Author Archives: chartp

About chartp

Former actress and theater director turned technical writer and instructional designer, moving toward writing fiction. Loves Jane Austen, Noel Coward, cozy mysteries, SCBWI, and the beach.

Cindy Crawford and Christabel

 

My cats wake me up at 5:30 every morning.  I suppose that’s partly my fault, but I don’t know how.

They became my alarm clock some years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t turn them off on weekends or use their noses as a snooze button.

It starts with Cindy Crawford, my white and black calico with the beauty mark beside her mouth. She meanders over the contours of my body to then circle and coil herself into the nook between my chin and shoulder. Her hot breath alternating with my own, she revs that engine in her throat and chest that passes for a purr. Then she starts to knead my flesh with her front (un-declawed) paws. Sometimes the tiny pricks of pain are bearable and elicit only a slight groan from my befogged brain and throat. Other times, after she has sharpened them on everything from the backyard fence to the nineteenth-century Amish sideboard, they pierce my epidermis like needles into balloons, causing me to surge to one side of the bed, sleepily flinging her across the room.

But when we synchronize our throaty exhalations and become the ying and yang of pur/snoring, it is a peaceful and lovely world.

About this time, Christabel, the elder of my two cats, tobogans onto the bed (often from the peak of a piece of furniture) and nestles on my back slope, causing me to contort into a question mark. When at last the position is unsustainable and I slip the bonds of their embrace onto my side, then Christabel walks the ridgeline of my slightly bent legs and establishes a campsite at the summit of my hip. There she will sit, staring at me with her laser-like obsidian glare until at last it pierces my brain. If, at length, I roll onto my back, it is slowly so that she can navigate the avalanche of my hip and abdomen to surmount and nestle between the mounds of my breasts. From that valley she continues to peer at me.

If I manage to keep my eyes closed through all this, Christabel extends her paw to just above my chin or nose and ever so delicately pokes me with one claw. After a couple of minutes of this affectionate prodding, my eyes at last come open and I glance toward the clock to see that it is exactly 5:30.

I struggle into a sitting position as they slalom down the hall to lead the parade toward the finish line in the kitchen. Once I’ve stumbled into the den and turned on the kitchen light, both cats take their positions on their respective area rugs and patiently wait to be rewarded. Christabel emitting a sharp and somewhat discordant feline version of “Well?” every two seconds until I have at length rinsed their dishes, paper-toweled them dry, spooned out exactly half a can of fancy moist cat food into each, and bestowed it directly in front of one then the other.

As they begin to delicately partake of their gourmet feast, I stumble once again to my disheveled bed and fling myself onto the mattress and beneath the comforter for two hours of the deepest sleep that I’ve probably gotten all night.

I guess, in a way, their breakfast is the snooze button. Because just about 7:20, we start the whole process all over again, except they don’t get fed and I do end up in the shower.

Christabel was the ugly kitten sibling of Maud, a pale grey ball of fluff that was my one true love. They were the last of a litter and I felt I could not take one without the other. I brought both home the December after I bought my first house.

Maud was asthmatic and like a sickly child became my focus and my favorite. While she lived, she was sole beneficiary of my queen-sized bed. Even when Cindy arrived a year later, a much bigger and more adventurous cat, she deferred to Maud. I still hear her perfectly pitched and harmonious purr in my dreams. She disappeared without a trace in 2012. I cried almost as much and as long over her loss as I did when my mother died two years later.

It was only after she had been gone for some time and Christabel and I had mourned deeply and separately that she and Cindy began to take turns trying to comfort me. It has evolved into a loving communal, almost sensual co-dependence of living beings in a shared space.

We have aged together and settled into our little rituals and loving patterns much as any trio of friends might. They are now sixteen and fifteen years old. The question becomes, what shall I do to fill the hollow formed by their little bodies, when they too are gone.

