Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sharon Gless - Watch on the Rhine

Sharon Gless, probably best known for her role in the television series “Cagney & Lacey” (1982-88) made her stage debut at StageWest in Springfield, Mass., October 1989.

In an interview with Fred Sokol of The Springfield Sunday Republican, October 22, 1989, Gless confessed her fear at this new experience of performing live on stage.

“I go to sleep with my heart pounding. I wake up with my heart pounding.”

The play was Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine”, directed by Eric Hill as part of StageWest’s 23rd season (for most of its existence, StageWest had been located in West Springfield, Mass.)

Gless played Sarah Müller, the role those more familiar with the 1943 film version was played by Bette Davis. Jan Triska played her husband Kurt, the Nazi hunter, and the venerable Academy Award-winning actress, Kim Hunter, played her formidable mother. Kent Broadhurst was the villainous informer Teck, and fans of 1960s daytime television would recognize Jacqueline Betrand as Anise, companion to Kim Hunter’s matriarch.

The intense drawing room drama was well suited to the intimate theater. One minor point worth noting is that perhaps one trick that kept the flow of the serious mood through the scene breaks and intermission was the use of stagehands dressed as household servants. Rather than scrambling in the half light (or dark) to strike props, the lights remained up, and “the maid” or “the butler” would stroll casually to retrieve or place whatever was necessary for the next scene.

Sharon Gless need not have been so terrified. “This is not fun yet” she replied in Sokol’s article during rehearsal. Her performance, and the play, was well done, a play that reflected America’s crisis of conscience in the days before World War II, and remains a timeless study of the risks both of ignoring political social forces, and the consequences of standing firm among them.


  1. I enjoyed this look back -- I was unaware Gless had done stage work. I've enjoyed her TV work going back to very early in her career.

    A few years ago we were in the Orlando airport waiting to fly home from Disney World when I heard an unmistakable voice behind me having a phone conversation. It was Sharon Gless, who flew back to L.A. on the same plane. Unlike us, she was in first class!

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks, Laura, and especially for sharing your Sharon Gless sighting. You're right, her voice is very distinctive. She was good in the play, and this was her first time on stage. I believe she's since done a bit of theatre in the West End, and some in the US. Perhaps she got over her early nervousness.