NY is the 'Fugue' State for Judith Ivey

"Sometimes the hardest memories to run away from are the ones that you can't even remember." This was the ad line for a new show called FUGUE, a comedic drama written by Lee Thuna and directed by Judith Ivey playingat the Cherry Lane Theatre for a limited engagement through April 21st. FUGUE was the winner of the American Theatre Critics Award for Best Play in Regional Theatre.

The storyline is as follows: A woman is found wandering in Chicago, her feet blistered and bloody. Doctors at the hospital immediately recognize this as a symptom of the "fugue" state of amnesia, where the patient is literally running away from an intolerable memory. A young psychiatrist assigned to work with her is running from his own demons as well - a mistake he made with a patient which had a devastating effect on his own life. His job is to make her remember, but if she does, will HE be repeating the mistake that he made?.

This interview is with the engaging Judith Ivey, who has a long history of theater and film performances. Many of you may know her for her one-year run on Designing Women in its final season, playing B.J. Poteet and from the hit comedy Will & Grace, where she played the mother of Marvin "Leo" Markus. She has made numerous other TV appearance including Stephen King's ROSE RED and an Emmy-nominated performance for her role in Hallmark's What the Deaf Man Heard (1997). Her directing credits include Southern Comforts at Primary Stages in New York City, Bad Dates at the Northlight Repertory Theatre in Chicago, the acclaimed Steel Magnolias at Houston's Alley Theatre, and More at the off-Broadway Union Square Theatre and the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles.

She is the winner of two Tony Awards as Best Featured Actress in a Play for Steaming in 1983 and Hurlyburly in 1985 and was also nominated for Park Your Car in Harvard Yard in 1992. She also won the Obie Award for her performance in The Moonshot Tape.  Her other theatre appearances include Piaf, Bedroom Farce, Precious Sons, Blithe Spirit, Voices in the Dark, Follies and Dirty Tricks. She has also been featured in many films including Flags of Our Fathers, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Compromising Positions, Harry and Son,  The Lonely Guy, The Devil's Advocate, and What Alice Found.

Ivey is an alumna of Illinois State University. She is married to Tim Braine and the couple has two children. The latest news is that she will be receiving the 2007 Medal of Arts Award at Austin, Texas' historic Paramount Theatre.

This lady gave me a fabulous interview so here I am sharing with all of you what we talked about. So without further adieu, let the interview begin….

TJ: I remember the first time I saw you was in a movie called BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS and I  thought, "I love her. She's wonderful!" Then, I was thrilled to see you on one of my favorite shows, DESIGNING WOMEN. And then, on WILL AND GRACE!! And I thought, OK, this has got to stop.(Laughing)

IVEY: No!! If it stops, I'm done in.

TJ: And we don't want that! So how are you doing today? 

IVEY:I'm about to go to a cocktail party for parents of prospective students entering Tulane University. My daughter graduates from high school this year and she's been accepted at Tulane. So we are going to be wined and dined so we can give them all of our money.

TJ: You gotta love it. All part of being a parent, huh?

IVEY: It is, it is.

TJ: Now, you must be exhausted. You're in previews for FUGUE, right?

IVEY: I wouldn't say I was exhausted. It's gone fairly well and we're ready. They keep begging me to keep give them notes….I don't know why.

TJ: Well, actors always more and more notes, right?

IVEY: I don't! That's why I'm a bit baffled. It's a unique batch.

TJ:  Now, most people know of you as Judith Ivey the actress. How did you get to be Judith Ivey the director?

