Tell us about the play God Looked Away and your role in it.
I play Tennessee Williams’ very close friend Estelle who is based on a woman in his life named Maria St. Just. There was a book that came out that she wrote that was called Five O’Clock Angel, and there are a lot of stories about them and their relationship. She married well into English society; she married a man who was – he told her – bisexual, but he leaned toward being gay. It was a difficult time for her all through her life, but that’s not what this is about. This is about their relationship (with Tennessee). It’s really the story of the need … the story of Tennessee Williams and the last 14 years of his life … and with this woman and with his companion during that time period, whom he called ‘Baby’. The play is written by Dotson Rader, a journalist…and Dotson was ‘Baby’ who is in the play, and it’s their story. It takes place during this last production that was done in Chicago of the last Tennessee Williams play produced called A House Not Meant to Stand. It was received mildly well to mixed reviews in Chicago but it really began in some sense the downward spiral that Tennessee was in and eventually led to his death. It’s about the drugs and the drinking and the process that he was going through during this one night in a Chicago hotel the opening night of this play.
Very sad. But it’s billed as a comedy, right?
You know what, you cannot label this play. There are a lot of things that are very funny in it; there are also things that are very devastating about who this man was and his enormous talent and guilt that he carried around all his life. And it’s a really tender piece; it’s also about love and about relationships and dynamics in relationships, how people hurt each other without meaning to, and their own loss and their own sorrow, things that have not been processed in their own life.
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Tell us about working onstage with Al Pacino. Have you ever worked with him before?
I have not. (pause) I have always wanted to work with him. And he is for meconsistently remarkable. He is so present and so in the moment that it makes you, makes one, makes me the ever present, and that’s really all you can ever ask of a partner onstage. His process is so interesting. I’m learning so much by watching him. Every line, every piece of the script is something to be delved into and dissected and talked about. We were in a note session last night and we were talking about moments that we have touched on and not have delved into, and that’s why doing this play in Pasadena and having this opportunity to workshop it…because this is a play in development. You know how fabulous the O’Neill is, the O’Neill Foundation, and how you get to spend time working on a play, working with the playwright. Dotson (Rader) has been there the whole time and Robert Allan Ackerman, our director – who I actually worked with at the O’Neill. He’s a wonderful director, and he and Al have worked together before. So the kind of work that we’re doing, the kind of development that we’re doing on this, we’re learning so much performing it for the audiences in this particular way. The kind of freedom that we have to be able to work on the play has been an experience that I will cherish forever.
Are there other characters besides the two of you?
Oh, my God, yes. Like I said, there’s ‘Baby’. In a sense it has the quality of Tennessee’s memory play, The Glass Menagerie, which is now on Broadway with Sally Field and Joe Mantello. So, we have other characters, and the actors are really wonderful. We’re all working as a team. Garrett Clayton and Miles Gaston Villanueva from The Young and the Restless plays ‘Baby’ and also Andrew Dits, Matt Gottlieb and Takuma Anzai. They’re all wonderful
Is the plan to take this to Broadway?
There is really no plan at this point in time. What Al and Dotson and Robert want to do is really take the time to work on the play. This is the first in what will become a series at Pasadena Playhouse. Danny Feldman who has taken over for Sheldon Epps as producing artistic director feels very strongly about a program like this, where we do plays in Los Angeles … and we see what happens with them eventually. And Tennessee did two of his plays at the Pasadena Playhouse a long time ago, so in a way it’s a homecoming. We’ll see. We really don’t have any idea; it’s a work in progress. You know, we have rehearsal every day too. and notes every day and every night. There’s a consistency of growth and process in the play, as we have the freedom to explore. Then we will be prepared for that next step because we’ve built this very strong foundation. Dotson is changing and rewriting things all the time. We’re having to be on top of that all the time, but we love this development. It’s a very valuable time for us.
Is this do you think the best role you have ever played?
It’s a really fabulous role. It’s a role that … you know me, I like to do things that are different.
You are always exciting to watch. You never let us down.
Thank you. You’re so sweet. It’s a very rich role, very different, particularly from what I’m doing on Transparent, so I love that and I love getting to explore another dimension of myself and another character and the psychology of someone who is incredibly forthright and out there and deeply connected to her relationship and her love for and her friendship with this man Tennessee Williams, who was and still is an icon, for me personally. The joy of doing that and consistently creating her, and the excitement that I have of getting onstage with Al every performance is thrilling for me.
I want to thank you, Judith, for your time and I also want to take the time to thank you personally and your husband Robert (Desiderio) for all of the valuable time and support that you have given to the gay community over the years. You have been sensational in supporting gay rights. God bless you!
Oh my goodness, it is my and our honor and joy to be able to give back to an extraordinary community that we feel so supported by and loved so much. Thank you!
Don’t miss an opportunity to see the brilliant Judith Light onstage with Al Pacino at the Pasadena Playhouse for a very limited workshop run through March 19 only. Check the following link for tix and more info:
(production photo credit: Jim Cox)