Jessica Hecht theatre roles we love
Ahead of the Tony Award-nominated actress's return to Broadway in Summer, 1976, look back on all the highlights from her prolific, decades-long stage career.
For some people, seeing Jessica Hecht summons the sitcom megahit Friends, in which she played Ross’s ex-wife’s girlfriend, Susan. While gaining primetime exposure on that show and other TV and film projects (like Breaking Bad), Hecht built a career in theatre.
Since making her stage debut more than three decades ago, the Tony Award-nominated and Obie-winning actress, who earned her undergraduate degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has worked on and off Broadway. Common in all her work: emotional transparency.
In her latest Broadway outing, Hecht joins Laura Linney in Summer, 1976, a new play about an unlikely friendship. Performances start in April – after she wraps a run in another new show, Letters From Max, off Broadway. In honor of Hecht's busy spring, look back at all her stage highlights.
Hecht made her Off-Broadway debut in this 1990 Shakespeare revival presented by Theatre for a New Audience. In the small but pivotal part of Bianca, she factored significantly in Iago’s plan to undo Othello.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Busy with screen roles, Hecht was away from the stage during much of the decade after Othello. But she returned for her Broadway debut in January 1997 in this Tony Award-winning Best Play by Alfred Uhry. Hecht played social misfit Lala Levy, who squabbles with her mother over their Jewish identity in this comedy that spins around a cotillion in 1939. Her castmates included Dana Ivey and Paul Rudd.
In Diana Son's 1998 play at The Public Theater, Hecht played Callie, a radio traffic reporter who shares a public kiss with teacher Sara (Sandra Oh) that sets off gay-bashing. A critic for Variety called Hecht "marvelously funny," adding that she "defines her character with blissfully weird vocal inflections, a swallowed punch line here, a deadpan remark there."
Arthur Miller dramas
In 2004, Roundabout Theatre Company mounted a revival of Miller's After the Fall, a drama that resembles the playwright’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Hecht did her homework to play Louise, the first ex-wife of a lawyer. She read the author’s memoir Timebends, talked with the playwright, and interviewed Miller’s granddaughter for insights about the real Louise. The production, staged by Funny Girl director Michael Mayer, starred Peter Krause and Carla Gugino.
In 2010 it was Miller time again for Hecht, this time in A View From the Bridge on Broadway. She earned a Tony nomination for playing Beatrice, the wife of Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Liev Schreiber), who becomes obsessed with Beatrice's niece, Catherine (Scarlett Johansson).
Finally, Hecht starred with Tony Shalhoub, Mark Ruffalo, and Danny DeVito in Roundabout’s 2017 revival of The Price, Miller’s story of complicated family legacies.
Hecht flexed her classical chops again as Portia, the proud wife of the conspiratorial Brutus, whose portrayal by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington turned this 2005 Broadway revival into a big event. Daniel Sullivan directed the production. He later guided Hecht’s performance as Regan in King Lear at the Delacorte Theater in 2014, and he again directs her in Summer, 1976.
Hecht has played many serious roles, but she got to lighten up in this 2012 Roundabout revival, which starred Jim Parsons as a man whose BFF is an invisible rabbit. The New York Times cheered Hecht’s “unexpected gifts for physical comedy.”
The Assembled Parties
In 2013, Hecht played an ex-actress with a wealthy husband in Richard Greenberg’s time-leaping play about a New York City Jewish family confronting changes. New York Theatre Guide praised Hecht for a projecting air of “elegance… that pulls the entire story together.”
Seven years earlier, Hecht had earned kudos for playing a woman whose marriage was imploding in Greenberg’s Off-Broadway drama The House in Town, presented by Lincoln Center Theater.
Fiddler on the Roof
“Do You Love Me?” In this 2015 revival of the classic musical, Hecht sang that as Golde, the no-nonsense wife of milkman Tevye, then played by Tony winner Danny Burstein. Calling her “a perfect foil,” New York Theatre Guide found plenty to love about Hecht’s performance in the show by Joseph Bock, Jerry Stein, and Sheldon Harnick.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Hecht told Backstage she’s drawn to “interesting work with interesting people.” That statement applies beyond NYC stages. Hecht has acted in 11 productions at this annual Massachusetts festival, including A Streetcar Named Desire as Blanche in 2011, opposite Sam Rockwell as Stanley. She also starred in Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy The Closet in 2018.
Hecht won an Obie Award for her work in this 2018 button-pusher by Joshua Harmon. She played Sherri, a well-to-do prep school admissions officer. Her character rethinks her stance on diversity when her son gets waitlisted at his first-choice Ivy League university, but his biracial friend gets accepted.
Letters From Max
In this adaptation of a book by Sarah Ruhl and poet Max Ritvo, now on stage with Signature Theatre, Hecht plays the playwright. Letters From Max recounts Ruhl’s friendship with Ritvo, a former student who died in 2016 at age 25, through their correspondence about illness, grief, and poetry.
Hecht reunites with Ben Edelman, who alternates in the role of Ritvo with Zane Pais. Edelman previously played Hecht's teenage son in Admissions.
Hecht joins fellow stage veteran Laura Linney for Pulitzer-winning Proof author David Auburn's new play about an odd-couple friendship, launching in April under the direction of Daniel Sullivan. Hecht plays naive Alice, and Linney plays rebellious Diana. To find out how their bond evolves, get tickets to see the celebrated actresses on stage together for the first time.
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