by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle™
Academy Award© winner (“Bonny and Clyde”) and four-time Tony-nominee Estelle Parsons will star in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play “August: Osage County” at Hartford’s Bushnell for eight performances, November 17 – 22, 2009.
This great and versatile artist has also taught acting at Yale, Columbia, Sarah Lawrence and Bennington, as well as at The National Theater Institute at the O’Neill Center in Waterford, CT; and has served as artistic director of the Actors Studio.
Estelle has also made her mark as a director, including plays with Al Pacino. Together they developed the reading-style staging for “Salome: The Reading,” a Broadway revival in 2003, and then took it to Los Angeles in 2006. And she was director of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare on Broadway project that included “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “As you Like it.”
We recently caught up with her in Seattle, Washington during the national tour of “August: Osage County.” The Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson wrote: “In her masterful turn as a chain-smoking, cancer-riddled, drug-dependent Violet, Estelle Parsons is a one-woman firing squad.”
THE RESIDENT: “You graduated from Connecticut College in 1949. Did you do any acting there?”
ESTELLE PARSONS: “Oh yes, I wrote, directed – did all the class plays. There were only four or five of us in an acting class. Margaret Hazlewood came down from Hartford to teach us. I was also a singer and played piano in cocktail lounges, and after college sang with the Jerry Jerome orchestra. Before college I did community theater with the Tavern Players in Lynn, Massachusetts,” – her home state.
TR: “Later, after studying law at Boston University you became the first female political reporter [writing and on camera] on network television during your five years on NBC’s Today Show,” starting in 1952.”
EP: “Yes, but I wasn’t so keen on real life, so I went on the stage.”
(Her Broadway debut was as a singer/actress in “Happy Hunting” starring Ethel Merman in 1956.)
TR: “After you read or saw “August: Osage County” how did you get the lead part of Violet Weston?”
EP: “I never read it, I never saw it! Friends and the producers said I should play the part after it had been running in New York with Deanna Dunagan. So after I finally saw the play, I went and took the pages that Violet was in and read them,” and added, “I only memorize my part in a play.
“The play was specific, assertive, and dynamic,” She continued. “Tracy Letts is a rare writer with a style all his own. It rings true and is theatrically very exciting. But I’ve always been allergic to dysfunctional family plays. I couldn’t figure out why the audiences were laughing. The audiences get into it right away.”
TR: What kind of theaters are you playing on tour?
EP: “We’ve been playing in big theaters…old vaudeville houses. Twenty-six hundred, four-thousand seats! So I said to myself ‘If Jimmy Durante could reach the back balcony of this theater, so can I!’”
The Broadway and national tour of “August: Osage County” was directed by Anna D. Shapiro who attended graduate school at the Yale School of Drama
After directing the premiere of “August: Osage County” at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago and winning the Jefferson Award for Best Director, she took the play to Broadway with all but two of the original cast and won the Tony Award for Best Director of a Play, as well the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Director of a Play. After reading some lines and a scene from the play for Anna,
EP: “She was easy to get along with. She’s a very strong, dynamic woman.”
Estelle first played the lead on Broadway from June 2008 through May 2009 followed by the current national tour, which ends in May 2010.
TR: How do you keep up your energy through eight, three-hour performances a week?”
EP: “I’m nearly 82! So I do weights almost every day, swim laps, and I eat cereal for breakfast, salads for lunch, and lots of steamed vegetables and fish or chicken for dinner. When you get older you don’t want to eat so much.”
Estelle will be celebrating her birthday in Hartford on November 20.
TR: “Any advice for young people who want to go into the theater?”
EP: “Do they really want to go into theater? I think they want to go into TV and movies! It used to be that parents didn’t want their children to go into the theater. Now they are pushing them because they think that they’ll wind up movie stars! But it’s always about the work. Always be in front of an audience.
“You become a different person up there in front of people. Entertaining live people is what it’s all about.” And she advises young actors to head for Chicago because it’s a great theater town.
In 2004, Estelle Parsons was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
“August: Osage County” is a rare opportunity to see one the greatest actresses of our time in a highly acclaimed play. Tickets: (860) 987-5900 or www.bushnell.org.