Reviews of Latest Plays and Books
Arcadia Publishing and The History Press
For Immediate Release
New Orleans Voodoo
A Cultural History
BY: RORY O’NEILL SCHMITT, PHD & ROSARY HARTEL O’NEILL, PHD
Foreward by Vodou Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman
"You don't find Voodoo,
Voodoo finds you"
--New Orleans Saying
Pub Date 1.7.19
ABOUT THE BOOK
There is no more compelling nor more spiritual city than New Orleans. The city’s Roman Catholic roots and its blended French, Spanish, Creole and American Indian populations heavily influenced the rites and rituals that West Africans brought to Louisiana as enslaved laborers. The resulting unique Voodoo tradition is now deeply rooted in the area. Enslaved practitioners in the nineteenth century held Voodoo dances in designated public areas like Congo Square but conducted their secret rituals away from the prying eyes of the city. By 1874, some twelve thousand New Orleanians attended Voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s St. John’s Eve rites on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The Voodoo tradition continues in the Crescent City even today. Rory Schmitt and Rosary O’Neill study the altars, art, history and ceremonies that anchor Voodoo in New Orleans culture.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
RORY O’NEILL SCHMITT is an author, photographer and professor. Rory has gained professional experiences over the years at museums and galleries, such as the International Center for Photography, Cristinerose Gallery, Visual Arts Gallery and others. She currently works at the University of Southern California’s Bovard College, where she coaches and supports expert faculty.
ROSARY HARTEL O’NEILL lives in New Orleans and New York City with her husband, Robert Harzinski. She is the author of twenty-five plays and three books of nonfiction. In New Orleans, she is professor emeritus of drama and speech at Loyola University and a member of Louisiana Women in Film and Television. She founded the Southern Repertory Theatre, the premier professional theater in New Orleans.
Rosary invited to share theater experience in Germany this fall
Blasting News > LIFESTYLE > 2018 > 07 > Fulbrights and books: Interview with playwright and scholar Rosary O'Neill
Expert in Lifestyle
(Curated by Parasshuram Shalgar)
Fulbrights and books: Interview with playwright and scholar Rosary O'Neill
Scholar and playwright Rosary O’Neill, Ph.D., discusses attaining her most recent Fulbright Scholarship and her latest literary endeavors.
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Rosary O’Neill is an award-winning playwright who recently secured her eighth Fulbright scholarship. From October 4 to November 14 Rosary will be in Germany speaking at the Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms Universitaet Bonn as part of the World Learning program.
Rosary is a gifted academic who holds a Ph.D. and is a college professor, researcher, multi-published author and award-winning playwright [who is known for using history—and famous characters from history such as bombshell Marilyn Monroe and painter Edgar Degas—to create funny, compelling dramas that are laced with romance, comedy, and the occasional supernatural element.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Rosary eventually made her way to New York which is where she now spends most of her time. However, over the course of the last year, Rosary has been in New Orleans researching and writing a book focused on the tradition of Voodoo in the city nicknamed The Big Easy. Rosary co-wrote “Orleans Voodoo: A Cultural History” with fellow academic Rory Schmitt. The book delves into the rich and compelling history of spiritualism in New Orleans; a famously French and Roman Catholic city that also has strong underlings of Creole, Spanish, American Indian, and African populations that created a unique culture that marks Louisiana as being unlike any other city in the United States—or the world.
Rosary has written books about New Orleans (the novel “Love and Hurricanes” and the nonfiction "bible" on Carnival titled “New Orleans Carnival Krewes”) and plays about the famed Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau but this book was her first opportunity to write about the fascinating—and entirely nonfiction—spiritual background that flavored her creative writing and the city in which she was born.
Recently, Rosary took the time to discuss her latest Fulbright, forthcoming book, and theatrical plans via an exclusive interview.
Paris, opportunities, and experiences
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in applying to Fulbright Scholarships?
Rosary O’Neill (RO): I wanted to go to Europe and didn’t have money to pay for it. At that time, I was running Southern Rep Theatre, which I had founded in New Orleans and wanted to learn from and see the greatest artists of my time. Many were in Europe, especially Paris. I have always had a deep love for France since I studied for 12 years at the Convent of the Sacred Heart run by French nuns in New Orleans, and for me nothing was more romantic than studying French, speaking in French, and participating in French literary creations. Long story short, a love story with France, beginning in Paris. Starting in 1984, when I was on a plane that caught on fire on my way to Hong Kong, I made a pledge if I lived to visit Europe every year because a time would come when I couldn’t do so, and to look for everyopportunity to have someone else pay for it.
This choice has brought me many “honors and fellowships” the greatest of which were the Fulbrights.
A representative of that office came to campus when I was teaching at Loyola in 1990 and said they were looking for applicants and encouraged me to apply. Loyola had a great office of grants and resources for faculty and staff. Following that, I got my first Fulbright in 1992 to Paris to write. I wrote a play called “Solitaire” which was done, at Southern Rep, the American Center, and at the Sorbonne in Paris, and I was hooked on travel and international collaboration.
MM: This most recent Fulbright is your eighth one, so why do you keep applying to them?
RO: I apply for awards all the time because, in a field where there is little money, awards give you validation and a way to be received. I had applied for two Fulbrights, when I was informed of a new program called the Drama Specialist Program which was an appointment for five years from the American Embassy, and it allowed you if chosen to have a Fulbright. Fortunately, I was chosen in 2001 and re-chosen in 2013. And got awarded a total of six more Fulbrights. I was also asked one year when I wasn’t applying to be a judge for the Fulbright program. What’s so great about the Fulbright is they pay for your travel, your accommodations, and a generous stipend so when you arrive in another country you are able to also speak on other invitations and travel.
MM: What experiences involving the Fulbrights have been the best?
RO: The best experiences have been learning from the students, like the drama students at the leading school in Paris, the Conservatoire du Drama (it helps that I am fluent in French). For example, you could give them an improvisation to enter a room, and they could come up with thirty amazing ways to do so very quickly. Also, to see the love for the arts that the Germans have. When my production of “A Louisiana Gentleman” was done with Southern Rep in Paris, the audience kept stomping their feet and screaming until the actors finally figured out that the audience wanted them to come back on stage for applause. Finally, just how much art ties the hearts of people together. We are all scared on the opening nights in our lives.
Also, when I was on my first Fulbright in Paris (in 1992) there was a huge elegant reception at the American Embassy in which they introduced me to all the key players in theatre; including the director of the Sorbonne's Literary and Theatre Department. He, his wife, and I became friends, and he ultimately directed my play “A Louisiana Gentleman” at the Sorbonne. At home in Paris, I lived with a professor couple, and Christian Raby eventually did the photographs for three of my books. I can remember bathing at night under photographs hung over the tub! Christian later became a renowned photographer. On a personal level, the room where I lived had one nail on the wall for clothes (I had brought a suitcase), and the nail broke because I had hung so much on it! Nine people shared the bath. That was my first realization of the difference in cultures. My hosts had tix to all the great art events but only a few outfits of clothes one coat, one pair of shoes, but the couple invited me back to write in their home, and I did so in summers for ten years. They became my greatest sponsors.
