Terrible news arrived in the spring of 2011. Jo Lynne Palmer, one of Memphis' most dedicated actresses had suffered a stroke on opening night of The Fantasticks. Palmer was taking on the role of Henry, the old actor who asks only to be remembered in light. It's a traditionally male role and a part she'd wanted to play for 30 years.
Much better news arrives when Distance, the new play by Voices of the South playwright Jerre Dye opens this week at TheatreSouth. Palmer, who made a strong recovery and has been staying in the light as much as possible, takes center stage in a pivotal role created especially for her.
"Since my stroke, I like to act as much as I can," Palmer says. "I like to go from show to show to show. Any part. I'll be a spear carrier in the back, if that's what they need me to do."
Distance, a play about illness, memory, identity, and relationships, opens days after Chicago's Jeff Awards, where the latest iteration of Cicada, a play Dye developed in Memphis, was nominated in two categories, including a supporting actress nod for Palmer's Distance co-star Cecelia Wingate.
"I love working with Cecelia," Palmer says, "And hope to work for her someday because she's a wonderful director."
In Distance, Palmer plays Alzheimer's victim Irene Radford, a troubled planet drifting "further and further away from the small universe of people who inhabit her world."
Nobody has written for Palmer before. "There are plenty of roles I've loved doing," she says, naming a few, lingering a bit over her performance as a determined Texas matriarch in The Trip to Bountiful. "But this is a first. I'm glad Jerre wrote this wonderful play and thought of me. I hope I do him proud."
Distance at TheatreSouth through November 3rd, $23. www.voicesofthesouth.org