Brock Posted May 6, 2011 Report Share Posted May 6, 2011 Per the New York Times: Sada Thompson, Actress Known for Maternal Roles, Dies at 83 By BRUCE WEBER Sada Thompson, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actress known for her portrayals of archetypal mothers, from the loving family caretaker and the world-weary, had-it-with-the-kids older woman to the brutalizing harridan and mythical adulteress and murderess, died Wednesday in Danbury, Conn. She was 83. The cause was lung disease, said her daughter, Liza Sguaglia. Ms. Thompson had an unusual stage career in that she became a star in New York but was not often on Broadway. She made her name in the 1950s as Off Broadway came to prominence, in plays like “The Misanthrope” and Chekhov’s “Ivanov,” and throughout her career she performed in regional theater productions. But when she was on Broadway, she made an impression. She won a Tony in 1972 for playing four separate parts — three daughters and their aged mother — in the four vignettes that constitute George Furth’s “Twigs,” directed by Michael Bennett. Her tour de force performance was widely praised, but Ms. Thompson returned to Broadway only twice more, in short-lived shows. By then she had established herself as “one of the American theater’s finest actresses,” as Walter Kerr described her in The New York Times. She had distinguished herself on Broadway in Edward Albee’s sardonic “American Dream,” in which she played Mommy, the cartoonishly overwhelming wife of a spineless husband, and in Samuel Beckett’s bitterly comic “Happy Days.” Here she played Winnie, a woman facing inevitable doom — she spends the first act buried up to her waist and the second act up to her neck — with determined good cheer. “Yet beneath these bright superficials,” Clive Barnes wrote in The Times, “Miss Thompson was able to suggest something a good deal deeper, every so often permitting the enamel to crack, the brightness to darken, and letting us glimpse the piteous fears of mortality in Winnie’s heart.” Away from Broadway, her repertory expanded and her reputation grew. In 1970, in what was probably her star-making performance, she opened Off Broadway in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” Paul Zindel’s melodrama about a slatternly, self-deluding and tormenting mother of two troubled daughters and the elderly boarder she cares for to pay the rent. In the summer of 1971 she appeared at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford. Conn., as Christine Mannon, the Civil War-era equivalent of the vengeful Clytemnestra, in “Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neill. After “Twigs,” Ms. Thompson spent much of her time working in movies and especially on television. She played Mrs. Gibbs in the 1977 television film of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” with Hal Holbrook as the stage manager. Most notably, from 1976 to 1980 she starred as Kate Lawrence, the matriarch of an upper-middle-class family in Pasadena, Calif., in a landmark show, created by Jay Presson Allen, who had adapted “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for the stage, and produced by Mike Nichols. Its title — “Family” — announced its intention: to be a simple presentation of the fundamental unit of American life. It largely succeeded, melding ordinary daily conflicts with the heightened drama necessary for television entertainment. “Family” dealt straightforwardly with issues like the marital problems of the Lawrences’ eldest daughter (played at the time by Meredith Baxter Birney); the discovery by the teenage son (Gary Frank) that his long-time best friend was gay; and the distress of the youngest daughter (Kristy McNichol) on overhearing her mother saying that she sometimes wished she hadn’t had her. “ ‘Family’ represents an extremely difficult television project in that it is trying to salvage the familiar stuff of soap opera for the less superficial probings of the contemporary drama,” John J. O’Connor wrote in The Times during its first season, adding that Ms. Thompson and James Broderick, who played her husband, “achieved a remarkable combination of low-keyed intensity and powerful impact.” Ms. Thompson was nominated for an Emmy four times in the show’s five seasons, winning in 1978. Sada Carolyn Thompson was born in Des Moines on Sept. 27, 1927. When she was a girl, her family moved to Fanwood, N.J., where her father, Hugh, became an editor of Turkey World and other farm journals. Sada discovered the power of storytelling when her mother, Corlyss, took her to the movie “The Man Who Played God,” and she was turned toward acting when her parents took her to the Cole Porter musical “Red, Hot and Blue.” “That was it,” Ms. Thompson recalled in 1971. “To me it was total enchantment. I had to be part of it.” She graduated with a drama degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), and she and some fellow students started a summer stock company in Mashpee, Mass. Eventually she and Donald Stewart, whom she met at school and married, moved to New York, where her first professional credit was in 1953, in the original reading of “Under Milkwood,” Dylan Thomas’s poetic rendering of life in a Welsh town, directed by Thomas himself. “His idea of rehearsals was to hear one reading and say, ‘Perfect, let’s go out for a beer,’ but he was a kind, courteous gentleman,” she once said. Ms. Thompson lived in Southbury, Conn. In addition to her daughter, of Burbank, Calif., her survivors include her husband, a former executive for Pan American Airlines, and a brother, David, of Gloversville, N.Y. Her career was peppered with performances in classic works in far-flung theaters. She starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Lillian Hellman’s “Little Foxes” in London, toured Scandinavia with the Scandinavian Theater Company in Wilder’s “Skin of Our Teeth” and played Lady Macbeth at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. “I’d miss not being able to tell a story every night,” she once said, describing why she was loath to give up the stage or the screen. “That really thrills me, that is the greatest! Thousands of years ago, when some caveman told his family about the fight he had that day with a dinosaur, and, in the telling, became the dinosaur, and became himself in the fight — well, there’s your first actor.” This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: May 6, 2011 An earlier version misstated the character Ms. Thompson played in the 1977 television film of "Our Town." It was Mrs. Gibbs, not Mrs. Webb. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/arts/sada-thompson-actress-known-for-maternal-roles-dies-at-83.html?_r=1 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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