Scholarships, voodoo, and New Orleans
MM: How many countries have you been in via these scholarships?
RO: Mainly Germany (Bonn) and France (Paris, Arles, Nantes), but also by extension through other awards received: Hungary, England, China, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark.
MM: You just completed a book about voodoo in New Orleans, so what about that subject most fascinated you?
RO: Well I studied Voodoo as a way to learn how to get closer to God. I was fascinated by the profound holiness of many of the women and the dedication of so many of the followers of Voodoo practicing drums and singing. Also, the respect Voodoo practitioners have for the ancestors, the people that have gone before. How interwoven the Bible and Our Lady were in the religion stunned me as did the directness and spirituality of the practitioners. I was awed by how deeply prayerful the women were (most Voodoos are women) and that whites and men were also Voodoo practitioners. Colonial culture largely suppressed women, but Marie Laveau and other priestesses and followers found dynamic inner strength through Voodoo. Also, much of Catholicism is entwined in New Orleans Voodoo. But to learn about the religion, you have to speak to people because Voodoo has no central head like a pope or text like the Bible. Voodoo thrives because it is dynamic and present and reaches people.
Mark Romig, Rosary O’Neill and David Briggs at the opening night party, May 11, 2018, of "An Act of God" starring Bryan Batt at Le Petit Thetre du Vieux Carre.
Photo: Kenny Martinez
"Turtle Soup" wins best-of-show at the Spectral Sisters One Act Play Completion in New OrleansMeagan Meehan April 12, 2018
Crafting literature and performing art by blending history, fiction, and brilliantly well-rounded characters is the strong-point of Rosary O’Neill, a PhD-holding playwright whose short play "Turtle Soup" was awarded the title of best play at the Spectral Sisters One Act Play Completion in New Orleans, Louisiana. "Turtle Soup" is currently being staged in a workshop production and famed play publishers Samuel French--located in New York City--is in talks with Rosary about publishing the script.
"Turtle Soup" is a farce comedy about a pregnant young woman named Lucille who is in fear of losing her substantial inheritance when her very rich--and allegedly deathly ill--Aunt threatens to disinherit her, mocking her and her actor husband’ s lifestyle. The action takes place in the master bedroom of the Aunt’ s mansion where Lucille pays her a visit…which subsequently ends in a big surprise, an April Fool’ s Day revelation, and a lot of spilled turtle soup!
The play found a fantastic venue via the Spectral Sisters company which has been led by David J. Holcombe for nearly fourteen years. Each year, the theater sponsors a Ten-Minute Play Festival and a One-Act Play Festival. Works are solicited from any and all Louisiana-related authors. Rosary O’ Neill has long been associated with theater in Louisiana, being one of the founders of Southern Rep out of New Orleans. She submitted a one-act, entitled "Soniat House" of which "Turtle Soup" was the first scene. Due to time and actor constraints, always a problem in a rural, undereducated region such as Central Louisiana, the production committee made a decision to retain "Turtle Soup" since they had two wonderful actresses who brought the characters to life in one of the only humorous plays in our selection.
As a member of the board (and past President, past Treasurer and current Secretary), David J. Holcombe hopes to highlight local and regional creativity in a region not known for its artistic innovation.That being said, the Alexandria area of Louisiana is like a tramp steamer in the middle of the Indian Ocean on which the passengers are pretty much on their own.Two hours from any other metropolitan area,Alexandria has developed its own artistic and theatrical scene which astonishes by its vibrancy.
A number of Rosary's full-length plays have been produced at the venue including "Kate Chopin" and "Black Jack", both dealing with Louisiana themes. Rosary also was a visiting playwright for a workshopin Alexandria, well attended by Central Louisiana standards. In short, "Turtle Soup"," even as a selection of a longer piece, fit the bill as an amusing, dynamic short piece that benefited from some of the region’ s best actresses.
It is not surprising that talent is attracted to the works of Rosary O’Neill. She is an incredibly successful writer who has been lauded for many of her plays via a series of awards, accolades, and media publications. Yet she was especially delighted to announce her play’s success in her home-state of Louisiana. Although she has lived and worked in New York City for many years, and maintains a home there, Rosary was born and raised in New Orleans and is currently residing in her native city while she works on a book about the voodoo culture that surrounds the area.
Rosary recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed this play and the inspirations behind it.
Meagan Meehan (MM):What is the background behind how you thought of the original plot of "Turtle Soup"?
Rosary O’Neill, (RO):The plot for the play "Turtle Soup" (a farce) was inspired by my living in Philadelphia where they have great turtle soup and also a visit from my mother for my daughter’s christening when she flew up with iced boxes of turtle soup from the New Orleans Country Club insisting that this soup was better than the soup in Philadelphia! Also, during the Mardi Gras parades, parade organizations will often serve hot turtle soup to buoy the parade riders up as they get onto the floats. The soup has a long carnival tradition. It is served at the parade dens where maskers line up or in the mansions on the parade route where friends wait for the parades to pass.
In New Orleans people are total "foodies" and so when getting the recipe for turtle soup I was amazed (and also a bit horrified) by the procedure for making good turtle soup in New Orleans. I really don’t like the idea of enjoying killing some living being, but turtle soup is a comedy about an old woman who enjoys using her money to torture others.
The play was supposed to be a tragedy about a down and out actress and her miserly billionaire aunt. Being in the theatre and having been first an actress, I can totally relate to begging for money. The actress tries to get her inheritance from her only living relative her dying aunt.
Of course, the play is set in New Orleans where the rich are peculiar epicureans and only eat homemade soup at certain temperature. Conflict is the aunt feels free to demean and mock the niece because she has married an out of work actor whom the aunt suspects is after her money. So, it’s a fight for the money. Twist comes in when we find the old aunt is pretending to be dying to get sympathy, and its April Fools Day. Did I tell you New Orleanians love holidays and days when being the perverse is ordinary? My grandmother used to call me on April’s Fools and tell me my dog was dead and she thought that was funny!
MM:How did you select the city and time period in which to set the action in "Turtle Soup"?
RO: Most of my plays are set in New Orleans the town where I was raised. I’ m sure at the time I was dealing with inheritance issues and going for beautiful walks in New Orleans by the glorious houses on St Charles and Exposition Blvd by Audubon Park and musing what it would be like to live in one of the mansions as a poor relative. I have observed that the New Orleans rich love money even more than love, because money gives a false sense of immortality and many rich people try to control the use of their money after the grave.
MM:You have written many full-length plays, so was it tough to do a shorter one?
RO:Yes, but I was very influenced at the time by Chekhov who writes short plays like "The Boar" so masterfully and I want to capitulate to the world which seems to want stories in shorter and shorter bites.
MM:What do you most enjoy about the "Turtle Soup" characters?
