Tony and Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn will return to Broadway this month in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, adapted for the stage by Martin Tahse from the best-selling novel by Yaddo author Allan Gurganus.
Ms. Burstyn, who won rave reviews when the one-woman show premiered earlier this year at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, stars as Lucy Marsden, the 99-year-old widow of the last surviving Civil War soldier. She is a master storyteller who vividly recalls her remarkable life, beginning in 1900 when, at age 15, she married an eccentric, grizzled 50-year-old former Confederate army captain. The funny and heartwarming drama chronicles a marriage that the couple often referred to as their own "private Civil War" as well as the American South and its women and the institution of slavery.
To prepare for the role, Ms. Burstyn traveled to Mr. Gurganus's native North Carolina and was a guest in his home. Mr. Gurganus showed her around town, took her to local restaurants, and introduced her to an assortment of local folks. The author, who says Ms. Burstyn absorbed every accent and found a way to use them in her performance, is awed by her commitment to the role of Lucy Marsden.
"She's amazing. I guess there are two kinds of movie stars: The kind who play the same kind of personality over and over, and then there are people like Ellen Burstyn, who become the characters, and you remember the character, not the star," said Mr. Gurganaus. "This is a chance for her to be 25 people in one evening. She has developed a walk and an accent and a psychology for all of the characters."
Originally published in 1989, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All was on The New York Times best-seller list for five months and was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. The book, which has sold more than four million copies in hardback and millions more in two paperback editions, won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was hailed by critics as "extraordinary," "compelling," and "wise." The novel has been translated into 12 languages and was made into a 1994 Emmy Award winning television miniseries starring Donald Sutherland, Diane Lane, and Cicely Tyson..
Mr. Gurganus has held several residencies at Yaddo, the last in 2002, and has served on Yaddo's board for more than 20 years. His collection of stories and novellas, White People, was a PEN-Faulkner finalist and was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Other Gurganus works include the novel Plays Well With Others, which was nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, and a collection of novellas, The Practical Heart.
A six-time Academy Award-nominee, Ms. Burstyn was the first woman in history to win both the Tony Award and the Academy Award in the same year, for her portrayals in Same Time, Next Year on Broadway and in Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in 1974. Her other Broadway credits include 84 Charring Cross Road, Shirely Valentine, Shimada, and Sacrilege. She has been nominated for Oscars in five other film roles: The Last Picture Show (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Same Time, Next Year (1978), Resurrection (1980), and Requiem for a Dream (1999).
Directed by Don Scadino, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All opens in previews October 31 at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. Opening night is Monday, November 17.