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Real Moral Courage, an Interview With Tandy Cronyn

Tandy Cronyn was born in Los Angeles, raised in New York, and made her professional acting debut in Montreal. She made her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles in the original production of “Cabaret.” Off Broadway, she performed in the Mint Theater’s revival of “The Return of the Prodigal” (which earned a Drama Desk nomination for Best Revival), “Universal Robots,” Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “The Killing of Sister George,” “A Shayna Maidel,” and “Old Familiar Faces” at the 2013 Fringe Festival, which earned her a nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role from the NYIT Awards. She has toured nationally in A. R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” Mary Chase’s “Harvey,” and the Stephen Sondheim musical, “Company.” Ms. Cronyn has performed major classical and contemporary roles in theatres across North America, notably Hartford Stage, Barrington Stage Company, Yale Repertory Theatre, Cleveland Play House, San Diego’s Old Globe and the Denver Center Theater Company. She portrayed Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst” at Missouri Rep, Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Stratford Festival in Canada, and Vivian Bearing in “Wit” for PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC, Chapel Hill, where she also performed in productions of “Waiting for Godot,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “Hamlet,” “Richard II,” and the American premiere of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by Simon Bent. Over the years her work has covered a wide spectrum of styles and playwrights, including Edward Albee, Jean Anouilh, Alan Ayckbourn, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Noël Coward, Brian Friel, A. R. Gurney, Lillian Hellman, Henrik Ibsen, Donald Margulies, Martin McDonagh, Molière, Eugene O’Neill, Neil Simon, Shakespeare, G. B. Shaw, Michel Tremblay, Oscar Wilde and Thornton Wilder. She recorded numerous audiobooks, notably “Foreign Bodies” by Cynthia Ozick, and two volumes of Ursula K. Le Guin’s short stories, “The Unreal and the Real.” In 2014 Ms. Cronyn presented her solo show, “The Tall Boy,” at the United Solo Theatre Festival at Theatre Row in New York City, where it won the award for Best Adaptation. She returns this year in THE BEST OF category. She serves as Artistic Director of, a website featuring great poems read by distinguished actors. Alex Miller: It must have been quite a challenge to prepare for this play. Do you find many parallels between Germany during World War II, where the play is set, and today’s America? Tandy Cronyn: There are striking parallels between American racism then and now, as well as our attitudes towards refugees and immigration. Of course, the refugee problem in the aftermath of World War II was enormous compared to now, but the fear and insularity are, I think, universal phenomena. Which of the characters in the play do you most identify with, and why? I play a middle‑aged American relief worker and three teenaged European boys. I’ve always considered myself a character actress and sometimes, the role that seems the farthest away from me turns out to be one I inhabit best. The American woman who narrates the story was the hardest for me to come to grips with. The little Italian boy and the Polish delinquent kid were easier for me. What was the hardest scene for you to perform, the one that stayed in your mind the longest because of how it affected your senses? There is a scene towards the end of the play between the American relief worker and the tall boy (a fifteen- or sixteen‑year‑old Czech) in which the relief worker tries to explain American racial attitudes to the Czech boy, who idolizes the black American GI who has become his surrogate father. I have to play both parts with diametrically opposed points of view and feelings in a heated scene with rapid back‑and‑forth dialogue. It’s very challenging. What do you think is the primary insight audiences should take from the play, regarding how we treat each other as humans? The resilience of children, considering their vulnerability, is amazing. Also, their adaptability. It’s remarkable, in “The Tall Boy,” how American GIs imprinted themselves on the orphans who became GI mascots. At the end of the tall boy’s story, it’s this young orphan who shows real moral courage. Do you have any new performances in the works that we should be looking out for soon? I have been involved for years with a playwrights’ group called Writers@LargeNYC. One member of the group, Bill McMahon, is writing a solo show for me about Nancy Pelosi – we have a first draft. The Tall Boy Written by Simon Bent Performed by Tandy Cronyn Directed by David Hammond Saturday, Sept 28th at 2PM Photo credit: courtesy of the production United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row New York City


ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.


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