RO:Their desperation and the life and death circumstances they are living under. Also, you know those glorious houses with the 20-foot ceilings and marble mantles and wall-to-wall oriental rugs just call for stories. I was recently in the Beauregard Keyes mansion here in New Orleans on Chartres Street (it had been a home of the general Beauregard---now kind of disgraced because his statue has been removed in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art because he fought on the wrong side of the Civil War.) Anyway, that mansion was bought by the great female writer Frances Parkinson Keyes. She was so drawn to it; she moved here to live there and restored the house and grounds. The point is these big houses have their big desperate stories to tell. All have their gracious dining rooms and ballrooms, and so by using one ritual, a ritual of Turtle Soup we can offer a peek into that world, not into the whole dinner but into the aperitif, into one glimpse and that fascinates me. I hope to pass on in some small way this legacy of my family and m people and of these great mansions of New Orleans.
MM:How did you find out about the Spectral Sisters One Act Play Completion and what was it like to stage this play there?
RO:The Spectral Sisters have staged two other plays of mine "The Awakening of Kate Chopin" and "Blackjack the Thief of Possession" and I have received two fellowships to give workshops on playwrighting at the Hearn Theatre. Theirs is a brilliant theatre company steered by David Holcomb who is particularly interested in Louisiana writers of which I am one.
MM:How did you find your actors and did they add to the dialogue at all when they "got into" the roles?
RO:Fortunately, I didn’ t have to cast the show. Two wonderful actresses, Victoria Ortigo as the niece and Nys Weimar as the older woman, have sterling reputations as comedians and were cast by the theatre. The painting on the stage set is one by the Secretary of Spectral Sister’s, David Holcomb. Painting is of an anonymous Confederate general in front of a burning plantation. David is quite a wonderful playwright and painter and his paintings have been used in programs and stage designs of my work.
MM:What was the audience reaction to the play?
RO:Apparently, it was wonderful. Huge laughs and full houses. I’ m always thrilled when I can bring joy to people especially during the chilly rainy months in Louisiana
MM:When did you realize you had won, and what was your prize?
RO:I got a call from David Holcomb, a couple of months back inviting me to the show. At the time I was in NYC so that was a particular thrill to get a call from down home!
MM:You have lived in NYC for many years, but you are originally from New Orleans, so was it really special to have this award-winning play staged in your home state?
RO:Yes, because the artists really "get" the people. They understand poverty and desperation. The average income in Alexandria where the play is done is $24K! Also, I love creating roles for young and mature actresses having witnessed as an artistic director how women are the spine of regional theatre. When I ran Southern Rep, I would get twenty-times as many actresses as men auditioning, so the quality and sheer choice of talent was great.
MM:You are working on a book about voodoo right now, what inspired that and how is the writing coming along?
ROJust finished my five chapters I’m co-writing the book with Rory Schmitt of Arizona State. Oh goodness, the book is going so great! I had fantastic interviews with three voodoo priests here and am getting a reading where you put your questions in your pocket, the priest goes into trance, and then she answers your questions. I have learned so much about God and the need for altars and places in our homes that remind us of the afterlife. The book comes out in October of 2018 with Arcadia Publishers (formerly the History Press).
MM:Are you working on any other plays or projects at the moment that you want to talk about?
RO:Well yes, I’ve just finished a three-person farce on Vampires called "Voodoo Vampire New Orleans", which I hope to perfect at HB studios in June, and I’ve completed a TV series on New Orleans which a producer colleague is starting to sell in LA, and I’m finishing a book of Narrative Nonfiction on "Degas in New Orleans" which is based on artist Edgar Degas’ scandalous visit here in 1872 to save his relatives’ cotton business.
To learn more about Rosary O’Neill, Google her name and visit her official website:
The latest play by acclaimed playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill ,Wishing Aces, was performed via a workshop reading at the Gallery Players theater in Brooklyn, New York, on October 9th, 2017.
The play focuses on a runaway housewife named Kitten and Beau, a Tulane professor who Kitten has taken as a lover. The pair travel by train through a Louisiana swamp until Kitten’ son, Bunky, arrives to stop their elopement. As the tensions rise, a hurricane crashes onto land, wrecking-havoc all around them.
Rosary recently discussed this play and her anticipations regarding its future via an exclusive interview.
How did you think up the plot for" Wishing Aces"and why did you select that title?
At one point in my life, I had several fellowships to go to Ole Miss (in Oxford Miss) from New Orleans. I rode an old Amtrak back and forth six hours with another colleague and I fantasized about what it would be like to be trapped on the train at a whistle-stop over the Pearl River Swamp. When you look out the train window there are miles and miles of Bayou and then after that there is more river and inlets. Louisiana is surrounded by water and you can hardly drive a few miles without coming into direct contact with it. So, I guess being a New Orleanian, I always have a fear of the “Big One,” that is, the hurricane that does everybody in. I guess also I had friends whose children were teens and totally out-of-control, and who had lovers with relationships that were out-of-control, and so the whole whirlwind of love and hurricanes became interesting to me. You can&rsqo; live in Louisiana without always having the fantasy of hopping a train to another, more urban, "Big Apple’ kind of life.
I have taught in many English departments with many brilliant esoteric men who are totally genius in the mind but who have huge disappointments In the South there is the mystique that a macho man can have a soul and mind. "Wishing Aces"is an old Southern card game that I played as a child. In the game, you make a wish and flip every third card in the deck and if an ace comes up you get your wish. As a girl, I totally believed in card games like Solitaire, and Hearts, and Wishing Aces, and Black Jack and I have plays named after the games!
We played cards mostly in summers on hot front porches and on four-poster beds, dressed in white, near swimming pools and audacious front lawns. In the South, the weather is a magical mix of rain and sun and warm breeze. Mostly it cooperates with our fantasies, until hurricane season.
How much research did you have to do before writing this play?
I lived this play most of my life in New Orleans. There is an Amtrak station smack in the center of New Orleans and many students hop that train for the Ole Miss football games. The Center of Southern Studies is also at Ole Miss and so I would take the train when I got fellowships and traveled with the alcoholics and students who also boarded the train eager for intellectual or athletic games and weary for the bucolic countryside of Mississippi.
You don’t really know how long those swamps can seem till you travel from New Orleans to Batesville on that slow train. Many passengers play cards on tables that fold out between the seats and many still sneak cigarettes between the cars. But one has the feeling of riding into water. The big stop is at Batesville, which is still a thirty-minute ride to Oxford. I would think of Oxford England and how intensely urban and male and heroic that campus seems compared to the rambling campus of rural Ole Miss, the flagship university of Mississippi. At one point, I almost called the play "On the Way to Oxford" since it felt like I had to go through a swamp of Netherworld before finding civilization!
What most interests you about the characters of Kitten, Beau, and Bunky?
Kitten interests me because she is privileged and vulnerable and lost. Her whole marriage and sense of success is rooted in her love for her lost son. She’s called "Kitten" because she is doll-like beautiful and because southern women who are strong mostly have names that remind you of tiny thing" or foods,like Pudding, or Peaches, or Tootsie, or Bunny. "Beau" means "gorgeous” in French and that is what a male hero should be! He’s athletic, wealthy, and refined but that exterior masks a failed and tortured man. New Orleanians like short original names even for their men so that"s how I thought up the name "Bunky." My brother"s name is Buzz and I originally wrote the role for my actor son, Barret, so maybe that influenced me too.
