It's out of drag and into uniform when Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays returns to Broadway in February in the much-anticipated revival of R.C. Sherriff's anti-war drama Journey's End. "I've wanted to do this play since I was 10 years old and saw a production at the Long Wharf Theatre. I was so deeply affected and moved," he says. "When I was in London doing I Am My Own Wife, I saw the London production and met with the director, David Grindley. I'm so pleased he cast me in this production."
Still, Mays isn't playing the part of his dreams. "I fall between the ages for the leads [who will be played by Hugh Dancy and Boyd Gaines], so I'm playing the cook who takes care of the officers. It's really a lovely role," he notes. "I've been a World War I buff for years. I just bought this 10-part documentary on the war. We've already seen our costumes, and the uniforms are unbelievable. Even the underwear is authentic to the period."
Mays has had enough of women's clothing, having donned them again for the recently released independent film Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, based on the true story of Daniel Paul Schreber, a mentally ill German judge with a fetish for cross-dressing. "I tried to read his journal, which the film is based on, but I found it unreadable. It's a very confused mess of prose," he says.
Indeed, Mays had minimal preparation before the cameras began rolling in August 2004 in Hudson, New York. "I went up to start filming without a single costume fitting or one line of dialogue memorized. But I knew Julian [P. Hobbs, the director] wanted a heightened approach to this material -- he hadn't written a veristic script -- so I thought I could just do a different style of acting in front of the camera. He put me in a wig, mustache, and frock coat, and I was off. In one day, I was drowned alive and force-fed oatmeal. But I have to say it was a delirious adventure."
While he hopes Journey's End has a long stay on Broadway, Mays is thinking ahead to other projects. "I just did a workshop of the musical Ever After, in which I play a singing Leonardo Da Vinci. The City Center Encores! production of Of Thee I Sing was my first musical, and it was such a joy that I'd like to do another one," he says. "And I'm doing a reading of Pygmalion for the Roundabout. I'm Henry Higgins, and Elizabeth Marvel is my Eliza. I remember seeing the movie with Leslie Howard when I was young and just loving the story."
Actress Kathleen Widdoes has had many triumphs in her 50-year stage career, but few have matched her pairing with Sam Waterston in the 1972 production of Much Ado About Nothing. Now, 35 years later, she's playing mother to Sam's son James Waterston in A.C.T.'s production of W. Somerset Maugham's The Circle in San Francisco. "He's really quite wonderful," says Widdoes of her newest co-star. "There are times he looks so much like Sam, and their movements are even the same. But I can't tell him that, so I just smile to myself instead."
Widdoes is relishing the role of Lady Kitty, who had left her husband and young son for another man and has now returned to her family. "She's someone who sacrificed her marriage and child for love, which is very romantic," says Widdoes, a longtime fan of the playwright's work. "Maugham doesn't make you feel that anything his characters do is wrong or right; it's all about accepting the consequences of one's actions. He just fascinates me." She's also enjoying her first collaboration with director Mark Lamos. "I don't know how I missed working with him before. He's very easy and quite fun, and I look forward to working with him again," she says.
Her stay in San Francisco will necessitate a break from filming the soap opera As The World Turns, on which she has played matriarch Emma Snyder since 1985. "Right now, they use me if there's a wedding, or if one of my children is going to jail, or if they need a baby sitter," she laughs. "I've had affairs with as many men on the show as is possible, so that's done now. But this kind of a job has been a blessing. When I started, you needed a card to get into the CBS building, but I didn't ask for one because I thought I'd only be there for two weeks. I still don't have one."
COME SEE ABOUT ME
The opening of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia Part Two- Shipwreck at Lincoln Center attracted some of the city's brightest lights. On hand for the big night were star Brían F. O'Byrne's castmates from the Broadway production of Doubt, Cherry Jones and Heather Goldenhersh, along with Julianna Margulies, Robert Sean Leonard, Swoosie Kurtz, Amy Ryan, and Susan Stroman.
Hearty congratulations to The Drowsy Chaperone's Bob Martin who will get his caricature on the wall of Sardi's on December 27. The Tony-winning actor/writer will be joined for the event by his wife, actress Janet Van De Graaff. (Does that name sound familiar?) Not too shabby for a first-time Broadway star, huh?
COMING ATTRACTIONS There's no need to give into the winter doldrums when there are so many exciting events happening in January. In the Big Apple, Tony Kushner will be present for a post-screening discussion of the documentary Wrestling With Angels at Makor on January 4; Debby Boone, James Naughton, John Pizzarelli, Paula West, and Karen Ziemba will join host Deborah Grace Winer for The Last Girl Singer: Rosemary Clooney...And Her Way With Words to kick off the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics & Lyricists series, January 6-8; Cast members from the Broadway hit Grey Gardens will make a special appearance at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on January 11; Pulitzer Prize winner Adrienne Kennedy and her son Adam Kennedy will present their play Mom: How Did You Meet the Beatles? at Joe's Pub on January 15; and Emmy Award winner Bill Boggs will bring his popular solo show Talk Show Confidential back to The Triad on January 16.
Elsewhere around the country, the outrageous Karen Finley will perform her companion pieces The Dreams of Laura Bush and The Passion of Terri Schiavo at Chicago's Baliwick Repertory, January 3-7; the legendary Myra Carter will star in the Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque, January 11-February 10; the Chicago company of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will host a special for-mature-audiences-only performance on January 12; solo performance stars Roger Guenever Smith and Adriana Sevan will be featured in L.A. Theatre Works' Two Cities, Two Voices, January 17-21; stage and soap opera star Shelly Burch will headline a revival of Shadowlands at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington, January 17-February 25; and British actors Denise Van Outen and Christopher Biggins will star in a benefit production of Tricia Walsh-Smith's three-part play Addictions at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre on January 29.
Stephanie von Buchau, a longtime contributor to TheaterMania, passed away on December 19 at the age of 67. For more than three decades, von Buchau -- who also wrote under the name Tiger Hashimoto -- wrote for such publications as The San Francisco Examiner, The Pacific Sun and Opera News. Our sincerest condolences to her mother Guinivere and her brother Gregory on her untimely loss.