Jessica Wortham ’99 lauded by NYT critic for lead role in “Henry VIII”
Actress Jessica Wortham ’99 has a new clipping to add to her a portfolio. And the New York Times review of her recent lead role as Queen Katherine in William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII gushes with delight over her performance.
“Contrasting with Henry’s spontaneity is the restraint that Jessica Wortham’s regal Katherine painfully fights to maintain over her wounded feelings,” writes Times theater critic Michael Sommers.
“When Katherine indignantly blazes up at Wolsely during her divorce trial and later bids her deathbed farewells,” Sommers continues, “the pent-up emotion that Ms. Wortham expresses runs deep.”
It’s been a long road from her days at Centre College to an apprenticeship with the Actors Theatre of Louisville and her recent completion of an M.F.A. at Brown University. But the stops in between in regional theatre, Off-Broadway and even a role on the F/X series “The Americans” have been nothing short of exhilarating.
“What’s been most important to me about this role and production is a return to doing classical work and doing that with this company,” Wortham says. “The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey has a company of actors they like to use again and again, and I hope after this production I will find myself among them.”
If other critics have anything to do with this possibility, Wortham’s a shoo-in.
“Wortham so dominates the stage, physically and emotionally, that she takes one’s breath away!” (NJ Arts Maven); “Jessica Wortham’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. She brilliantly displays the fiery anger of the faithful wife.” (NJ Footlights).
Leading up to her success on the Shakespeare stage, her story of becoming a professional actress is one deeply rooted in the liberal arts experience. In fact, Wortham credits Centre College for giving her a “fantastic broad-base knowledge of every aspect of the theatre.”
“I began as an English and music major and took [Charles T. Hazelrigg Professor of Dramatic Arts] Patrick Kagan-Moore’s introduction to acting class as an elective during Spring term my first year,” Wortham says. “I was captivated. By the end of my sophomore year I had done a MainStage show with Patrick, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ and was so immersed in the department, it felt like home.”
Ultimately, Wortham picked up a dramatic arts major, and during her senior year, followed her advisor Kagan-Moore’s advice to pursue an acting apprenticeship with Actors Theatre of Louisville. This experience, paired with much encouragement from Kagan-Moore, Professor of Dramatic Arts Tony Haigh and Professor of Dramatic Arts Matthew Hallock to follow her theatrical ambitions after graduation, set the stage for her success as a professional actress.
“Jessi was, in many ways, the quintessential Centre student,” Hallock says. “She fully engaged in the liberal arts approach we take to studying drama—she was serious about acting but was an equally dedicated and strong student in theatre history and dramatic literature. She even designed the scenery for a MainStage production in her junior year. In addition, she was a strong student in English and music.
“She really embodies the best of what we do,” Hallock continues. “She is broadly curious, dedicated to her passions and values the richness of the liberal arts experience.”
As Wortham continues along a career path that has garnered many positive reviews and rewards, she acknowledges there’s always a certain pull to return to Centre.
“We have been fortunate to have her come back and work with students a few times,” Hallock says. “She taught a CentreTerm course on Physical Acting in Verse and has always made herself available to talk with students when she’s been working up the road at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. We’re extremely proud and pleased to have her among the ranks of our accomplished alumni.”
by Cindy Long
Above: Jessica Wortham ’99 portrays Katherine, Queen of England in Henry VIII. (Photo by Jerry Dalia)