IVEY: Well, years ago, at least thirteen years ago, a friend asked me to direct him in a play, TWO FOR THE SEESAW. So, I did and I kind of liked it but I didn't do too much about it. Then another friend asked me to direct him in his one person show and I did it and I kinda liked it. Then a friend had a play that she wanted me to do as an actress and I said, "You know I think I would rather do this as a director."  The years ticked by and the time came to put it on it's feet. Another friend who ran a theatre said, "I'd like for you to come to my theatre." And I said, "I'd rather come there as a director rather than an actress."  So, he let me direct something there, which was this friend's play. That kind of was the cementing event and ever since then, I have tried to put my hat in the ring for various things and I got lucky with Primary Stages, which was last fall and did a play called SOUTHERN COMFORT, which was a big hit for them. Out of that, the people who are producing a musical of the old play VANITIES saw my name attached to that and said, "Hey, let's go after her." So, I'm supposed to direct a musical. One thing led to another. This play that I am directing now, FUGUE, was a play given to me as an actress and I said I would rather direct it. So I waited patiently and it came my way. So, it's really launched now that I am a director. People encouraged me through the years and I always thought they were complimenting my acting. One friend teases me, "If they're telling you to be a director, how's that a compliment to your acting?" At any rate, it just keeps going. I'm excited. I love it. I prefer it and I hope it continues.

TJ: Do you think being an actor enhances your directing abilities?

IVEY: I think it can help. I've worked with actors turned directors where it didn't help. It's purely individual. I don't it necessarily means you will be a good director. You do know the process and you know what they're up against. So, it means you can be more sympathetic. When you're asking for something, you know what you're asking for.

TJ: So, it puts you on a more personal level with the actors because you know what they are going through.

IVEY: I think so. I think that it does that. I know thus far that actors have liked working with me. I would attribute that to my ability to talk to them and give them the time that somebody who had never acted might not give them or might expect a result sooner.

TJ: How would you describe your style of directing?

IVEY: Oh, I always say I'm going to use the dreaded term "organic". I wait. I mean I have my own vision but I very seriously wait for the actor because they in many ways end up guiding you in any decision you could solely make. Sometimes, the schedule doesn't allow for that. Sometimes its too tight and you have to be a little more demanding than I like to be. I think actors have great instincts, most of them and therefore, if you let them find the piece and support them, you're going to have ultimately a better production because it will be organic. It will have come from their feeling their way through it instead of just being told to do something. As an actress, I've never understood directors who thought they could just tell you and it would just happen magically. It just confuses me. Even as an observer when I'd watch them do it, I'd think, "Haven't you learned by now?" It's almost like toddlers. You can't force them to walk until they've crawled. It's that kind of thing and I think all too often directors just want to get on with it. But all the ones I've learned from, the ones that I've admired and hope to emulate, can do that and a lot of them were actors. Mike Nichols, Dan Sullivan…they were actors first and then came to directing. It's evident when you work with them that they know what you're going through.

TJ: Now, FUGUE. I had a chance to browse through the script and it's quite an interesting story.

IVEY: Yeah! Audiences are loving it, not that I'm surprised by that. They're loving it more than I thought they would.

TJ: What was it that drew you to this script?

IVEY: I think it's a beautiful story about loss and about a woman, well God, how many things…how many people  could she lose in her life…and she does.  She survives by kind of cracking down the middle finally in the end and thinks, "I think I won't be me anymore."  But she survives!

TF: Isn't that what actors do?

IVEY: Yes. (laughing). It's understandable and I think there's a lot of universals that Lee has found that lead us to understand someone "fugueing" as opposed to someone drinking themselves to death or shooting themselves or being sour. She's written a woman who's actually quite happy being this whoever she is. She's not even quite sure who she is but she's perfectly happy being that person. She's not wandering in search of 'who am I?'.  She's just wandering. I just felt like there were a lot of wonderful things about mothers and daughters and of hiding ourselves. The fact that she doesn't come out and say "I'm gay" and trying to struggle with all of that. All of the things that in modern day we're acutely aware of now and are fortunately not the same kind of secrets they're use to be. We aren't all that liberated, so there are still people who have to closet themselves and miss out on their lives and who they really are. And that's a loss.

I'm reading THE KITE RUNNER right now and the father says to the son that when you lie, you're stealing the truth from whomever you lie to.  And it's such a great way to put it and that's why you shouldn't steal.

