Mare Winningham: still winning, but she’ll have to pass on the ham


Sometimes when TV series kill off characters, I’m sad not because I’ll miss the character, but because I’ll miss seeing the actor. That’s how I felt when Susan Grey died on Grey’s Anatomy. Susan was alternately endearing and annoying, but killing Mare Winningham? I don’t blame Thatcher — I wanted to slap somebody, too.

The news that Winningham will guest star on Boston Legal this season cheered me up a little. The two-time Emmy winner is slated to play Patrice Kelly, a grieving mother who kills her daughter’s murderer and asks Alan Shore (James Spader) to defend her. Maybe that will keep her around for at least few episodes. Winningham’s role, by the way, is the latest of several notable casting announcements from Boston Legal, including the addition of Gail O’ Grady, John Larroquette and (trumpet fanfare) Saffron Burrows in recurring roles.

I probably shouldn’t worry about seeing Winningham. She’s been on screen consistently since her debut in 1976 on The Gong Show — she didn’t get gonged — and IMDb lists 74 TV and movie roles. At least one is a classic.

I didn’t realize, though, that Winningham is also a talented musician. In fact, right after Grey’s wrapped, she began rehearsals for 10 Million Miles, a folk-rock musical in which she played multiple roles. Skipp Sudduth of Third Watch co-starred and Patty Griffin wrote the score. Winningham’s performance was a highlight of the show. The New York Times called her a “revelation.”

With three albums to her credit, Winningham has been compared to Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Her latest recording, Refuge Rock Sublime, might just be a whole new genre — “Jewgrass.” If you can’t quite imagine that — and trust me, I couldn’t — listen to “Valley of the Dry Bones” here and sample other songs here. Jewgrass, right? I can almost see Tevye dancing the jig in Appalachia. The CD celebrates Winningham’s conversion to Judaism in 2003.

Thanks to Refuge Rock Sublime, Mare Winningham made her New York nightclub debut in June. She introduced Jewgrass to the Eureka Springs Bluegrass Festival a few weeks ago, where she performed during the Sunday Gospel show. If anyone happened to be there, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Needless to say, Mare Winningham is one busy woman. I can’t wait to see what she does next. How about you? Are you a Mare fan? What do you think of Jewgrass? And aren’t you glad she didn’t get gonged?

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