‘Mother Play’ brings Jessica Lange back to Broadway

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Eight years after her last visit to Broadway, Tony Award winner Jessica Lange returns to the stage in “Mother Play,” a true story about a dysfunctional family with themes of love, loss, forgiveness and a “wicked” sense of humor.

“I wanted to play a new piece, something brand new. When I read it months ago, it captured my imagination. I immediately liked it,” said Lange Variety Thursday at the show’s premiere. “It was an opportunity to do something that has never been done before.”

“Mother Play” opened April 25 at the Helen Hayes Theater. The film is directed by Tina Landau (“The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!”) and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”). The story is based on Vogel’s life and the complex relationships with her mother and brother. It is led by a three-piece ensemble in which Lange plays Phyllis, (Vogel’s mother), Jim Parsons plays Carl (Vogel’s brother) and Celia Keenan-Bolger (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) plays Martha (Vogel, herself). Spanning more than 40 years, the play sees Phyllis, a single mother, struggle to accept her children’s sexuality and, later, Carl’s battle with AIDS.

Vogel had the idea of ​​’Mother’s Play’ in her head for twenty years. It took her three weeks to finally write it.

“I think it takes a while to understand how much harder the older generations had it than us. So that led me to think about it, write about it and create a theatrical ritual of forgiveness,” says Vogel. “I don’t know any other way to talk to the people I’ve lost than to write something for the stage and hope they hear it, wherever they are.”

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Lange, Parsons and Keenan-Bolger were able to bond on and off stage thanks to the show’s humor.

“Something that develops early in the play, and so developed and worked on for us early on, was how Carl and his mother have a wicked sense of humor together. I mean, in the very first scene they’re joking about suicide and getting electric shock therapy and stuff like that,” says Parsons. “So there’s a kind of evil darkness in the fact that they’re joking with each other.”

The cast engaged in stance, a physical kinesthetic response, in pre-rehearsal workshops, “building a kind of container for this family,” Keenan-Bolger says.

Vogel said she hopes people will take away specific messages from her deeply personal work.

“I want us to figure out how to overcome our differences in our living rooms so that all children are loved,” she says.

Lange won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her work in the Ryan Murphy-produced revival of Eugene O’Neill’s groundbreaking stage drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

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