Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Casting a Family "Holiday"

November 28, 2011

by Anne Keefe
Artistic Advisor

Very often we in the theatre talk about a ‘theatre family.’  Sometimes that refers to the instant bond a cast makes in the course of putting together a show, sometimes we mean the larger community of actors, designers, technicians and administrators who struggle together to make a living making art.  I’m honored to be a part of the Playhouse family, but I think of the theatre community more as a circle.  If you stay in the business long enough, you will continue to run into so many of the same people over and over again.  I think the joy I feel when I make these reconnections is one of the nicest parts of this crazy business.
I first did Holiday at Long Wharf Theatre in 1982. Written by Philip Barry (also author of The Philadelphia Story), the play later inspired a film of the same name.  A beautiful actress named Jill Eikenberry was playing the role of ‘Julia Seton’ and she had just had a baby.  It was pretty unusual at that point in my career to know someone who had a baby.  It seemed so hard.  She commuted to New York, her son wasn’t sleeping through the night, and she was acting 8 shows in a 6 day week, while her husband, also an actor was the primary caregiver for Max.  I thought it was awesome – quite literally.  Before the run was over, I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter.  So Holiday is a potent title for me.  A couple of years later, I did a production of Paris Bound, also at Long Wharf, where the company really did form quite a family.  It was a lucky coming together of a group of people who genuinely liked each other onstage and off, and the friendships continue to this day. That’s where I came to know Jack Gilpin and his wife Annie McDonough, who have, by the way, both graced the Playhouse stage many times.  Not long after Paris Bound closed, they discovered they were pregnant and before long, Betty Gilpin was born.   For our upcoming Script in Hand playreading of Holiday, Jack and Betty will be playing father and daughter, and acting together for the first time.  I just love that!
When Joanne and I were into our second season here at the Playhouse, and panicking about what to do in our third, Paul Newman announced one day that “he thought he might be able to act the role of the ‘Stage Manager’ in Our Town.”  He did a little ‘audition’ for Joanne soon after in their living room, and she called me on the phone to say she thought he’d be pretty good. And damned if he wasn’t!  Jim Naughton, our director (talking of our theatre family) started auditioning for the key role of ‘Emily’ and we met Maggie Lacey.  She became our luminous ‘Emily’ here at the Playhouse and on Broadway, and we watched with pride as her career took off. She joined us for the Script in Hand playreading of Harvey, and last season, she appeared in our cast of Lips Together, Teeth Apart.  Just prior to coming back to the Playhouse last summer, she received terrific reviews for her work in Horton Foote’s The Orphan Home Cycle at Hartford and in New York.  That’s where she met her husband, Bill Heck.  They married in September, and will be playing the husband and wife team of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Potter’ in Holiday for the first time since becoming Mr. and Mrs. Heck! This tickles me to no end!
Westport is home to so many talented actors and actresses. Long before I came to the Playhouse, I knew the work of Ed and Dorothy Bryce, an acting couple with credits as long as your arm.  I would run into Dorothy at the Farmer’s Market, and she would speak with pride of her acting son, Scott Bryce.  When Scott married, I heard about his beautiful new wife, Jodi Stevens (who I had actually just seen on Broadway), and then of course when Jackson was born, about her beautiful grandson.  I came to know both Scott and Jodi.  We would run into each other on the train platform and gossip about the business.
I was so pleased that both of them could free up their schedules to join us as another married couple, playing a married couple (the ‘Seton Crams’) in Holiday.
Jordan Coughtry, who most recently made us laugh as ‘Sir Andrew Aguecheek’ in our beautiful production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, will be welcomed back into the Playhouse family fold as ‘Ned Seton.’  And back after only a month’s absence is Kieran Campion.  Joanne and I fell in love with him when we met during Journey’s End, so much so that we had him back for David Copperfield.  He has become a Script in Hand playreading regular. We couldn’t wait to get both these talented actors back on this stage!
And while we are on the topic of ‘the family,’ you should know that you will see a couple of actual members of the Westport Playhouse family onstage for Holiday. Playing the role of ‘Henry’ (which is really a compilation of all three  servants– one of the money saving tricks of the casting trade for these readings!) you’ll see Chad Kinsman, who works with our marketing department when he isn’t acting, directing or applying to graduate school. You may have seen him in the Playhouse Box Office.  And of course, our ever present reader of stage directions is the multi-talented and tireless Kim Furano, who keeps both Michael Ross and Mark Lamos on track in her job as Artistic and Management Associate. Keeping the entire production running from backstage is our wonderful resident stage manager, Matthew Melchiorre.
And perhaps most exciting of all will be the chance to have two brand new actors join the Playhouse Family Circle.  In addition to Bill Heck, we will welcome a lovely young actress, Rebecca Brooksher to play ‘Julia Seton’ (the role referenced in the first paragraph).  If my theory about circles is true – we will be seeing her again!
I’m looking forward to sharing this beautiful and timely play with you – the audience.  In truth, you are the most important part of the Playhouse Family. Happy Holiday!

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