Cherry On Top

To speak to Cherry Jones, winner of two Tonys for best actress, about her latest role, in "Faith Healer," is to witness an exercise in modesty.

Cherry Jones

Cherry Jones

Photo By Thomas Iannaccone

NEW YORK — To speak to Cherry Jones — Broadway star and winner of two Tonys for best actress — about her latest role in "Faith Healer" is to witness an exercise in modesty. The actress practically trips over herself as she pushes everyone in the production in front of her to receive the credit they are due — from the stage manager, Sid King, to the director, Jonathan Kent, to the playwright, Brian Friel. Nor will she accept any praise for the acting skills that have propelled her into the limelight.

"It's what you do as a child, and actors just never stop," the Tennessee native protests. "And I'm not that articulate as an adult. I didn't have that great of an education and I wasn't very good in school, so to be able to speak the words of Friel, or Shakespeare, or O'Neill and sound incredibly articulate for a couple of hours is a great turn-on to me."

Indeed, Jones was attracted to the production, which opened Thursday night to strong reviews, by the language of Friel's play, which is, in fact, four monologues performed in succession by three actors (Jones, Ralph Fiennes and Ian McDiarmid). It's the tragic story of a traveling faith healer (Fiennes), who seems alternately genius and pathetic; his long-suffering and tortured wife (Jones), and his promoter, as played by a charmingly shameless McDiarmid. "I don't think I've ever worked on anything where the writing is so relentlessly gorgeous," Jones says. "The musicality of it is so strong that it was remarkably easy to learn, given its depth and intensity."

The actors didn't rehearse together, although Fiennes and McDiarmid had a head start on their parts since they starred in the Dublin production at the Gate Theater. "The other actors built up this pathological hatred of [group rehearsals] because to watch the others, even once, is kind of agony, because it's hearing a rebuttal of what the characters have created for themselves," she explains. "It's so funny — I did a photo session with the boys and had dinner with Ralph, and so I'm building literally on that thin of a foundation of them. I'm just by myself with Mr. Friel and the memory of these two men."
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