Sarah Paulson theatre roles we love

The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress is back on Broadway after 13 years in Appropriate, so it's an appropriate time to look back at her diverse resume.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Sarah Paulson’s screen roles made her a household face and name. Nine seasons of the creepy-crawly American Horror Story achieved that effect, as did her Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning portrait of prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.

But Paulson’s acting career began on stage nearly 30 years ago, and she's made multiple returns in between, citing a love for "the collaborative component" of theatre. "You can do a movie with an actor you never see, and that's not the case with a play," Paulson told New York Theatre Guide. "You are having this experience together, and it's so special."

She made her Broadway debut in 1994 in The Sisters Rosensweig, a comedy set at a family reunion. In her latest return to Broadway, Paulson heads the cast of another family-reunion play: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's twisty drama Appropriate at the Hayes Theater.

"The last two theatre experiences I had were two-handers — with Linda Lavin and Danny Burstein," Paulson said. "I haven't done a show with a company of actors in over a decade."

In her career, she's appeared in plays of all sizes with even more high-profile co-stars. Find out more about the highlights of Paulson’s stage career, in chronological order, below.

Get Appropriate tickets now.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

The Sisters Rosensweig

Not long out of high school, Paulson launched her Broadway career in 1994 in Wendy Wasserstein’s play, understudying the role of cynical teen Tess Goode. She eventually took over the part, acting opposite Linda Lavin, who played her aunt, and Michael Learned, as her mom.

Talking Pictures

The arrival of movies with sound sends ripples through the community of fictional Harrison, Texas in Horton Foote’s play, set in 1929. Paulson played Vesta Jackson, a young woman with a snooty streak, in this 1994 Off-Broadway production.

Killer Joe

In 1998, Paulson played Dottie, a young woman caught up in the dangerous drama of her trailer-park family. A pre-August: Osage County Tracy Letts showed his (very) dark side when he wrote this contemporary tale of drugs, a hit-for-hire, and a dehumanizing bargain.

glass menagerie paulson-1200x600-NYTG

The Glass Menagerie

In this 2005 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ classic portrait of family dysfunction, Paulson played the shy, infirm Laura Wingfield, one of the juiciest roles a young actress can get.

Jessica Lange, her future American Horror Story co-star, played Laura's mother, Amanda. Coincidentally, Lange also returns to Broadway this season in Mother Play, the spring production at the Hayes.

colder than here paulson-1200x600-NYTG

Colder Than Here

The Grim Reaper looms in British playwright Laura Wade’s work about a dying matriarch (Judith Light) seen off Broadway in 2005. The New York Times hailed Paulson, as dutiful daughter Harriet, for her “fine portrait of an inwardly suffering young woman gently unraveling.”

crimes of the heart paulson-1200x600-NYTG

Crimes of the Heart

Paulson played Meg, a failed singer and the emotionally detached middle sibling, in this 2008 Off-Broadway run of Beth Henley’s 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy about three sisters who reunite following a shooting incident. (Lange played Meg in the 1987 movie version.) New York Theatre Guide called Paulson’s work “vivid.”

still life paulson-1200x600-NYTG

Still Life

Paulson played Carrie Ann, a photographer moved to inaction by her dad’s death, in Alexander Dinelaris’s drama about love loss and memory that ran off Broadway in 2009 – five years before the playwright won an Oscar for the screenplay of Birdman. The New York Times review credited Paulson’s “off-kilter charm, sunny but edged in apprehension,” as both her and the show’s assets.

collected stories paulson-1200x600-NYTG

Collected Stories

Paulson reunited with Lavin in this 2010 Broadway production of Donald Margulies’s two-hander about the intricate, if not insidious, relationship between a celebrated author and her ambitious young protege. In a story of morals and mentorship, “Paulson treads the tightrope with a fine sense of balance,” wrote New York Theatre Guide’s reviewer.

talleys folly paulson-1200x600-NYTG

Talley’s Folly

Paulson starred with Danny Burstein in this 2013 Off-Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It's a two-character valentine to unlikely love that just might beat the odds – along with societal prejudices and personal insecurities. New York Theatre Guide's critic cheered that Paulson “arrives at a sort of state of grace that is beguiling.”


Paulson returns to the stage in Pulitzer Prize finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s provocative play. Relatives reunite to settle their deceased father’s estate, but they find themselves totally unsettled.

Paulson plays Toni, who expects the gathering to be a cordial one — and then secrets, racial tensions, and a disturbing blast from the past turn it upside down. The cast also includes Elle Fanning, Corey Stoll, Michael Esper, and more.

Get Appropriate tickets now.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Gillian Russo contributed reporting to this story.

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy