When you bake a cake, what accessories do you wear? If you’re a jewelry obsessive like Debra Messing, you might reach for an Elsa Peretti vintage cuff or turquoise Silvia Furmanovich earrings. But this spring, for her return to Broadway in Noah Haidle’s Birthday Candles, the actress will have to forgo gemstones and rely just on voice, expression, and body movement to bring her character to life.
The play follows a woman, Ernestine Ashworth, who bakes the same birthday cake year after year, a custom that keeps the memory of her loved ones alive and marks the passage of time in her life. Messing is onstage the entire time, and Ernestine ages almost 90 years without any external transformation.
“When I’m on a TV show I try to finagle a reason for my character to like jewelry,” says Messing, who collects Sabba, Nikos Koulis, David Webb, and vintage Van Cleef, among other jewelers. “But here I play a woman who is baking all the time, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to say, ‘Can I wear a cocktail ring?’ ”
Still, she imagines that if Ernestine did share her passion for jewelry, she might wear an antique piece that honors her past, perhaps a locket passed down over generations. After all, wearing jewelry is a powerful and personal ritual for Messing, who developed a love of stones early on (her father was in the business) and spent part of her first big acting paycheck on a garnet ring.
Even without the opportunity to wear brilliant gems, Messing was drawn to Birthday Candles for the way it explored what it means to build a life, and how simple, repeated pleasures sustain us. “There’s such a beautiful, lyrical quality to the world in which Ernestine lives,” Messing says. “When I read the script, it felt like a gift to me and a gift to the audience.”
As for what Messing will wear to opening night, she doesn’t know yet, but you can bet she’ll be adorned with something much more dazzling than flour.
Debra Messing stars in Birthday Candles, which will open at the American Airlines Theatre in NYC in the fall. Messing wears Belperron gold and diamond corne ear clips ($76,500), belperron.com; Munnu the Gem Palace diamond lotus ring with enamel in platinum, munnuthegempalace.com; Verdura black jade, gold, and white topaz five stone cuff ($35,500), verdura.com; Dolce & Gabbana Sheer silk organza tie-neck blouse ($975), saks.com. Photographed by Victoria Stevens and styled by Ryan Young. Hair by Serge Normant for Serge Normant HairCare at Statement Artists. Makeup by Gita Bass for Dior Beauty at the Wall Group. Nails by Bethany Newell for Bethany Newell.
This story will appear in the May 2020 of Town & Country. Subscribe now.
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