Do you feel like all the characters are sympathetic or did you intentionally make the actions of some more understandable or innocent than others?
I hope all the characters are sympathetic. Like children, I love them all the same. You have to write from the heart. Since I started my career as an actress, I want to make each part something that inspires an actor to want to play it.
A hurricane is prominently featured in this story, so have you ever experienced one of these powerful and frightening storms first-hand?
I didn’t experience Katrina but I have experienced many hurricanes. My parents had a mansion on the Gulf of Mexico and my father bought a barometer which read Good, Fair, Rain, Stormy, and Hurricane. When the barometer pointed to Hurricane, we drove the fifty miles from our country house into New Orleans! We lived in fear of a hurricane, and the family mansion on the Gulf of Mexico had a history of going down and being rebuilt in 1927, 1947, 1969, and then again in 2005. Windows would get blown out in our city house or the roof might take a beating. It was nothing too serious, but you always knew there was the chance one big hurricane would knock you all out for good. As awful as it sounds, I can remember sometimes praying for a hurricane when I was a little just to liven things up! Before Katrina, which destroyed so much, a hurricane party mainly meant hanging out with friends and dancing and singing and drinking in the rain.
What are your favorite things about"Wishing Aces"and did you face any issues such as writers block while you were working on it?
My favorite things about it are love and terror! Those two emotions together coupled with the dazzling and magnetic heroes in crisis! I love romance and water rising at the same time. Oh goodness, can we survive a hurricane of love or a hurricane of life? The best things come at us front and center–like the theatre on opening night!
How did you find out about Gallery Players in Brooklyn and what was the process of submitting your play to them like?
Benno Haenel, the co-artistic director with Judith Estrine of Prism Theatre Company, is in the Actors Studio Playwrights’ Workshop with me. Last year, he asked me to submit a play for a workshop reading at the Gallery Theatre. The Gallery Theatre and Prism Theatre Company have an ongoing partnership for readings. The reading of my play "John Singer Sargent and Madame X" was so successful that Benno Haenel asked me to submit a play to his reading series and, fortunately, Wishing Aces was selected. Benno has championed my work and I am very grateful!
Ideally, where do you want to fully produce this play and what kinds of sets, props, lighting, and sound would you like to incorporate into the production?
The play takes place on a bare stage with mostly lights and sound effects and I love that. The idea of isolation and containment and explosions of light fascinates me for the staging. So much can be done with liquid light and sound and I love the bareness of theatre that gives focus to the actor and language.
What other creative projects or events are on the horizon for you?
"The Art of Voodoo and Spirituality in 19thCentury New Orleans" by The History Press. I am developing my play titled"Monty, Marilyn, Liz"in the Playwrights’ Workshop of Actors Studio in New York. In 2018, I plan to be teaching writing at the Open Center in New York City in the spring and at Omega in Rhinebeck, New York in the summer. Also on the books is a production of my play "Marilyn/God"at the Roxy Regional Theatre in Clarksville, Tennessee, from April 30 to May 8, 2018.I am also finalizing two books of narrative nonfiction: "Degas in New Orleans" and "Sweet and Easy" which is a gothic journey into "Garden District Death."
I am really enjoying the process of developing my new vampire play/comedy called"Vampire New Orleans"at HB Studio in NYC with my mentor and teacher, Julie McKee. The whole experience of life and after life and living on the edge between the living, the undead, and the dead totally mesmerizes me! I am hoping to grow closer to God and to clarity about our journey here together through my writing.
Westchester Collaborative Theater presents 'The Vampire Monologues'
Published on July 4 by Meagan Meehan
Curated by Andrew Granville
Playwright Rosary O'Neill has had her plays read at the Westchester Collaborative Theater. / Photo via Rosary O'Neill, used with permission.
"#The Vampire Ladies" (also known as "The Vampire Monologue Series") is an original new collection of plays by acclaimed playwright Rosary O'Neill that is under consideration to be performed at the Westchester Collaborative Theater in August of 2017. The theater originally produced shows in a library, then a firehouse, and now has its own working playhouse under the operation of its owner, executive director Alan Lutwin. The Ossining, New York theater has an ongoing monologue workshop program conducted via their membership of actors and through this program, Rosary hopes to have two of her "Vampire Monologue" pieces read by actress Elaine Hartel in August.
Plays and inspirations
"Seeing my monologues in the vitally charged environment of other playwrights' monologues crystalizes my understanding of the form," Rosary O'Neill stated in a recent interview with me. "All the monologues emphasize the importance of high stakes and danger, and it is in that atmosphere that I revise realizing that the life and death struggle at the end is really what all theater and life are leading up to. I am writing about danger from the other side."
Rosary started writing the monologues series when she was still living in her hometown of New Orleans.
"Being from New Orleans we have a fascination with death," Rosary stated. "So many events there champion the dead, such as the Save Our Cemeteries Cocktail Event, Ann Rice’s Gothic tours, the Voodoo and Vampire Tours in the French Quarter, the Jazz Funerals, where people strut and scream, 'When the Saints Go Marching in,' all the way to the cemetery. In New Orleans, you can order any kind of internment. A patron of the theater I founded and ran had her corpse all glamorized up and was seated, cigarette holder in hand, at her table as if she was receiving someone!"
Rosary is fascinated by the history of New Orleans and the people who have lived in the city are constant sources of inspiration to her. Another one of her plays involves Marie Laveau, who was a famous "Voodoo Queen," who lived in the city centuries ago. Her own experiences growing up in 'The Big Easy ' were equally as interesting; when she was ten, her friend 's parents rented a hearse for them to go trick or treating in while dressed up like vampires!
Monologues and characters
At present, there are two very notable segments of the monologue series - "The Vampire" and "The Corpse." The first play chronicles the adventures of a vampire who must return from the dead to visit the St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans and kill the famous Voodoo Priestess, Marie Laveau. The vampire is tormented and does not want to do it, but finally, succeeds in murdering Marie only to discover that she is being assigned another kill. Essentially, the only way that the vampire can learn how to grow in the afterlife is through these brief encounters where she must murder.
The second play, "The Corpse," is about an undead woman who was murdered in New Orleans. Throughout the play, her ghost hovers above her casket and laments being buried in such a tacky funeral home and goes on to unveil some disturbing facts about her family, chiefly her husband and daughter.
Rosary is currently working on the third monologue that is titled "The Stalker" and which will be about a female vampire who is jealous of her young vampire husband and wants to make love to him. She subsequently stalks him and his new girlfriend in an attempt to rid herself of her fiendish desires before ordering a double casket and shares her desire to lay with him there forevermore.
The fourth story, as of now untitled, will involve a hesitant vampire who drinks the blood of rats so he does not have to turn into a full vampire, which can only happen if he drinks human blood. One night, he wanders into a cemetery and stumbles upon a beautiful woman who changes the course of his fate.
