After twenty years away from the Broadway stage, actress Jill Clayburgh has come back to the theatre with a vengeance: between last October and last night, when she opened in a new play at off-Broadway’s Playwrights’ Horizons, she has now done three stage productions in a row. First there was Richard Greenberg’s A Naked GIrl on the Appian Way, for Roundabout Theatre Company at their Broadway base, the American Airlines Theatre; next, a commercial entry in the revival of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park; but if both of those titles suggested a fetishist concern with variously unclothed body parts, the new play — The Busy World is Hushed — is buttoned up in every sense.
It’s fantastic, however, to find actresses of a certain maturity finding their theatrical legs again. When I interviewed Kathleen Turner a few months ago ahead of coming to London in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she described her own theatrical homecoming as a natural progression to me: “That’s where the good parts are”. And it’s also where actors can both hone their craft and remain in charge of their work. If Clayburgh sticks with the theatre, as she seems intent on doing now, she could have a late flowering as a major stage star again, and would bring her career full circle. In the same way, Meryl Streep also returns this summer to the New York Shakespeare Festival’s free season in Central Park: few years ago she was a sensation there as Madame Arkadina in The Seagull; now she’s set to play Mother Courage.