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Last year, Oscar and Emmy winner Glenda Jackson, 81, who’s back as an actor after a quarter-century break serving in Britain’s equivalent of the House of Representatives, said, “It would be nice if someone sent me a contemporary play with an old person in it that wasn’t just about old age.” She got one: Edward Albee’s masterpiece Three Tall Women, in which she plays a 92-year-old inspired by Albee’s own titanic, terrifying mom. According to a dozen top theater experts consulted by AARP, Jackson is virtually certain to win the 2018 Tony Award for her Broadway comeback.
“Everybody ignores old people,” says Jackson, who as a politician worked on aging-population issues. “They’re not fashionable. We’re still stuck on the idea that age automatically means everything is either diminished or flawed, and that is not necessarily the case.” Her Albee character suffers a stroke and some dementia, yet remains defiantly sentient and vital to her last breath, which delights Jackson. “The prevailing attitude is a real problem. The state pension in Britain used to kick in for women when they were 60. The idea that at 60 you suddenly were totally different than from what you were the day before is just ridiculous. You don’t lose your brain power or your physical power. I mean, obviously some people do, but it’s not just automatic — ‘This is your birthday, this is where everything stops.’”
But Jackson, a stern person who does not suffer fools, belies this delusion by her performance, a team effort with her costars, AARP Movies for Grownups award winner Laurie Metcalf, 62, and Alison Pill, 32, who play Jackson’s character at different ages — together, all three tall women evoke the memories the 92-year-old central character is sifting and sorting after her stroke.
Jackson has long advocated the advantages of what she calls “being a grownup.” Beyond mere experience and accomplishment, she explains, “It means balance, it means acknowledging that there’s more than one way of thinking, of solving a problem. Being a grownup is being able to see the whole picture, and that’s quite a valuable asset to have.”
Jackson isn’t the only actor who’s giving the youngsters a living lesson in big-picture thinking and audiences a performance to remember for a lifetime. Broadway, often more open to famous talent with experience than Hollywood, happens to be replete with actors over 50 right now, most of them stars of the screen. Given their prevalence in the year’s Tony nominations, Jackson will have plenty of grownup company in the winners’ circle (not that she’ll necessarily attend the Tony Awards, since she didn’t bother going to the Emmys and Oscars when she won those, and she insists, "I didn't win anything — acting is a collaboration, not a competition").
Here are the hot-ticket shows featuring the top movie-star talents over 50 that you should catch while you can in New York:
Three Tall Women. Six Tony Award nominations, three towering actresses. John Golden Theatre through June 24.
The Iceman Cometh. Denzel Washington, 63, back on Broadway eight years after his last Tony Award for Fences, in Eugene O'Neill's classic tragedy. Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through July 1.
Hello, Dolly! Bernadette Peters, 70, replaces Tony Award winner Bette Midler, 72, and quadruple Tony winner Victor Garber, 69, replaces David Hyde Pierce, 59, in a tuneful classic with one restored tune cut from the original. Shubert Theatre through Aug. 25.
Long Day's Journey Into Night. In Brooklyn, not on Broadway, but worth the trip to see Jeremy Irons, 69, and Phantom Thread's scene-stealer Lesley Manville, 62, in O'Neill's masterpiece. BAM Harvey Lichtenstein Theater through May 27.
Travesties. Tom Stoppard's high-IQ comedy about James Joyce, Lenin and Dadaist Tzara stars The Night Manager's Tom Hollander, 50, whose friend Ralph Fiennes calls him "very, very, very, very clever." American Airlines Theatre through June 17.
Angels in America. In Tony Kushner's epic, the great play of our time, Nathan Lane, 62, and Game of Thrones' Susan Brown, 71, give Andrew Garfield the benefit of their experience. Neil Simon Theatre, through July 15.
My Fair Lady. Bartlett Sher, 59, Broadway's champion modernizer of classic musicals, has a lovely cast: Diana Rigg, 79, Norbert Leo Butz, 51, and Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose as Eliza. It received 10 Tony nominations, and the cast album is out June 8. This may be the play's best production in history. Through Jan. 6, 2019.