Book about Voodoo in New Orleans
Even while Rosary works on this series of plays, she is also under contract to write a book on New Orleans with Rory Schmitt called "Voodoo and Spirituality in 19th Century New Orleans."
None of Rosary's charactersfrom the ampire Monologues” are based on real murder victims. "All the monologues came out of my subconscious, although New Orleans was, at one time, unfortunately, one of the leading cities for murder in America," Rosary stated. However, she noted that when she was teaching at Loyola University, one of her students dove off a six-story building in an attempted suicide. Although she survived the fall, her story party inspired the main character in the "Corpse" play. "Stories are always connected to one's subconscious and conscious experiences," Rosary continued. "I have witnessed so much abuse of women in an alcohol 'party' driven city like New Orleans, and I guess my imagination wanted to speak out against those who couldn't come out the box and speak for themselves."
Rosary is excited to be presenting the plays at the Westchester Collaborative Theater since she found out about it from her cousin, Elaine Hartel, an actress who is also starring in the plays.
"Elaine lives in Westchester and loves my plays and wanted to do them there," Rosary explained. "Most regional theaters do musicals or well-known comedies but when Elaine discovered that Alan was forming this marvelous new theater company with the focus exclusively on new plays she contacted me. I met Alan Lutwin and was very impressed by his brilliance, kindness, and intuitive understanding of playwrights and new work."
Elaine Hartel readily agrees with Rosary's thoughts and she has a deep and integral understanding of the materials in which she is starring.
"I was born, raised, and educated in New Orleans and I have relatives buried above ground there including my sister and my father who died young," Elaine stated. “My mother, aunt, many cousins, and other family members are buried in St. Louis cemetery which is where one of the monologues takes place. My cousin Rosary is an incredible playwright who gets it right. I'm attracted to drama and edgy dark characters, which Rosary brings to life, as well as the humor she finds in her pieces."
Elaine was excited and honored to be selected to play the lead role of "Claudia" in the "Corpse" monologue. "Claudia is evil but very stylish," Elaine declared. "She was a lot of fun to play. My favorite part is the removal of the shroud from my face as the play opens, and the replacement of it as it closes!"
Future projects and plans
The Westchester Collaborative Theater has proven to be a haven for Rosary to share her creative projects. Some of her other plays performed there are "Turtle Soup" (about a mean dying woman who relentlessly guards her money), "Buried Alive" (about a 19th century Voodoo Queen who is placed in her casket prematurely), "White Suits in Summer" (about death and money and the compromises great artists must make to keep alive) "Broadway or Bust" (about cancer survivors who are auditioning for Broadway) and now these two monologues.
Rosary and Elaine both consider the theater', executive director Alan Lutwin, to be an essential part of their successes and the nurturing of modern-day arts in general. Alan has been working with playwrights for many years in Westchester, New York, and he is especially interested in previously unproduced works. In a theatrical industry where original work is often considered second-class or recycled pieces, Alan':s dedication to original scripts is especially laudable and many of the playwrights who take part in his readings later go on to win international accolades.
"I am deeply grateful to Alan for following his dream and the dream of us writers to get our words to an audience, Rosary said. "While most new theaters focus on the tried and true, Alan focuses on the unknown and possible. It is that potential that fires life into his theater in the feedback he gives to each new work and the level of trust and insight he provides for artists."
Although Rosary lives in Manhattan and must commute forty miles to the theater, she considers the travel to be a worthwhile effort. "We have watched the magic of new theater and a new facility being born," she said. "Alan has led his theater from an auditorium in a library, to a walk-up fire station, to now its own black box theater."
For his part, Alan is equally as taken with Rosary"scripts. 'I like the flavor of New Orleans that Rosary brings to her work, he said recently. 'I hope she will remain an active part of our group for many years to come.'
Rosary’s latest play is called "John Singer Sargent and Madam X"
By Meagan Meehan, Expert in lifestyle and Parasshuram S
The portrait of 'Madame X' was painted by John Singer Sargent/
Photo via Rosary O'Neill, used with permission.
Rosary O’Neill’s latest play was read at The Gallery Players in Park Slope Brooklyn on May 22, 2017.
Rosary Hartel O’Neill is a regaled author of dozens of plays and three nonfiction books. A professor who holds a Ph.D., Rosary’s work has been featured at festivals all over the world, and she has won numerous fellowships to study and work abroad in countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland.
Between 1986 and 2001, Rosary was the Founding Artistic Director of the Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was born and raised. She presently lives in New York City where she is a proud member of the Playwright Director’s Workshop at the Actors Studio.
Rosary’s latest play is called "John Singer Sargent and Madam X" actually and it focuses on the real-life relationship between the famous painterJohn Singer Sargent and the woman he painted known only as " Madam X" whose painting currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In an exclusive interview, Rosary recently discussed the play, her experiences in theater, and the history that inspires so much of her work.
Blasting News (BN): When did you first become aware of the "Madame X" painting and what most interested you about it?
Rosary O’Neill (RO):When I lived in New Orleans there was a superb exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art of Sargent's portraits. The sensuality and passion in his amazing paintings mesmerized me. So, I started following Sargent’s exhibitions in various museums.
When I saw the portrait of Madame X at the Metropolitan, I was stunned to realize that Mad melie Gautreau from New Orleans. I’d actually eaten at Gautreaux Restaurant in uptown New Orleans, a restaurant run by Amelie’s distant descendants! Other descendants still run the family’s plantation Parlange in rural Louisiana.I like to write about famous artists who have to bout with unimaginable problems on their way to victory. And Sargent (an ex-patriot from Philadelphia) studying in Paris was that. Also, Amelie and her widow mother had moved to Paris after losing everything in the Civil War and Amelie had been schooled by nuns and eventually became celebrated as the most beautiful woman in Paris.
BN: So, who was Madame X and what do you know about her?
RO: Well, in 1884, Amelie Gautreau was like the Marilyn Monroe of Paris; sensitive, glittery, flamboyant, and sad. And Amelie needed to get a flattering portrait. The art school in Paris (Le Salon des Beaux Arts) was shunning John Sargent since the Parisians were annoyed that he had won all the prizes that they hoped to bestow on the French.
So, Sargent engineered to meet Amelie and get her approval to do the portrait. He hoped for his graduation show at the Salon his portrait of Amelie Gautreau would get him assigned a major spot in a major room at the exhibition and a feature in all the articles in the Paris.
BN: Why was this woman’s story so intriguing to you?
RO:The story appealed to me because of the betrayal involved and the torture inflicted on the hero Sargent; an old adage in writing is torture the hero! Also, on a personal note, the play had a great romantic lead and my son is an actor and so I always write roles with great romantic male leads whether he plays them or not. He is a young mentor, very active before at Yale and now at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I was fascinated by the beauty and complexity of the role of Sargent and also by the circumstances of the beautiful, Amelie. She was married to someone else and pregnant by her lover, the infamous Doctor Pozzi. Pozzi was known as "Dr. Love" because of his history with women and his profession as the first gynecologist in Paris.
