Estelle Parsons will forever be remembered for her brilliant Academy Award performance as Blanche Barrow, the hapless sister-in-law to Clyde, in Arthur Penn’s 60s film classic, Bonnie and Clyde. TV fans loved her thorny, meddlesome mother on Roseanne Barr’s sitcom.
But Parsons is also a veteran of the stage and is currently starring in the national touring company of Tracy Lett’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play August: Osage County, opening at the Forrest Theater. Parsons plays Violet Weston, the vitriolic pill-popping matriarch who delights in menacing her adult children
Parsons spoke by phone about the production and her career, last week from her Manhattan apartment.
What was it like working opposite Ethel Merman in her first role on Broadway in the infamous musical Happy Hunting? “She was fantastic. Nothing like it working with people with that kind of talent. We used to call her and Mary Martin…a million dollars on a hoof. I guess you can say that about Nathan Lane now. I was just reading yesterday that Addams Family got terrible reviews but everybody wants to go see it. That’s how it was with Happy Hunting.”
She has equally nice things to say about the cast of Osage that includes Joining Parsons in Osage. “They are a wonderful group. It’s a play about a family and the fact that we are on tour helps. Not that this play needs any help.”
Parsons said the part has challenged her, likening it to rock climbing. “Tracy writes on an abrasive level. It’s kind of typical of Oklahoma literature and this is about his grandparents. If the duststorm is coming just bear it out. This kind of lifestyle and attitude is unique. Survive hardships no matter what.”
At 83, Parsons is still enjoying the adventures of the road. “Your life becomes insular. And you are together in crappy apartments. It’s really fun. The challenge is to entertain and to keep them interested for 3 ½ isn’t always easy and when it’s over you fell exhilarated and feel like you’ve really done something.”