The Father, trailer

Clara Ploux, Artistic Director of Luciole International Theatre Company, interviewed me and put together this trailer for our upcoming reading of The Father, by Florian Zeller. The event is part of the French Cultures Festival in Houston, sponsored by the French Embassy. The still photos used were publicity stills taken by Pin Lim of cast members Charles Bailey, Jennifer Doctorovich, and Rachel Ollagnon. The reading will be presented on Saturday, 3/24/18 at 8:00 pm at the MATCH.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1J-9Iv0lweqKzLi35XL8j3UdTNycxGsQg/view?usp=sharing_eil&ts=5aac4f6a

 

The Father, a reading for Luciole

Luciole International Theatre has asked me to direct a reading of Florian Zeller’s The Father (translated by Christopher Hampton) as part of the French Culture Festival. The play is a lyrical, alternately sweet and scary play about Alzheimer’s, from the viewpoint of an older man suffering with it. His relationship with his daughter and other caretakers seems to be an ever changing and fluid roller coaster of emotion and perception.

As some of you may know, my own father suffered from dementia in the last couple of years of his life. It was a difficult and delicate situation and a daily challenge for those of us in his life.

I’m delighted that Charlie Bailey, Jennifer Doctorovich, Rachel Ollagnon, Jon Egging, and Heidi Hinkel have all agreed to do this lovely but challenging project. The above photo was taken by Pin Lim. Clara Ploux, the Artistic Director of Luciole, is designing projections and sound, so it will be a bit more ambitious than the average reading.

Hope those of you in town for the festival will make the effort to see this worthy show. It performs in Theater 1 at the MATCH, in mid-town Houston, on Saturday 3/24/18, at
8:00 pm.

For ticket information, please go to the MATCH website:

https://matchouston.org/events/father

 

MST-The Big Do

Main Street Theater’s fundraiser, termed The Big Do! was held last Friday (2/2/2018) at the MATCH in mid-town Houston. The theater made use of one large gallery area, the midway, and one of the proscenium theater spaces, which kept people moving about, eating, drinking, and mingling with other participants. Overall, I’d say it was a huge success.

Ellen Sanborn (with me in the picture above) was the staff coordinator on this effort and really pulled a groundhog out of the proverbial hat on this one. Generally, everyone came in cocktail attire, but the range of fabulous and quirky hats made the event even more fun.

The event featured a silent auction with a host of wonderful items ranging from a child’s peddle-powered vehicle, to a long-weekend stay in a log-cabin condo in Tennessee, to custom boots.  There was also a fabulous basket of items for lovers of Jane Austen, which included an action figure. Alas, I did not win that auction item, but I did prevail on one of the designer handbags.

There was a wine lottery, where you could pay $20 and then draw for which of many bottles of intriguing wines you would take home.

The finger food and hors d’oeuvres were delicious and imaginative, including a desert table of donut holes and various toppings. The bar was open–need I say more.

Later in the evening, several fabulous vacations were auctioned off at what seemed actually reasonable rates.  Then the auctioneer got creative with some large and small ways to support the theater’s youth activities. When he opened the support auction (with no actual object to take home other than the knowledge that you’d done something significant for kids) the suggested opening bid of $15,000 was taken up by one incredibly generous woman. The bids went down incrementally from there and eventually everyone reached a level of giving with which they were comfortable. The fact that the first stalwart bidder met the entire fundraising goal for the event was not lost on anyone.

Local celebrity volunteers and members of the Theater for Youth company performed an original sketch that kept us laughing.

The event honored local Houston hero Jim ‘Mattress Mack’ McIngvale for his ongoing philanthropy in Houston, which was so vividly demonstrated during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Completely in keeping with his persona, Mack showed up to the gala event in khakis, polo shirt and red bomber jacket. The highlight of the evening may have been his brief and articulate speech about Hurricane Harvey and the joy he and his employees found in opening the doors of their superstores to flood refugees. Also, totally in keeping with his personality, he was the highest bidder on one of the luxury bedding items.

All in all, it was a delightful evening that paid suitable homage to a truly admirable Houstonian, gave us an excuse to celebrate ourselves and our theater, and made money to support the ongoing educational efforts of Main Street Theater. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.

 

 

There You Are, a short film

As I announced not long ago, I was cast in a short film being directed by Lisa Donato, written by Jen Richards. I travelled to Austin the end of last week and we rehearsed and shot the entire film over four days.