The naïve Sargent fell in love with Amelie and thought the baby was his. The resulting conflict and tension caused him to change the name on the portrait of Amelie Gatutreau to Madame X in his efforts to assure that Amelie Gautreau would never be remembered and the portrait would never immortalize her.
BN: What most interested you about the history of the painting and its background and did anything in particular surprise you while you wrote this play?
RO: I was surprised that the portrait was not the original one Sargent had designed of Amelie Gautrau but one he created out of his revulsion once she revealed her morose and violent nature. Of course, of secondary interest was the whole beautiful world of the Belle Epoque. Other characters involved in the Love Salon of Dr. Love and Amelie Gautreau were Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Sarah Bernhardt.
BN:What other paintings did Sargent create and what was his later life like?
RO: The scandal that the "Madame X" portrait generated created such an interest in the painting that Sargent was able to live off the proceeds of renting the painting for the rest of his life. At only 28 years of age, the horror and glory Sargent experience by insisting his portrait of "Madame X" not be removed is a lesson in hope and tenacity. Sargent believed in his work and defied the whole establishment of Paris and in so doing broke his way into a career.
Afterwards he did portraits of many celebrities like Mrs. J P Morgan (at the Morgan Library in NYC) Edwin Booth and Joseph Jefferson, famous 19th century actors (at the Players Club in NYC) and many other notable personages. Oscar Wilde and Henry James and other Brits championed Sargent and he lived most of his life in Britain where he was named a British citizen and is celebrated in the National Portrait Gallery.
BN: How did you find a way to get this work staged?
RO: The director Benno Haenel and I have been members of the Actors Studio Playwright Directors Workshop. Benno directed the first stages of my new play called "Monty, Marilyn, and Liz" at the Actors Studio and asked me for other plays that I had written--which is a dream for a playwright--that his company might do at the Gallery Theater. I was thrilled he picked my Sargent play.
BN: What else is forthcoming for you and your plays?
RO: "John Singer Sargent and Madame X" has been selected be shown as part of The 20th Annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts between May 26 and 28. This event is really popular and usually attracts about 3,000 visitors to the Theater for the New City which is a famous venue.
A reading of "Madam X"was performed live at The Gallery Players on 199 14th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on May 22 at 7 p.m.
Coordinator and Stage Manager Vincent Harmsen Discusses Playwright Rosary O‘Neill’s ‘Degas In New Orleans’
Actors performing in ‘Degas in New Orleans’
‘Degas in New Orleans’ is a powerful play by Rosary O’Neill that delves into the life of famous painter, Edgar Degas, during the years he spent in New Orleans, Louisiana, after the Civil War. The play has been performed in America and France to rave reviews and Rosary recently came back from a trip to Paris where the work was read in French at Columbia University's Global Centre and Amphi Turgot at the Sorbonne. Vincent Harmsen, the Coordinator and Stage Manager of the play, is a graduate student in American Studies at the Sorbonne. Recently, he discussed his opinion of, and experiences with, the play:
MM: What was it about the life of Edgar Degas in New Orleans that most interested you?
Vincent Harmsen: I have to admit I knew little about Edgar Degas’ stay in New Orleans before I read Rosary’s play. Degas is mostly known in France for his paintings on Paris and the ballerinas of the Opera. That’s why her play was a striking new point of view on his life. The social part of his visit in New-Orleans particularly interested me. Rosary well expressed how Degas could have been shocked by the social way of life in Louisiana and the tensions inherent to the Reconstruction era in New Orleans. Degas did participate to the Commune revolution in Paris a few years before his trip, back in 1871. This revolution was all about equal rights between people and social equality. Imagining how Degas could have reacted to the white militias in New Orleans and the racial violence, he who was fed by this romantic and tragic view of the Commune, that is what thrilled me the most about his journey to New Orleans. Edgar Degas had this very romantic way of thinking, a scratched heart, that brought tension on every subject, love, art and politics. He was at the same time mannered and very touching, fascinating. I love to think that artists in that time were all full of passion and lyricism. It is also what we can feel in his paintings, the intensity of colors, the strength of people’s emotions.
MM: Which of his New Orleans paintings appeals most to you?
VH: Well to follow what I said, I enjoy "A Cotton Office in New Orleans." Every character in the scene is captured inside his own activity as if the world would collapse without disturbing him at all. Degas recreates a society from the past. I see phlegm in how the characters behave, social status in the clothes and the hats and in the center of the painting, as the cornerstone of all this society, the cotton. It is an incredibly well thought-out painting. In this painting, I like to dive myself not into the entire scene but into just one character or one motion and then go from one side of the painting to the next and it is already a complete story which Degas whispers to me.
MM: Is Degas well known in France?
VH: At each step of my work as coordinator of the play, "Degas in New Orleans", in Paris when I had to meet different people in scholarly administration, in the cultural institutions or among my friends not one single person didn’t know who Edgar Degas was. Not only is he well known in France but he stands as a highly appreciated painter. As I said, everybody knows his famous paintings of the Ballet dancers. People usually know him as one of the very remarkable impressionist painters. His paintings stand side by side with famous painters such as Monet and Renoir. Edgar Degas has been in fact one of the key factors that attracted Parisians into Rosary’s project. I just had to tell them the play was about him and their eyes shined.
MM: Who in Edgar's New Orleans family interests you the most? Why?
VH: There are two ways I relate to a character. I feel for a very naive character, usually a child, or to a completely dubious one. In this play my empathy would either turn to Jo Balfour, the ten years old stepchild of Edgar’s brother, for her kindness and innocence, or to his uncle, Michel Musson, this ironic man who doesn’t fit in any frame, who is quite fascinating.
MM: How was Edgar's family in New Orleans like or unlike a French family?
VH: I guess it is quite simple. What made Edgar’s family so original was that they were a perfect mix of French and American behavior. The children were raised in this love of art and classics which was so specific to the French bourgeoisie. Alternatively, the social and political environment, of racial tension and economic struggles undoubtedly impacted them. But that appears to be the case with many immigrated families who try to maintain both French and American identities.
MM: Why do you think Edgar never went back to New Orleans?
VH: Well, it seems to me Edgar was on this journey both fixing and closing a painful chapter of his life. We usually believe artists live their art alone and restrain their social activities in order to focus themselves on another plan, the one of art. Degas tells us in Rosarys play that his painting is broken because he is obsessed with his love for his sister-in-law, (I hope I am not spoiling it for those who don't know the play yet). His trip to New Orleans was his own way of ending this love and his bounds to his family so he can once again paint as he painted before.
MM:Were Edgar’s life circumstances similar to those of other artists in the 1870s?
VH: Sadly, I am not specialized in the history of art so I am afraid I am not able to answer this question. Even so it seems quite unusual for a French artist to visit the United-States back then. However, I believe that the same passion lived in all those artists at the end of the century in France, a passion that drove them into all kinds of fervent endeavors without making no difference between public and private life. They placed art on the same level of intensity as politics or love. Victor Hugo said that “every man stands in the night seeking for his light”, I think his words reveal the kind of passion artists had in their guts in 1870.
MM: Has much changed for artists in Paris in the 100 years since Edgar’s death?
