Monday, April 29, 2013

Taming Thurber's Top Girls

I have been involved with at least three plays starting with the letter "T", or at least having one of the main words in the title starting with that letter.

The first was "Top Girls", a play by Caryl Churchill, is about a woman who chooses to pursue career success instead of family life.  Due to being produced at Westminster College of SLC, which is a relatively small institution in Utah, and the abundance of characters in this play, most of the actresses portrayed multiple characters, including me.  I played Dull Gret, a character actually from a painting by Pieter Breughil, of a woman dressed in armor and wielding household weapons.  At a 'dinner' featuring the main character and several from throughout some revisionist history, Dull Gret speaks coarsely and steals from other people's plates.  My mother called the actress that played the female Pope "the Pope" each time she saw her afterwards.  The second character I played was Joyce, the main character's sister and the one who raised her sister's illegitimate daughter.  The young woman who played the daughter (who also had played the Pope), took to calling me "Auntie-Mum".  And the last character I played was "Louise", a middle-aged woman returning to the workforce, interviewing for a job with the main character, a woman much younger than she.

My second "T" play was "A Thurber Carnival", by James Thurber.  The play was directed by David Dean, who had also directed the production of Beckett's "Happy Days" in which I played Winnie.  I remember dancing across the stage from stage left to right, running around through the shop to dance across the stage again in the same direction as before.  I got an extra line from another in the ensemble cast because the actor would not alter his "gosh darn" to the other phrase that was actually in the script;  I had no such compunctions those twenty years ago.  The two scenes I actually remember was playing someone's aging mother, who comically misunderstood practically everything her son wrote her in a letter.  The bonus was that you got to see the son's increasingly exasperated reactions in the background.  After leaving the stage in that scene, I was in the next one as well, playing a woman whose husband was trying to get rid of her because he wanted to make some time with a sweet young thing.  My costume change consisted of taking off a cardigan and rolling my shirt sleeves up.  (Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing, isn't it?)  All I had to do was step on stage and  the crowd erupted in laughter.  I like to think it is because the persona was so different from the previous character.  What was faltering physical and mental health became physical strength and strength of purpose - with a shovel.

The last "T" play was Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew".  But given the overwhelming ratio of female to male actors at a small college, the director (who was the professor who replaced the original professor who had one too many lapses in her battle with drugs) had an interesting idea:  have women play the male roles and the men play the female roles.  There was also a little "pre-play" added where the men were all drunk, hence the necessity of reversing the gender roles.  So I played Gremio, the older suitor of Kate's younger sister, Bianca.

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