Sharon Gless no 'Prisoner' of work

Published March 19, 2006

It's not easy being Sharon Gless.

She called last week from Los Angeles, where she had just finished touring with a play called The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial. After the show she was flying to Maine, where she'd start a new role, in the LA Theater Works production of Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

Almost the entire tour - which comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday - consists of one-nighters. It's exhausting, she admits. But if the worst complaint an actor can muster is that she's working too hard, Gless says, she really can't complain at all.

Talking about The Prisoner of Second Avenue, she sounded more enthusiastic than weary.

"It's a staged radio play,'' Gless said in that familiar, husky-but-bright voice. "It's going to be recorded for posterity and the audience will be on the recordings. There are these high-tech microphones placed all over the stage. We have to find ways - ways that make sense - to move from one microphone to the other. You've never seen anything like it. You're gonna love it, you'll see.''

Gless, 62, is best known for her Emmy-winning role as the blond half of the 1982-88 TV series Cagney and Lacey, but she has been working steadily on stage and in television for more than 35 years. She has been a regular on hit series going back to Marcus Welby, M.D. in the mid 1970s and as recent as Queer as Folk. Now she lives in Miami with her husband, Barney Rosenzweig, who was the executive producer of Cagney and Lacey."Next year is the 25th anniversary of Cagney and Lacey,'' Gless said. "There's going to be a DVD, and Barney's written a book called Cagney and Lacey and Me, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde."

Even though Gless has kept busy with television work, she has also found time to work with LA Theater Works, a nonprofit best known for radio plays broadcast on NPR.

Most of the time, she performs in Los Angeles with the group in traditional radio plays, with actors simply standing in front of microphones. The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial and The Prisoner of Second Avenue are among the company's first tours, employing minimal sets but more movement than in the radio plays.In Prisoner, she co-stars with Richard Masur - another actor who has kept busy for decades on TV and who, by the way, had a role on Cagney and Lacey back in 1982.

The play revolves around a couple, already feeling the strain of New York City living, who are pushed to the brink when the husband loses his job. Gless says it's one of Neil Simon's most substantial plays, with a theme that recalls Death of a Salesman, but it's also one of his funniest.

It's also demanding for an actor, she said.

"I've only had two rehearsals, one by myself and one with Richard,'' she said. "With Tennessee Monkey Trial they wanted us off-script, but Neil Simon is so quick that if you miss a single cue the whole thing can fall apart.

"So we'll be using scripts during the performance. It's really different from what people are used to, but they love it.''