VH:Yes and no. Of course, the economic and social status of artists has deeply changed since Edgar’s death. France respects art nowadays more than before. Artists have an official status that allows them to live from their art even if they can’t reach a sufficient public to earn their life. In France it is called the "Status of Intermittent", it states in the law that in cultural fields, one can work periodically for multiple companies. He will then report his hours to the state and leave contributions according to what he earned. This will basically allow him to be granted allocations, according to the amount of hours worked, when he is unemployed. French believe that art works like a wheel, sometimes you stand at the top, and you earn alot, and sometimes you stand at the bottom because your project failed to reach its public. What hasn’t change though is this incredible love for art in France. From the poorest to the richest, everybody enjoys art. You can see in the streets of Paris homeless people who are reading authors like Maupassant or Baudelaire. It is amazing, I can’t even believe it. Our country is facing a major economic crisis, and the cinemas, the concerts, and the festivals have never been so full!
Picture at right: statue of a dancer created by Degas while in New Orleans
MM: How did you meet Rosary O’Neill?
VH: I met Rosary in September in Paris when she was hosted by the Irish cultural center of Paris. My graduate professor, Annick Foucrier brought me to have a conversation with Rosary about art in the US and the French and American ways of thinking about art. I was so thrilled to meet Rosary, I worked in the theatre for eleven years before I moved to Paris, so I confessed to her I was in need of a drama project. This is how I eventually became the coordinator and stage manager, of the readings of "Degas in New Orleans" at the Sorbonne and Columbia Universities.
MM: What are your plans for her play in Paris?
VH: The project includes Ada Denise, inspiration for the project, professor Joseph Danan, French professor in theater at the university Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris 3, and his graduate students in master of theater studies. They will read the play at Reid Hall, the Columbia Global Center of Paris (thanks to Brunhilde Biebuyck, Administrative Director) and at the amphitheater Turgot in the Sorbonne University (thanks to Annick Foucrier, Chair Department of American Studies.) The idea is to have students and people in general discover American theater, which is I think too little known. The readings will be enriched with some music and pictures of Degas’ paintings but it will be kept as simple as possible in order to promote Rosary’s text.
MM:Where are you hoping to have this play performed afterwards?
VH: A great question to which I yet don’t have the answer. We will film the event in order to attract actors or directors. Paris is so full of plays and theater that it is nearly impossible to direct a new one. I think it might be possible to stage the play with local directors outside of Paris or with theater students who are more opened to hardy projects, but this is another story.
MM: What else would you like to mention?
VH: I am very proud to support this project and to help Rosary. When I was young my family used to welcome foreign students in our home, especially Americans. There I learned the need to have strong relationships between France and the US. There are never enough cultural ties between our two countries and we have to bear in mind that what was already achieved can easily be undone.
MM: What is the most difficult thing about doing a reading of a new play in France today?
VH: Except from all I said above? Rosary’s enthusiasm and energy! She is a real "atomic battery!"That’s a French expression to point out in a very positive manner that one is extremely enthusiastic and willing. In French, we say of someone who is tired or a bit slow that she is "on a low battery". And in reverse, when someone is very enthusiastic we say that "she is a real atomic battery". Atomic batteries are used for example in submarines in order to have them move with a more powerful energy. I guess it is typical French. Nuclear may not be as well considered in the US as it is in France. Nuclear in France is sacred, really. Her excitement and passion are truly powerful!
Renowned playwright Rosary O’Neill is known for penning plays that feature famous – and deceased – cultural icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Samuel Beckett, and Marie LaVeau. Her latest playThe Awakening of Kate Chopin, focuses on events in the life of one of America’s premiere female writers and feminists. Originally hailing from New Orleans, Rosary was drawn to the life story of Kate who spent a substantial amount of time in the famous Southern city. From the start, Rosary envisioned this play as a tour de force of obsession, rooted in the real life of the famous first great American novelist, based on detailed and shocking facts from her life.
Set in December of 1882, The Awakening of Kate Chopin focuses on a time when Kate was forced to juggle her relationship with her dying husband, Oscar, while carrying on a scandalous love affair with her wealthy neighbor, Albert. After her husband’s death, Kate chose to live with Albert but he subsequently betrayed and left her. This devastating event ultimately led a then-unpublished Kate to create some of her best work and secure a place in the history of American literature.
Actress Michelle Best is slated to play the role of Kate, something she regards as an honor considering that she has long admired the woman’s work. "Chopin had hope in her own self", Michelle exclaimed. "She believed in her own desire enough to break social conventions and do what her heart said instead of what society told her to do. I have always been an impulsive woman, yet there are contrary messages we, as women, as mothers, have been taught or have had handed down to us. It is very difficult to be an artistically viable woman, and to try and be ‘good’ and ‘right’ at the same time, especially for mothers. There ’s an inherent selflessness one must have to be a ‘good Mother’ and as an artistic woman, it is sometimes hard to give enough to our own creations, because we are supposed to subjugate ourselves to our children; we are supposed to be satisfied enough with them as our creations, so as not to need or desire anything more. But for an artist, the calling just doesn’t go away. Our spiritual creativity has to be fed, or we die. I understood this deep within my soul even at a young age, even contemplating motherhood and Kate Chopin gives the struggle voice so magnificently, she captures this angst so hopefully, too. Her novel struck me to my core."
Michelle and Rosary met when Michelle was cast as part of the PDW unit at the Actors’ Studio in another one of Rosary’s plays titled Montgomery Clift and the All Girl Fan Club. Rosary liked the choices Michelle made as an actress and that early good impression led to them collaborating. "I told her how much it thrilled me to be playing Marilyn Monroe in her play at the Actors’ Studio and she told me she had a few other plays that I might like," Michelle explained. When I saw the Kate Chopin piece I was instantaneously enthralled! Rosary impressed me as a woman with such an amazingly feminine force. She is powerful and feminine in a way that is so attractive. I love the way Rosary balances art and commerce. She’s a smart businesswoman and an amazingly gifted playwright."
In The Awakening of Kate Chopin, Kate is torn between two men, and a majority of the plot concerns the underlying heat of forbidden love that passes between her and Albert and the love that is waning between her and her alcoholic husband, Oscar. The chemistry of lust and the limitations of old love are explored in the subtext of every scene and accounts of Oscar’s drinking, womanizing, and poor business skills make it easy to pity Kate. As Michelle described, "It is what the characters are NOT saying that is the pulse of this piece. There are lots of layers of emotion."
Actor Chris Stack is slated to play Albert–the soon–to–be–divorced man who helped save Kate’s family business from Oscar’s poor decisions, encouraged her writing, supported her emotionally, and ultimately became both her muse and her desire. An experienced performer on stage and in film and television, Chris worked with Michelle numerous times in the past and their artistic energy and connection is undeniable. Keith Bulla, a director who has extensive experience working with playwrights on the development of new work, much of it at the Actors Studio where he is a Lifetime Member, agreed to direct the play which had its first reading on February 13, 2017, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at the home of Stephanie and Geordie Thompson; co—founders of InspireCorps, a non— profit arts education organization that links artists with schools, and dedicated supporters of the arts. The reading was a resounding success — largely due to the electrifying chemistry between Michelle as Kate and Chris as Albert — practically guaranteeing a much-warranted official staging of the play.
