Tag Archives: Lauren Gunderson

Theatre – Post Harvey Update

Between difficult subject-matter-experts at my day job, Hurricane Harvey, and having to redesign my online Film Appreciation class multiple times around the delayed start of the Fall semester, I’ve been very busy and not a little stressed.

But the good news is that this is a busy autumn season for me theatre-wise.  While some theaters were adversely affected by Harvey, causing delays or cancellations, some of the mid-sized theaters are very busy. I’ve tried very hard to make time to support the theaters that are still producing by attending a variety of different offerings. This is a great season for edgy new plays like Ayed Akhtar’s Disgraced at 4th Wall Theatre Company, Wallace Shawn’s  Evening at the Talk House at Catastrophic, and entertaining additions to established franchises like The Ensemble’s Sassy Mamas by Celeste Bedford Walker. But it is an even better season for some wonderful and often over-looked classics like Maxim Gorky’s Enemies at Main Street Theater, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Classical Theatre Company and its upcoming production of An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen.

Last weekend, we launched the eight-month development process on the 2017 winner of the Queensbury Theatre Playwrighting Contest. My cast and I met to do table work and hold an initial public reading of the most recent revision of Gwen Flager’s The Girls Who Sing in the Choir. Gwen and I will meet in consultation over the next few months as she does additional rewrites. Then in February, Queensbury hosts a staged reading of the play. After additional workshops, revision, and rehearsal, the play will receive a full production in the summer of 2018. It is an exciting inaugural project and I hope that Queensbury will commit to making this an annual event.

I’m confident that MST’s production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley will bridge the gap between the lovers of classic literature and edgy new playwrights.  It should prove a welcome holiday alternative to the usual Dickens fare and The Nutcracker.

I am directing this homage to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice characters, as reinvented by playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Named the Most-Produced Playwright of 2016, Gunderson also wrote Silent Sky and The Revolutionists, which were featured in recent seasons at Main Street Theater.

Our first read-through of the play, held last night, was a “Part of the Art” offering to our loyal MST subscribers and longtime supporters.  People on the MST list serve were invited to experience this sneak preview of the play in its purest form.  Folks attending last night’s table read will be able to compare their impressions to the actual production later and more completely appreciate the journey a play makes before it is fully realized.

Joining the audience and myself were my Stage Manager, Lauren Evans; Assistant Director, Joanna Hubbard; Costume Designer, Deborah Anderson; and the cast: Chaney Moore, Brock Hatton, Spencer Plachy, Laura Kaldis, Heidi Hinkel, Blake Weir, Skylar Sinclair, and Lindsay Ehrhardt.

I like to think that one of my strengths as an actress-turned-director is putting together a dynamic and talented cast. That was reaffirmed by last night’s gathering. While the cast has had their scripts and my research notes for several weeks, most of them have been working hard doing other shows. Nevertheless, the reading showed preparation and thought and was as close to production level as I’ve experienced with any cast in recent memory.  It will only grow and deepen over the next three weeks as we learn to work together and create art.

For me, this is a moment filled with excitement and anticipation, fully appreciating the adventure and the possibilities before us, and not yet overwhelmed by the physical and design demands of the show.

I hope you will join us for the adventure.

Miss Bennet will run at Main Street Theater November 11 through December 17, 2017.  For information, visit www.mainstreetheater.com or call the box office at 713-524-6706.

Claire Hart-Palumbo

Directing MST Production of Gunderson Homage to Jane Austen

Main Street Theater announced its season to include “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” as its second production, following Gorky’s “Enemies”.  I’ve agreed to direct it and am very excited to once again be working with the characters from Pride and Prejudice and the work of Lauren Gunderson.

Having performed in Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” a couple of seasons ago and delighted in “The Revolutionists” this last season at MST, I am very excited to be involved in this play, which she co-wrote with Margot Melcon. A lovely person and talented writer, Gunderson has become one of the most produced playwrights in America.

To add to my joy, this play is a riff on one of my favorite Jane Austen books. I performed in MST’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (penned by Artistic Director, Rebecca Green Udden) in the 1980s and directed a revised and improved version of that script in the 1990s.  This will be like a holiday visit with extended family.

Which is where the play picks up, two years after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have settled their differences, overcoming his pride and her prejudice to become a happily married couple. The lovely Jane has married her Bingley and they are expecting their first child, seemingly at any moment. But they have journeyed to Pemberley to celebrate Christmas with the Darcys, the studious Mary Bennett in tow. The rest of the family is expected to arrive before Christmas day.

More mature and accomplished, Mary is still more comfortable playing the pianoforte or perusing an Atlas than serving tea or engaging in polite conversation. She has come to realize that everyone expects her to be an old maid and care for her parents as they age, but she is not sure she’s happy with that lot in life. A woman ahead of her time, she would prefer the life of the scholar or the professional musician, but those avenues are not readily available to her. (This seems to be a theme in Lauren’s plays.)

Meanwhile, Darcy’s aunt, the formidable Lady Catherine has died, and despite her best efforts, the estate is entailed to a distant cousin named Arthur de Bourgh. A diffident young scholar and scientist, he could not be more uncomfortable with his new role as Lord of the manor. On his reluctant journey to assume his dubious title at Rosings, he accepts Darcy’s invitation to join the family celebrations. Unfortunately, Darcy invited him without telling Elizabeth.

The ‘cute meet’ happens when Arthur arrives somewhat unexpectedly to be greeted rather curtly by Mary, who seems to assume he is more likely a burglar than a guest.  They are just starting to discover how much they have in common and struggling to express their attraction, when first Lydia Wickham then Anne de Bourgh arrive to complicate the matter.

As you might expect, Lydia’s rather patched up marriage to Wickham is not entirely successful. But she is too arrogant and proud to admit they are anything but happy, until she thinks she might latch onto a rich Lord for a lover.

Anne, the almost invisible and sickly daughter of Lady Catherine has emerged from her chrysalis upon her mother’s death. Unfortunately, her new gregariousness has a decidedly snippy and privileged tone very like her mother’s.  Unwilling to wait for Arthur to get around to arriving at Rosings, she arrives at Pemberley in the middle of the night to root out her cousin and stake her claim as his fiancé.

Needless to say, mayhem ensues.

I have cast a wonderful group of actors and am anxious to begin the rehearsal process in October. Meanwhile, I’m working with the talented designers at MST to create the world of Pemberley on MST’s thrust stage.

Keep the show in mind when you are trying to find things to do around the holidays. Opening in early November and running through mid December, it should be a delightful alternative to the usual Scrooge and Nutcracker offerings.

For more information visit the Main Street Theater website at www.mainstreettheater.com

Claire Hart-Palumbo