Palm Beach Dramaworks has scored a major coup for its 15th anniversary season by attracting Estelle Parsons, an actor whose credits include 50 years of on and off Broadway performances, five Tony nominations and an Academy Award.
She will star in Israel Horovitz’s comedy-drama My Old Lady, along with Angelica Page and Tim Altmeyer, from Dec. 5, 2014 to Jan 4, 2015. She’ll also participate in PBD’s Dramalogue series on Jan. 6, 2015 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., which includes a live interview and a Q&A period.
“Estelle Parsons is one of the greatest actors you can have,” said Bill Hayes, co-founder of Dramaworks. “On Broadway, she is the queen of straight plays, dramas. She also has an extraordinary body of film. It’s like having royalty in the building.”
Parsons launched her career in entertainment when she worked for NBC’s Today show as a writer, producer and commentator. She hit the big time in 1967 when she won an Oscar for her role as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. A year later she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Rachel, Rachel. Her most recognizable television role was as the mother of Roseanne Arnold on the sitcom Roseanne. But her true love is the theater; Parsons’ Broadway debut was in 1956 and she has performed on stage ever since.
“I’ve always been devoted to the theater even though I found myself doing TV and film along the way,” said Parsons. “I’m excited about coming to Dramaworks. I was intrigued to play somebody French.”
The character Parsons will be playing in My Old Lady is 92 years old and Parsons doesn’t see much difference between her actual age and her character’s.
Parsons turned 87 on Nov. 20 and has always been active; she enjoys running, playing tennis and skiing. To this day, she doesn’t let her age stop her from doing what she loves.
“People are so silly to think that people aren’t active when they’re older,” she said. “They act like it’s a miracle or something.”
When asked about the key to her staying power, she said, “Nobody could be more surprised than me. I mean, who knows? … You don’t think much about it as you go along, and then all of a sudden you realize you’re getting older all the time.”
She said she never thought of her age as being something negative until she turned 80 and thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m 80. What now? I went through a bit of a dip thinking, ‘What do I do, how do I act, what’s wrong with me?’”
But those questions were short-lived as she realized that kind of thinking was a waste of her energy and time. She went back to appreciating the fact that she is healthy and happy, loves her work, and has a wonderful husband and family.
The biggest change Parsons said she has witnessed with regard to her theater career is the effect television has had on the theater. Television didn’t really take off until she got out of college and when that happened, theater audiences got smaller, she said. Now there are regional theaters, a change from yesteryear.
“Now you’re happy to play in places like Bill’s where there are 200 or so people.”
Among her most memorable career moments was performing in Miss Margarida’s Way, a one-woman play about a totalitarian dictatorship that she did on Broadway and at various venues throughout the world, including Australia, England and Turkey. She also cited August: Osage County as one of her favorite roles, which she performed on Broadway for a year followed by a year of touring.
“I really like to tour and have new audiences because you find out so much from them. They’re a terribly important part of the theatrical experience for the actor … the energy of the audience and where it takes you … it’s a profound experience.”
Although Parsons said she could have made a lot more money working in television and film, after five years, she realized theater was her real love.
“When I won the Academy Award, everyone thought I was crazy, including my agent, because I had no interest in being a movie star. I was interested in being in the theater in New York City.”
Lucky for theatergoers, that’s exactly what this legendary iconic actor has done for five decades and continues to do. And for a short time period, local residents will have the rare opportunity to see her in their own backyard.
Palm Beach Dramaworks is located at 201 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach. To order tickets, call the box office at (561) 514-4042, ext. 2. Discount pricing is available for season subscriptions, group sales, students and educators. For more information, visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.