TF: I think sometimes it can be a very brave thing to tell the truth.

IVEY: Exactly. And I don't think this woman felt like she could do that. That she could be that brave. The fear of rejection from her mother and then the fear of rejection from her daughter. It's a horrible thing when people can't live their lives the way they want to as they really are. And in the end, she loses her daughter anyway. And who knows what this relationship will ever be once resumed, if it is resumed at the end of the play. It's stuff we can all relate to and she has captured a lot of stuff and I tell you, there are a lot of snufflers at the end of the evening. People who grab me, very sincere, saying this is so important and I so enjoyed it and on and on like that. It clearly speaks to people on many levels. And it's funny.

TF: I was going to say, they describe it as a comedic drama…so there's got to be some humor in it too.

IVEY: No, there definitely is! We've gotten some great yucks out of it.

TF: Now, the previews have been going well?

IVEY: Yeah, yeah!!

TF: And the official opening is set for March 21st?

IVEY: Yes. The first day of spring. 

TF: Do you get opening night jitters as a director?

IVEY: Yeah. It's harder and harder to sit in the room. You kind of want to stand at the back so you can escape when you can't take it anymore. Some shows I've been able to sit there and not have the concerns. This show is more of a departure for me in the sense that I've done straightforward realistic plays and this one has more abstraction to it. Part of me wonders, "Did I do a good job? Are they going to get it?" and everyone claims they have, so I guess I should just calm down and just go sit in the seat but I just can't seem to do it.

TF: Hey, you're proud of it but at the same time, you're hoping everyone else is proud of it too.

IVEY: Exactly.

TF: Now you have won two Tony Awards. The first was STEAMING and the second for HURLYBURLY. DO you remember what it was like to get your first Tony Award?

IVEY: Oh, yeah.

TF: What was going through your mind?

IVEY: Well, I honestly didn't think I would win because we were a play that had closed. I think we closed in February and the Tony's are the first week of June. So it meant that people had to remember me. I had been having some success in New York but I certainly wasn't some kind of Broadway fixture as an actress. So I really didn't expect it. The same was sort of true for the second one because I had left the show, which was HURLYBURLY, and the show was still running but you couldn't see me in it. I just assumed they wouldn't vote for me because they wouldn't remember me. They couldn't go back and see me, you know how the Tony Committee works and all that. So, I just went for the party.

TF: And that's not a bad thing!

IVEY:  I don't think so at all!! My whole focus was to get dressed up and go have a good time.

TF: So, you're sitting there in the seat and you hear, "The winner is Judith Ivey!", and you think what?

IVEY: Damn!! Part of it was the first one I was in a British comedy and they have you arrive early and make sure you're in the right seat for the cameras and all this stuff. Alexander Cohen, God rest his soul, was the producer at the time and he sang for me for flying in from London. Various people who knew me came over and said, "He thinks you're really British!". And there were some British actors nominated in my category. So I just kind of giggled at it. But then, when I won, the first thing out of my mouth in my acceptance speech was, because I didn't write one, "I'm from Texas, not London". Of course, then I realized America watching had no idea why I said that because I was answering the fact that he had said this in front of everybody. So it was kind of goofy and fun. A dear friend of mine, whose no longer with us, Norman Renee, was my date and we got together to go to Radio City Music Hall for the show. Well, there was a guy in the 80's in NYC with a llama and he was like a Peruvian immigrant. He wandered around the streets of the city making money by people paying to have their picture taken with the llama. We had talked about this guy over the years and laughed about it. Well, that night, we ran into the guy with the llama and so, we took a picture for luck. So I had this Polaroid of me and Norman and the llama…I still have it!

TF: So, llamas are a source of good luck for you?

IVEY: Yes!!  Well, he asked if we wanted another one and Norman said that we'll be back after she's wins the Tony. But we never found him afterwards. We went back trying to find the llama.

TF: How do you handle being a wife, a mother and a working actress/director? Sometimes the hours can be pretty intense.

