Growing up in Michigan, there was always that little spark in her when it came to performing. But Jessica Cummings said she preferred concentrating on athletics instead.
“That was until I got to high school and my drama teacher saw more in me than I did,” said 27-year-old Cummings, who is appearing as Roxanne in the Arden Theatre Company’s mainstage production of Cyrano, continuing through April 15.
“He would cast me in plays even though I couldn’t always make it to rehearsals,” Cummings continued. “His belief in my abilities was so strong that once I decided to go to Northwestern University, I wound up double majoring in political science and theater. “
And, it seems, eventually theater won out, because as soon as she graduated from college, Cummings headed straight to New York to figure out the best way to make a name for herself. And that’s exactly when fate stepped in, she said.
“My first big break was an understudy role on Broadway in Crimes of the Heart at the Roundabout Theatre Company,” she said. ‘For me, coming so soon after moving to New York was almost like trial by fire, but I loved it. I remember coming home straight from the theater and calling my parents right away. They weren’t home and so I left a message on their machine saying that this was the best job in the whole world and it’s definitely the right thing for me to be doing.”
As time went on, Cummings was able to do even more jobs that made her heart sing, including Broadway’s The Seagull, regional productions of Leveling Up, The Dream of the Burning Boy, Laws of Motion and much more. Today, her role in Cyrano marks her debut at the Arden and her first time ever performing in Philadelphia.
Edmond Rostawnd’s Cyrano is a new version translated by Michael Hollinger, co-adapted with director Aaron Posner. The classic French love story, re-imagined for an American audience, centers around the most legendary nose in literature. Will Roxanne fall for Christian’s dashing good looks or Cyrano’s daring poetry in this play filled with wordplay and swordplay that’s been an inspiration to writers and lovers for centuries?
Cummings explained that bringing Roxanne to life meant developing her character from the inside out.
“She’s strong and everyone wants her. But in order to make her real, I had to develop a back story for her,” said the actress. “In a sense, she’s larger than life, and so the risk can be that she becomes two dimensional and unbelievable. I had to figure out a way to get around that.”
That, she said, was just one of the challenges she had to face in doing this role.
“Another was, because I have been living in a contemporary world mainly in terms of the theater and the works I’ve been doing, I had to embrace the language and learn to love every single word I had to say. But I’ve managed to do just that and now truly love the role,” she said.
Some of Cummings’ other appearances have been on television and film, including The Big C and Law & Order: CI. “However,” she said, “TV and film are entirely different art forms. I enjoy them but I do enjoy theater more. But I love doing film and TV work simply for the luxury they afford me to then be able to continue to work in the theater.”
Married to a writer, Cummings said she hasn’t anything specific lined up at the moment, although her husband will go to Canada to shoot a new film and she’ll probably go along with him.
“When we come back, I’ll probably hit the ground running,” she said. “And some years from now I hope to have started a family and be working as much as I’d like to. I want it all, and I don’t see why I can’t have it.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-922-1122.