Heart of 'Glass'; Jessica Lange Returns to Broadway for the Classic Memory Play 'The Glass Menagerie'-And Rethinks Some Memories of Her Own

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Byline: Sean Smith

On this Sunday afternoon in this dressing room at the Barrymore Theatre, there are yellow tulips on the table, and Jessica Lange, shoeless, curled into a soft-green easy chair. "I'm often my own worst enemy," she says. "I make weird decisions: I say no to things I should say yes to. I work when I shouldn't and don't when I should." She laughs. "I can't say it's been the best-designed career, but, you know, usually the decisions have been made for some emotional reason." She leans her head back and exhales. "I really hesitated before doing this."

"This" is a revival of Tennessee Williams's classic family drama, "The Glass Menagerie," and when it opens on Broadway this week, those yellow tulips in Lange's dressing room will, no doubt, be drowning in red roses. Lange plays the Southern matriarch Amanda Wingfield--a single mother of adult children who's desperately trying to marry off her unstable daughter before it's too late, as well as prevent her son from fleeing the family altogether. Lange has already earned standing ovations from preview audiences. "Here's what I didn't want to do with Amanda," Lange says, rising from her chair. She crosses the room to her makeup table and picks up a published version of the play. "Williams describes her perfectly, but someone writing the notes here describes her as..." She scans the text on the back cover. "Here it is: 'Amanda Wingfield is a faded, tragic remnant of Southern gentility'." She looks up from the cover in mock horror, and laughs. "I didn't want to be a faded remnant ! She's a life force!"

It's both easy and impossible to believe that it's been almost 30 years since Lange made her film debut as the beast's beauty in "King Kong." Easy, because her body of work is so impressive--Oscar-winning roles in "Tootsie" and "Blue Sky," nominations for her portrayals of actress Frances Farmer in "Frances" and of singer Patsy Cline in "Sweet Dreams," among others--but impossible because the architecture of that face, that smoke-stained voice, still, at 55, inspire the same sensual rush. "She's always had that," says director Sydney Pollack, who cast her in "Tootsie." "She's got an aura of privacy on screen. She's got a confidence, a sense of quiet. She's not available to every Tom, Dick and Harry, you know what I mean?" In recent years, Lange has transferred those qualities from the screen to the stage. "I don't have any bitterness about it, but when any actress hits her 50s, the film work starts to thin out," Lange says. "It's just the natural order of things. I had a great run. I got as much out of it as I could ever have imagined or wished for."

She's not settling for second best on the boards, either. She has previously tackled two of Williams's other great heroines, Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire." "I've always been attracted to characters that have a certain juxtaposition of feminine frailty and iron will," Lange says. …