BWW Blog: The Transformative Magic of Actor Cherry Jones

Actor Cherry Jones, always deeply affecting on stage in over 20 years of work in which I have seen her, has an uncanny ability to include her audience regardless of whether or not the play requests it.

The first time I saw Cherry on stage was at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) at Harvard, a company she helped found with artistic director, Mr. Robert Brustein. She was playing Viola in Twelfth Night. At the A.R.T., the director's vision and, usually, scenic spectacle were artistic priorities. This production was no different. However, for Viola's well-known ring speech, the huge red stage curtain was drawn to a close, leaving only Cherry on stage in front of it with the audience. I was seated in the furthest row from stage, and this was my first experience of the play. Cherry's series of revelations in the speech were at once surprising and endearing, but they also greatly assisted the narrative. And with each self-revelation, she took us in, breathed us in with her courageous actor's willingness to be discovered in surprise.

Regardless of the size of the house, in everything she does on stage she breathes in the audience and exhales us back into our seats, changed.

Cherry is playing Amanda currently in The Glass Menagerie in New York. The production is full of love and tragedy. Cherry is a revelation in the role, which is saying much for a character that gets trotted out by so many so often. In only slightly belying the text, she loves her fractured, and absent, family with a graceful ferocity. Her protectiveness is something any parent can understand, but Cherry also lets us see that the deepest fissures, partly cultivated from an inability or unwillingness to move forward with the world, are hers alone. She lets us see these damages without allowing herself to be aware of them. She absorbs emotional and psychological pain, inflicted on her by the very family members she loves, through us. We ache with her. And as superhuman as her Amanda may appear to those who are not from the South, for those of us native Southerners (Cherry included, a native Tennessean) she is immediately recognizable in our own lives - certainly to me.

The impact on me of this loving, shared, immense work on stage was, once Amanda's son Tom left their home for good with no electricity and no employment behind him, resulted in a re-focusing of Tennessee Williams' form from memory play to profoundly tragic nightmare, not just of one family - but of an entire culture in our post-war United States that in many ways continues today. It was a revelation for me, as well as being poetic and harrowing.
Cherry Jones continues to give us an inspired life in the theatre, always worth both our attendance and gratitude. Certainly mine.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski

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Dan McCleary is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Tennessee Shakespeare Company, the Mid-South’s professional, classical theatre and education organization based in Memphis.  Dan (read more...)

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