IVEY: Fortunately, I'm married to a great guy who completely understands. He's a TV producer, so his hours can be crazy as well. He picks up the slack when I can't be there and I do the same for him when he has to go off and be somewhere. I'm lucky that way. That's the short answer...the long answer is long and boring. When you have someone who gets it and is willing to help you, then it's terrific. It doesn't make it easy, it just makes it easier.

TF: Now, your kids see you as Mom, but do they see you as the actress and how do they handle that?

IVEY: Well, my son is 13 and the bulk of all my television and movie work, which makes you more recognizable, was when he was very little. So he missed that and, in fact, recently we were sitting at the dinner table. I can't remember what it was that came up and they said they wanted me to do something because they were looking for celebrities. And my son sort of sprung his head up from eating his spaghetti or whatever it was and said, "You're a celebrity???" And I said, "Well, I thought I was." (laughing) Obviously not for your crowd.

It's sort of odd. My daughter certainly thinks of me that way. She's seventeen and she was around it more. She went and stayed backstage. He's never really stayed with me at the theatre that much and she was older when the movies and television stuff were happening. She was aware of people coming up to me, which they do when my son is there but somehow I guess he never made the connection that was why.

TF: What's it like for you to be recognized if you are walking down the street?

IVEY: A lot of people can't figure out why they know me.  I look so normal. I've had them say, "Did you teach my daughter in second grade?"  I say, "No. And you wouldn't want me to."  Annette Bening and I are friends and when I lived in LA, we'd go out with our kids. We'd always laugh and say."Here comes somebody." The two of us without make-up on can pretty much hide. It was always kind of a toss-up who they were coming towards. Usually her more than me. The second grade teacher remark was at the Pasadena Children's Musuem. It's a touchy feely place so the kids are all running around doing their thing. We're sitting over on the floor talking and somebody starts coming toward us and we start saying, "Here they come, here they come. They're coming towards ya." And she said, "I bet it's you, I bet it's you." And, sure enough, they completely walked past her, leaned over to me and said, "Did you teach my daughter in second grade. (laughing) I take it as a compliment on some level that there's a familiarity but they don't expect you to be some from film or television. Most of the time, it's my voice. They don't recognize my person as I change a lot physically from character to character. They always recognize my voice. You'll be paying for something at a register, you'll say something and then, all of a sudden, heads pop up.

TJ:  Well, I know you have to go so I am going to wrap this up with MY FAVORITE THINGS section where we find out a little more about Judith Ivey. First up, what's your favorite vacation spot.

IVEY: Nantucket.

TJ:  Favorite Pasttime Activity?

IVEY: Water coloring.

TJ: Favorite Actor?

IVEY: Oh gosh. I have many! It changes constantly. So I'll say actors that will pull me in, I'll pay admission, Cate Blanchett. She's an extraordinary actress. Giovanni Ribisi and Ed Norton. I've not seen Giovanni on stage but have seen Ed Norton. And I'd love to see her on stage. Stage actors are a whole other breed and I tend to cling to the people who inspired me, Rosemary Harris and Jason Robards, people who are not with us. They were the great actors of the stage. And film, for that matter.

TJ: Favorite Author?

IVEY: I guess I would have to say Edith Wharton.

TJ: Final question, if you weren't an actress, what would you think you would be do now as employment?

IVEY: I guess I would be what I started out. Maybe a graphic artist or maybe I'd be a painter.

TJ: Thanks so much for your time and best to you on FUGUE!

Boy, that was fun!! She was an absolute joy to talk with and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  You can catch her show,  FUGUE,  at the Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce Street for a limited engagement through April 21st.Tickets for FUGUE are $45 and $50. FUGUE plays Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling Telecharge (212) 239-6200 or going to www.Telecharge.com. So until next time, folks, ciao and remember, theatre is my life.


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From This Author TJ Fitzgerald

TJ Fitzgerald has been interviewing theatre’s finest talent with BroadwayWorld.com since January 2006. He has been active in the New England Theatre scene both as (read more...)

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