Cherry Jones: A Happy Genius
No other actress working in the theatre today has commanded the attention, the respect, and the wonder of Cherry Jones. Here are some comments from those who have marveled over her.
Of course we continue to dream of what the theatre can be. Yes, we are disappointed; yes, we wonder if it is worth it. But there is always--eventually--something that reaffirms your dream; there is always something--a play, an actor, a company--that lets you know just what the theatre can be, and why it was invented in the first place. For me, at this time, that reason, that affirmation of why we do what we do, is Cherry Jones. She is a remarkable actress, and in her work you suddenly remember--or I suddenly remember--Laurette Taylor and Katharine Cornell and Geraldine Page and Julie Harris and Kim Stanley and Colleen Dewhurst. Not because she resembles them so much, but because, like them, she transforms everything, elevates everything, and leaves you breathless with wonder at the power of the theatre.
Life surprises us all the time, as does art. We think we understand or can control something--paint, people, the arrangement of notes and chords--but then a power, a gift, an epiphany enters the equation and changes everything. Cherry Jones has changed my way of looking at acting. She can fold herself into a part and into a play so that I no longer fully understand people, and I am again young and curious and eager to learn more. She is an artist, and I would go to any lengths to see anything she did. The rewards will be many, and they'll come for many years.
|Cherry Jones in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, in 2005.|
It is both the specificity and the kindness in the application of her talent that so impresses me. There is nothing heavy in her work--by which I mean the uses of her gifts. Whatever is heavy comes from the very real autobiography her character carries with her, like luggage or perfume. There seems also to be a net of energy that emanates from her center and which holds her fellow players--in fact, the entire stage--in this benevolent but tough hold. As an audience member, I am safe with Cherry Jones, and I feel that everyone in the production feels equally safe, sound, blessed, bold.
It is so energizing to work with Cherry. The talent is so big and so cheerful and so giving, and it comes from such a generous and kind woman. I have worked with some powerful people--Helen Hayes, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Zoe Caldwell--but Cherry has a control over her character and those who are consumed by it that I've never seen before. We had an accident one night on the stage [in the Lincoln Center production of The Heiress] and we fell down the stairs. We were both exhausted, and one of us--I'm sure I'm the guilty party--lost her footing. Well, we rolled down those stairs, and I could hear gasps. We didn't know what to do. What I mean to say is that no one knew what to do--except Cherry. She stepped to the edge of the stage and let everyone know--as beautiful, happy, honest Cherry--that I had not been killed or hurt, and that we would go on. They held on to every word she uttered. And the audience held on to Cherry for the remainder of the show, but they never returned to me so much: They didn't believe my commitment to the rest of the show, but they believed Cherry. One is wise to believe Cherry.
In the latter part of 1997, and into the early spring of 1998, I worked in the Patron Ticket Office of the Metropolitan Opera, whose offices were underground, beneath the pond bearing the Henry Moore sculpture (it frequently leaked). Down in that basement, one would bump into opera stars and actors rehearsing at the Mitzi Newhouse. In rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera: Richard Strauss' Capriccio, with the sublime Kiri Te Kanawa; at the Newhouse, Tina Howe's Pride's Crossing, with Cherry Jones. One of the benefits of working on the campus of Lincoln Center was the liberal open-door policy of the institutions (I hope this has not changed), and tickets were frequently swapped. I saw Pride's Crossing three times; Capriccio four times. Te Kanawa liked artistic gossip, and she would stop us downstairs to ask what the word of mouth was, and if people were eager to see her perform. On one of the days when we were speaking to Te Kanawa, Cherry Jones bounded past, full of energy and joy, a huge smile on her face. "Look at her," Te Kanawa told us. "A happy genius. I want to sing tonight the way she acts in that play."
And there you have it.
|Zachary Quinto (in mirror) and Cherry Jones preparing The Glass Menagerie, which must be seen.|