The 67-year-old Tony Award-winning actress said in an interview at the Booth Theatre a few hours before Friday's show time that she hopes she can reclaim her part in "Other Desert Cities" despite swelling and pain. Recovery time after surgery for such injuries is usually at least two weeks - and that's for professional athletes.
"Obviously, I'm not out here playing football. I'm just out here walking around in high heels. So blame it on the Manolos," Channing joked.
Dressed in a black shirt and sneakers, the actress rolled up the leg on her sweat pants to reveal two small bandages around her right knee and very little swelling. She's been using crutches and a wheelchair.
"This is maybe stupid. I don't know. But if it doesn't blow up or get painful, I'm doing the right thing," she says. "I think I will be OK. I hope it will be OK."
The Jon Robin Baitz play, about a wealthy, dysfunctional family wrestling with a deep secret, opened Nov. 3. Channing felt her knee collapse backstage after the Nov. 18 evening show and missed seven performances. She underwent surgery on Monday afternoon and is taking an anti-inflammatory drug. She is also routinely icing the injury and sitting with her legs elevated.
Producers are trying to accommodate Channing by supplying her with shoes with a smaller heel on stage, slightly changing some scenes so she won't have to move around as much, and ferrying her between acts in a wheelchair. She hopes those measures will only last a few weeks but expects to miss some matinees because she doesn't want to perform twice in one day.
The play also features Stacy Keach, Judith Light, Thomas Sadoski and Rachel Griffiths in her Broadway debut. It is directed by Joe Mantello. During the performances she missed, Channing was replaced by an understudy.
Channing has been a fixture on stage, TV and film since making her debut as an undergrad in a Harvard University production of "The Threepenny Opera." She first hit Broadway in 1971 in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and her early film credits include the 1978 movie version of "Grease," in which she played bad girl Rizzo.
She won the 1985 Tony for her role in "Joe Egg," and went on to act in "Six Degrees of Separation" on stage and in the film version, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She is perhaps best known for her role as the first lady on the former NBC series "The West Wing," where she spent time in a wheelchair after breaking her left ankle.
She was last on Broadway in the 2008 update of the Richard Rogers-Lorenz Hart musical "Pal Joey" and sang a beautiful rendition of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."
"Other Desert Cities" won rave reviews this fall when it was off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater. It won the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding off-Broadway play and was nominated for multiple Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Awards.
Channing stayed with the play when it jumped to Broadway and is at her droll best, looking glamorous and shooting off one-liners, like this one to her son: "It's all or nothing with your generation. Either vegans or meth addicts or both at the same time." In one scene, she boasts that she's just beaten her 40-year-old daughter at tennis - a line that now has a new twist.