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Judith Ivey-Amanda Wingfield — a well-prepared role

September 4, 2010 |  8:30 am


The last time Judith Ivey played a Tennessee Williams role was opposite Karl Malden. As introductions to playwrights go, it’s hard to imagine many more authoritative guides than a man who had famously shared the stage with Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter in Elia Kazan’s 1947 premiere of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Ivey’s encounter with Malden was roughly 40 years ago, while she was studying acting at Illinois State University. The play was “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

“Karl Malden came to our school as an artist master-class teacher, and I did Maggie the Cat,” she recalled. “My acting partner irritated Mr. Malden, so Mr. Malden told him ‘Go sit down,’ and he got up and became Brick. It was amazing. If there’s anyone who’s not like Brick it’s him, but he just became Brick.”

That workshop created a hunger to perform in a Williams play that has gnawed at Ivey ever since and is now yielding what may be the performance of her career as Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie.”

Directed by Gordon Edelstein, who has stripped the play of its sentimentality and coaxed his cast members to a piercing understanding of their characters, the production began life at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven in 2009. After an extended off-Broadway run for Roundabout Theater Company in the spring, it comes to Los Angeles Sept. 12 for a five-week engagement at the Mark Taper Forum.

“I had wanted to play Amanda since high school when I first started acting,” Ivey said over a salad in the green room of the Laura Pels Theater during the New York run. She was joined by Edelstein and by Patch Darragh, who plays Amanda’s son, Tom. “I’ve been preparing for this role for a long time,” she said. “I think I understand Tennessee Williams better than I would Arthur Miller. There are certain American playwrights that speak to me. I grew up in Texas and have tons of Southern relatives, so the South is a part of who I am.”

To read the full Arts & Books article on Ivey and the production, click here.

— David Rooney

Photo: Judith Ivey in "The Glass Menagerie" at Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Time.