Jen Richards is a transgender actress from Los Angeles who met Lisa Donato at South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival last year in Austin. They hit it off and struck up a longer conversation that led to Jen sharing a draft of a short screenplay loosely based on her life and experience as a person who transitioned from a man to a woman and the repercussions on her relationship with her family.

Lisa, who is an award-winning short film director, was intrigued by the premise and they immediately started working on refining the script and putting the funding and production crew together.  That was last September, believe it or not.

Lisa’s partner, Heather Nevill and Danielle Skidmore became the Executive Producers. Mickel Picco came on as the production AD.

I auditioned to play the mother through my agent Cat Hardy-Romanelli at Pastorini Bosby in late November, was officially cast in late December and arrangements were made for me to do the shoot in Austin under a SAG contract.

My character, Sandra, is a conservative Texas woman who is the mother of a transgender daughter, who has not been home since her transition. My own mother is dying and Jason/Jessica has been sent for as the end approaches. I’m more than a bit controlling and my way of dealing with grief (in all directions) is to try to control everything, even to the amount of fried onion rings on the top of a casserole. This translates to pressure for Jessica to pretend to be Jason for grandma. But the truth of the situation is that nothing is in my control. While my disapproval has been made abundantly clear, having lost my mother, I must find a way to start to accept my child as the woman she has become.

There is a lot more to the story, but that’s not about me, so hey…

Jen Richards’ script is very strong, her portrayal of Jessica is touching, and the film is powerfully directed by Lisa Donato, with imaginative and evocative cinematography  by Ava Benjamin Shorr.

I had a blast on the shoot and loved working with these folks. Everyone was focused and professional and almost universally congenial.

I also got a chance to work again with Jo Perkins, who played my mother. A very long time ago, I played a small role (Candy) in a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at Country Playhouse (now Queensbury Theater). Jo played Nurse Ratched.  I was a recent Sam Houston graduate and Jo had also gone to SHSU.  She was very kind to a fellow actor just starting out and I have held her in high esteem these last forty years. To make things even more convivial, her husband Charlie Bailey came along and we three usually congregated in the hotel bar in the evenings.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the wrap party Monday night in order to get back in time to teach my Film Appreciation class in Houston. But there may be another party in our future.  Look to see this very affecting film at SXSW later this year and at other film festivals around the country.

 

Short Film, “There You Are!”

I just got the call from Cat at Pastorini/Bosby Talent letting me know that I’ve booked a major role in a short film shooting in Austin in two weeks. I’m very excited.  The subject matter is slightly controversial, but the script is touching and lovely.

Among the cast, I’ll be working with Jo Perkins for the first time in many years. Back in the late 1970s as a young actress right out of college, I played a small role in a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest opposite Jo as Nurse Ratchet.  It will be great to work with her again.

I’ll keep you posted as to the adventure, the results, and when and where this film may be available for viewing.

 

Miss Bennet Will Rise Again!

As many of you know, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley was a joy to work on, and I was justifiably proud of the product.  Most of the magazines and family-friendly publications that covered it have been glowing in their reports.  Unfortunately, the two major papers in town were not as liberal in their praise. [Everett Evans, why oh why did you retire?] But the patrons won out. Suffice it to say that there was a firestorm on Facebook about the reviews and the very different response of our loyal audience and new patrons brought to MST for the first time. I tried to stay out of it.

The run has been very successful, with sold out previews and a near capacity opening weekend. Subsequently, word-of-mouth was so good that the run quickly began to sell out. So performances were added. This week before Christmas has several additional performances, which sold out almost immediately.

But the best news reached me at the MST Christmas party.  Apparently, Rebecca Udden, MST’s Artistic Director tried to come back to see the show mid-run and could not get in, because even the house seats had been sold. It was the feather that finally pushed her to commit to reviving the show next year.

When we close this week-end, Ryan McGettigan’s lovely set will not be demolished. Instead, it will be dismantled and preserved as much as possible so that we can reuse the glorious window unit next year.

The cast is justifiably over-the-moon, as they have been told that they will all be invited to reprise their roles next year. Barring anyone being cast in a Broadway show, I think we will all be working together again in 2018.

It just goes to show you that Jane Austen can even conquer a mediocre review. Perhaps, they will send someone more in touch with the Houston audience next year.