what path you’re on from the beginning but then, like all really well-written roles, you keep finding things as you go along. You keep discovering different avenues. I still don’t feel like we’ve all come to the end of it by any means. And I’m sure Celia and Jim feel a similar way. It’s a very rich piece and it gives the actors a lot to do.

You have a scene where your character is alone on stage for an extended period of time, making dinner and looking for ways to entertain herself after an estrangement from her children. What’s it like acting in that scene?

It’s fascinating, really, because it’s completely silent. But it really is one of the few times I’ve ever seen anything quite like that, that really delves into a person’s loneliness, a woman’s loneliness, and I just thought that would be such a fascinating thing to explore. She’s waiting till a certain hour where she can have her first drink and then she’s waiting for her second drink. And how do you fill that time up? What do you do when you’re all alone and your family has disappeared and you have no friends? She’s just there trying to fill the hours of the evening. There’s such a sadness to it. that I found it really interesting to investigate, really interesting to play.

What keeps bringing you back to Broadway?

It’s a unique experience, coming out on stage at night and having the audience there and having them respond in the moment. And to be part of that ancient experience, I mean, there’s something great about it. It still thrills me, absolutely. And the audiences for this have been wonderful, so that makes a huge difference.

Jessica Lange on Returning to Broadway in ‘Mother Play’: “It Still Thrills Me” (2024)
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