From Lillias White to Mark Rylance, Sweat and Feud Star Alison Wright Shares Her Favorite Theatrical Moments

Favorite Things   From Lillias White to Mark Rylance, Sweat and Feud Star Alison Wright Shares Her Favorite Theatrical Moments
 
The Americans actor details 10 New York stage performances that affected her as part of the audience.
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Alison Wright, who can currently be seen in the FX anthology series Feud: Bette and Joan, is making her Broadway debut this season playing the role of Jessie, a down-on-her-luck factory worker in Reading, Pennsylvania, in Lynn Nottage's critically acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat at Studio 54. Here, the British actor, who has spent four seasons as FBI secretary Martha Hanson on the Emmy-nominated The Americans, shares the ten New York stage performances that forever confirmed her love of live theatre.

Tom Hewitt in The Rocky Horror Show

Alice Ripley and Tom Hewitt in the 2000 Broadway production of <i>The Rocky Horror Show.</i>
Alice Ripley and Tom Hewitt in the 2000 Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Show. Carol Rosegg

Tom Hewitt fulfilled all my vocal and visual fantasies as Frank ’N’ Furter. He growled and slithered through the songs. His phrasing and control and interpretation in “Sweet Transvestite” curled my toes. He didn’t phone in a single syllable. Massive sex appeal, confidence, and mastery that was so grounded and real. I’ve listened to this cast recording incessantly since.

Brenda Blethyn in ’night, Mother

Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn in <i>&#39;night, Mother</i>
Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn in 'night, Mother Joan Marcus

Brenda is one of my most favorite actors. She has always felt like home to me. She’s just so goddamn interesting to watch, her humanity is more human than everyone else’s. And as dark as this story is, she brought great humor to Thelma and made me laugh so often—little bursts of light in all the darkness, like a flickering light bulb that fizzes and sputters and keeps coming back to life. We want her to keep shining despite it all.

Lillias White in The Life

Pamela Isaacs and Lillias White
Pamela Isaacs and Lillias White in The Life

I had just moved to New York when I saw this brilliant Cy Coleman show; it’s mind boggling that it didn’t stay on Broadway longer. The whole cast was excellent and gave me goosebumps throughout. “The Oldest Profession” performed by the insurmountable talent that is Lillias White is a showstopper. She uses every phrase to tell her story, and I can’t listen to the recording without bawling at the power of her vocals. If you ever see me on the A train really getting down with my music and crying joyfully, while my face is twisted in agony over the notes she’s hitting, I’m probably listening to Lillias sing the sh*t out of this song.

Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County

Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County
Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County Joan Marcus

This play is a monster, a behemoth, and one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had at the theatre. As Violet Weston, one of the most terrifically terrifying matriarchs out there, Deanna dominated that stage, terrorized her family, and sucked all the air out of the theatre. I can’t imagine the energy it took out of her doing that eight shows a week. I’d like to think I’ll be both brave and lucky enough to ind out for myself one day.

Stephen Mangan in The Norman Conquests

Stephen Mangan in <i>The Norman Conquests</i>
Stephen Mangan in The Norman Conquests Richard Termine

It came from The Old Vic, I saw each play [in the three-part work] twice. The entire cast was luminous. I fell completely under their spell, each and every actor. I love [Alan] Ayckbourn. A Brit myself, his characters are eternally familiar. In the title role, Stephen Mangan charmed the pants off me, as he did or did his very best to do throughout the play. It was a perfect production. I have my signed poster!

Norbert Leo Butz in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Norbert Leo Butz, John Lithgow, and Sherie Rene Scott in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Norbert Leo Butz, John Lithgow, and Sherie Rene Scott in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Carol Rosegg

This musical! What a joy! So many excellent numbers, I fell in love with this show and saw it over and over. Norbert is so funny and has such an ease onstage, it’s a total release and pleasure to watch him. He knocks it out of the park comedically through the whole show, but “Great Big Stuff” makes me feel like glitter exploded inside!

Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night

Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night.
Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night. Joan Marcus

I waited a long time to see this man on the Great American Stage, and I’ve known Twelfth Night since high school. Never have I understood Olivia so clearly or has she been so funny! This production made it clear to me that she was indeed a man’s idea of a woman and the multifaceted layers that exist when it’s a man playing the role. Of course, no one could take their eyes off Mr. Rylance for a second; he’s preternatural. His instincts, his spontaneity... he’s thrilling. He made me think I should just give up and go be a bricklayer or something instead.

Charles Edwards in The 39 Steps

Cliff Saunders chases Charles Edwards in <i>The 39 Steps.</i>
Cliff Saunders chases Charles Edwards in The 39 Steps. Joan Marcus

Hilariously funny, delightfully stylized, I savored every bite of this show and saw it three times. Charles was glorious as Richard Hannay. It was such a tight, sharp production, executed with precision. A cast of only four actors played what felt like hundreds, and I take my hat off to each of them.

Meryl Streep in Mother Courage

Glenn Fleshler, Meryl Streep and Frederick Weller in <i>Mother Courage</i>, 2006
Glenn Fleshler, Meryl Streep, and Frederick Weller in Mother Courage Michal Daniel

What can one say about Meryl Streep? She’s perfect, and it’s all been said—even of late, the absurd, ignorant, petty, jealous, vindictive idea that’s she's overrated. Overrated she certainly ain’t.

Aaron Monaghan in The Cripple of Inishmaan

Aaron Monaghan and Andrew Connolly in <i>The Cripple of Inishmaan
Aaron Monaghan and Andrew Connolly in The Cripple of Inishmaan Keith Pattison

I fell hard for Martin McDonagh’s plays without ever seeing them performed. I feel a deep personal connection to his Irish words, Irish humor, and everyday Irish characters. Seeing Cripple at The Atlantic, with an entirely Irish cast and the playwright himself a few rows behind me, was an immense experience. Aaron Monaghan was brilliant, radiant, spellbinding. It was an earth-shattering performance for me; his physicality was unbelievable to watch. He broke my heart, then mended it, then broke it again all night long. I wrote him a letter afterwards; I was forever changed after seeing this production.

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