Kathleen Turner finding a whole new voice through her one-woman, cabaret-style show
The actress is taking on another strong role — herself — in the one-woman show “Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice,” which plays the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place on Friday and Saturday.
Kathleen Turner has made a career out of playing strong women.
From her career-igniting turn as the sultry Matty Walker in the 1980 cult classic film “Body Heat” to the domineering and bitter Martha in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the driven Maggie in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (both on Broadway), Turner says she relishes every moment she got to step into their psyches. And then there was that turn as the lonely, middle-aged Mrs. Robinson in the London and Broadway stage versions of “The Graduate,” which she punctuated by appearing nude in filmdom’s most famous seduction scene.
“They are all very different women, but similar on some levels,” Turner says during a recent chat. “There’s definitely common ground for all these women. There’s anger. Or a rage, which I will own up to very seriously. I’ve always had it.”
‘Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice’
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15-16
Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
She also performed the title role in the one-woman show “Tallulah,” based on the life of the legendary movie and stage star Tallulah Bankhead (who possessed a very Turner-like, fabulously husky voice) in Chicago.
“Another great woman,” Turner says with a chuckle. “They all have this great rage in common.”
But that’s not to say the 65-year-old Turner is all fire and brimstone.
“That’s the other thing. I can’t help looking for the humor in everything. I love making people laugh. And I love laughing.” Her turn as Chandler Bing’s father-turned-Las Vegas drag queen on the TV series “Friends” elicited a lot of laughter, though Turner freely admits it was not as much fun working on the show as she assumed it would be. “Let’s just say they were very tight-knit,” she says wryly.
Turner was Hollywood’s “It” girl throughout the 1980s and describes the decade as “amazing.”
Movie fans found her onscreen credentials irresistible, from the aforementioned sizzler that was “Body Heat,” to “Romancing the Stone” (1984), “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “The War of the Roses” (1989) and “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), for which she earned a best actress Oscar nomination.
“We broke new ground [with ‘Body Heat’],” she says. “In ‘Romancing the Stone’ I was the first [blockbuster] female adventuress. In ‘Peggy Sue’ it was the first time [Francis Ford] Coppola had a female lead. And I loved ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ with [director] John Huston.
“I loved those very physically demanding roles,” she continues, adding that she did many of her own stunts — “well, as many as they would allow me to do for insurance reasons. They wouldn’t let me swing across the gorge [in ‘Romancing the Stone’].” But that’s really her leaping onto the chandelier in “The War of the Roses.”
Turner is currently taking on the role of another strong woman — herself — in the one-woman show, “Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice,” which plays the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place on Friday and Saturday. A combination of anecdotes and song, the show, Turner says, is one of the most exciting challenges in her career.
“This show is two-thirds storytelling and one-third singing songs. I use the songs as sort of closeup of the story. To reiterate the heart,the intentions of the story,” she explains.
She won’t reveal too much about the production in which she delivers anecdotes and sings (“it’s not all show tunes!”), saying only it’s all about the stages in her life, from starting out on soaps (“The Doctors” in the late 1970s) to living in New York to being on the road for long stretches of stage work. And of course, the films.
Turner admits singing was never of interest to her untilshe was tapped to star in the gritty revival of “Mother Courage and Her Children” at Washington, D.C.’s, Arena Stage theater in 2014. It was the first time she sang on the professional stage. It changed everything.
“Once I tried it, I found I really liked it,” she says in that famously deep, instantly familiar voice. “I’ve always known I’ve had perfect pitch — in terms of dialogue. Words have certain pitches, like notes,” says Turner, who in a 2018 interview with “Good Morning America” quipped: “I’m one of seven women who can sing ‘Old Man River’ in the original key.”
“This is a whole new [journey] for me. I’ve never really explored this part of my talent and I’m finding it extremely pleasurable. It’s a new way to communicate with people.”
In 1993, Turner’s career came to a temporary abrupt halt after a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis — and subsequent treatment with steroids to combat severe pain caused swelling, weight gain and facial puffiness. It was the medications, she says, and her struggle with alcoholism that she openly recounted in her 2018 book, “Kathleen Turner on Acting: Conversations about Film, Television, and Theater.”
“I was really an athlete and had always been a very physical actress. At that time the only real effective medication was [the oral steroid] Prednisone, andthatdoes awful things to yourbody.” In her book she revealedthe booze controlled her pain better than painkillers. She went to rehab and attended Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, all the time fearing she might never be able to act again due to the physical and emotional effects of the arthritis, for which she points out “there is no cure.”
Her guest appearances on “Friends” drove her back to the mainstream in a big way, as did films such as Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” and even the John Waters campy vehicle “Serial Mom,” a film choice for which she took great heat, but a project she holds among her most favorite.
Turner can currently be seen as Michael Douglas’ ex-wife on the Netflix series “The Kominsky Method” and in the upcoming Dolly Parton anthology web series “Heartstrings” in which she plays a character named “Old Bones.” “I have five layers of age makeup on and body padding and an endless white wig that goes down to my knees. I had a ball. I learned how to milk a goat and shoot a shotgun. These are life skills, man,” she says with a throaty chuckle.
But nothing compares to her solo show, she says, which finds her perhaps at her most vulnerable on stage.
“It’s a very different feeling from a scripted role,” Turner says. “It’s a very different feeling, not playing a character. I’m presenting myself. But I’m good with that because I really like me. [Laughs] I think I’m a really nice person.”