Jeremy Irons in spotlight after 25-year absence

In spotlight after 25-year absence
Sunday, February 8, 2009



Opening night: March 12, Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Untried doesn’t mean untrue, says Jeremy Irons.

If the Oscar- and Tony-winning actor, about to open in “Impressionism,” hasn’t appeared on Broadway since 1984, it’s partly because he hasn’t been offered anything really new.

“People say, ‘Why haven’t you gone back to Broadway before?’ and the answer is, I haven’t been offered a new play that makes me buzz,” he says. “I’ve been offered a lot of revivals, but in a way I’m not a jobbing actor in that sense. I like to go on a journey into the unknown.”

That would be “Impressionism,” a new play by Michael Jacobs, co-starring Joan Allen, Marsha Mason and Andre De Shields, and directed by Jack O’Brien, that promises to be every bit as much of a puzzler as those first Degas and Monets were to the staid members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

A press release describes it thusly: “the story of a world traveling photojournalist and a New York gallery owner who discover each other and also that there might be an art to repairing broken lives.”

But that doesn’t really convey the odd construction of Jacobs’ (“Cheaters,” “Getting Along Famously”) play, which shifts back and forth in time and casts each of the main actors in multiple roles. Irons, in addition to playing the photojournalist, is also at different moments the former lover and father of the gallery owner. Allen, the gallery owner, is also a nurse in Africa, where Irons is photojournalizing.

“It’s unlike any play I’ve ever come across before,” Irons says. “Rather in the same way that maybe the first art critics who looked at Impressionist paintings thought, ‘I never saw anything like this before.’ It’s not a normal play, not a conventional structure.”

Just as an Impressionist painting may look like just a lot of dots or brush strokes up close, and only reveal its full meaning when viewed whole, so “Impressionism,” Irons says, takes the whole length of its roughly 100-minute running time to make itself clear.

“I suppose what you might say is, you don’t get the full story till the end of the picture,” Irons says. “I think it will be a fascinating evening.”

Irons was last seen on Broadway 25 years ago, in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.” He won a Tony for that role, and has had a busy career in several media since, having established himself as the nonpareil for playing brainy, languid characters of ambiguous virtue (“Brideshead Revisited” on TV, “Reversal of Fortune” and “Lolita” onscreen).

One of his most recent projects, by happy coincidence, teamed him with his current co-star, Allen. In “Georgia O’Keefe,” a Lifetime Television biopic set to air later this year, he played another photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, to Joan Allen’s O’Keefe. So when the two met again for “Impressionism,” they were already road-tested.

“I was able to get to know her,” Irons says. “So by the time I came to rehearsal [for the play], I knew her work and she knew mine, and there was a sort of trust.”