Recently, Rosary O’Neill spoke about her experiences working on this play and her ultimate intentions for it:
Meagan Meehan: What was it about the life of Kate Chopin that drew you to her?
Rosary O’Neill: I was stunned that a woman of such magnitude and talent had to overcome massive resistance to getting her work published. I was impressed that she was a mother of 6, a wife of a critically ill cotton broker, and only daughter of a widowed mother and she was able to pull herself up by the bootstraps out of bankruptcy and destitution and become the great writer she was. Of course, the fact that she went to a Sacred Heart Convent (I did too), was raised by women of French descent (I was too), was tutored by a brilliant mother and grandmother (I was too), made a debut, traveled abroad, married young (I did too) impressed me also. Kate’s success made me hope I too could be heard as a writer. She had the courage to write about difficult subjects like mixed race marriages, women adulterers, etc. I have always been fairly confined by my past (like Kate I was presented in high society, like Kate I married in the Catholic Church, was a top student of literature). Kate is as my ancestral‘mentor.’ She learned to please herself and she learned to use her real estate to finance her writing career. Something I too have done. I was initially drawn to Kate because I heard that she‘d walked the streets of New Orleans with Edgar Degas and her husband’s cotton office was next door to Edgar’s uncle’s. The Chopin/Degas relationship intrigued me and led me to wonder about what challenges Kate faced as a woman artist. Her story resonated with my life and gave me a peephole to understanding the life of an artist. I was also amazed that the prejudiced against women writers still exists, and that we haven’t come too far from what Kate experienced. The beauty in studying Kate is seeing the legacy her bravery has left us. When I initially heard about Kate Chopin I was living in New Orleans teaching at Loyola University. Two colleagues there were the experts on Kate and so I had ready—made research over coffee at lunch. At Loyola I was the second full professor who was a woman and the first female professor in the theatre department. I guess I hadn’t truly realized till I studied Kate’s life how far we women had come.
Megan: Some of Kate’s writings were very harsh – even cruel – towards her husband and children. Considering this, when you researched her, what kind of relationship did she have with her children in later life?
Rosary: Amazingly all of her six children (married and single) were living with her in her big house in St. Louis when she died. Her children adored her (this too gave me hope as I am mad for my four adult children.) After her husband died and her lover abandoned her, Kate moved to St Louis to be with her mother. A year later her mother died. Like Virginia Wolf, Kate was freed by money. She could speak freely, had a room of her own so to speak because she was the only daughter/heir of a wealthy widow. Upon her cruel husband’s sudden death, Kates mother didn’t remarry and neither did Kate because in that time if once a woman wed, her money became her husband’s. So, wealth freed Kate to become the writer she was meant to be (and she didn’t start writing seriously till almost 40). Kate Chopin in life never left her children but she did live with her lover after her husband died. In Louisiana at that time you couldn’t legally marry someone with whom you had had an affair. I don’t think Kate was cruel to her children and her husband was an out and out philanderer frequenting brothels and other women, and flaunting the double standard. In good times when she and her husband had servants and she could travel and have quiet alone time, Kate could sustain a difficult marriage, but when Oscar went bankrupt and became vindictive it was a different story. Albert Sampite, with whom Kate had the affair, was renown as the greatest lover south of the Mason–Dixon line and even today when you visit Chopinville (a town named after Kates in —laws) the descendnts of Albert Sampite (gorgeous horsemen) are still infamous as lovers. Interesting fact, "Sampite" in French BTW means "without pity."
MM: Kate was known to flirt with married men and be very sharp tongued. Noting the negative aspects to her personality, what did you find redeeming about her?
RO: Kate flirted with Albert Sampite who was married (but estranged) and who was saving her husband’s bankrupt plantation and also financing her husband’s cure from malaria. Albert treated her like an equal like the good businesswoman she was –and became –and she fell prey, as did many, to his charms. Kate was exhausted and privileged: her education, her wealthy background, her fawning female family had given her strength but made her resent the desperate situation she fell prey to. She was a little like Scarlet O’Hara. After her husband died, she sold off his goods, auctioned property, pulled herself and her children from despair. Her sharp tongue came from the fact she was a city girl exiled five hours from New Orleans in a town with a population of about 100. Then too would a man who was so strong not be seen as forthright or direct as opposed to sharp tongued. The women of the Louisiana village where Kate was exiled to were clearly jealous and vindictive and out to do in any beautiful woman who came to town in clothes from New Orleans, riding bareback, reading Nietzsche, speaking Parisian French, and resolute to represent her husband’s interests.
MM:What did Kate write? Have any of her stories impacted you in some way?
RO: Kate had always been a brilliant student and lover of language. Even as a girl she kept diaries and copied passages from literature that she liked to study. She wrote to express what she saw and to capture the life particularly of bayou. Because Louisiana at the time was considered "folksy" she was able to get an audience for her short stories in women’s magazines that looked for colorful material. Later she self–published her first novel At Fault" which was then questionably received. Most critics shunned her masterpiece, The Awakening". It was almost totally autobiographical and its poor reception tortured Kate and may have led to her aneurism and early death. Kate’s novels, unlike most of her short stories, weren’t written for a popular public but for a sophisticated audience, which wasn’t there for her yet. The Awakening only became known after Per Seyersted, a Norwegian scholar, rediscovered Chopin in the 1960s and brought Kate the recognition she deserved in the 1950/60s years after her death.
MM: What was her later life like? Did she finally find peace and happiness in her circumstances?
RO: In St Louis, the mature Kate was comfortable. She created a writer’s circle. She socialized with other brilliant people: doctors, lawyers, and poets. She financed trips for herself to New York to meet with editors and get her work published. She supervised her real estate in St. Louis, which provided her with an income to continue writing.
MM: Where are you hoping to have this play performed?
RO: I am hoping to have this play performed at the Signature Theatre, a newly built theatre that celebrates seminal new work, at the Public Theatre founded by the courageous Joe Papp, and then on Broadway to bring Kate Chopin to the stage and to the New York world.
MM: What ’s next for you?
RO: I ’m working on two rock musicals of my plays, Marie LaVeau and the Vampire and John Singer Sargent and Madame X. My play, Degas in New Orleans, will be read in Paris by graduate theatre students of the Sorbonne University and directed by Joseph Danan at Columbia University’s Reid Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Edgar’s death in 1917.
The Awakening of Kate Chopin by Rosary O’ Neill, A Salon Reading
posted on February 25 by Carole diTosti All Along the NYC Skyline
Poster of InspireCorps’ presentation of the reading of The Awakening of Kate Chopin by Rosary O’Neill. (courtesy of the playwright)
Recently (February 13), I attended the salon of Stephanie and Ghordie Thompson, 420 12th Street, Park Slope, New York where a staged reading of Rosary O’Neill’s play The Awakening of Kate Chopin staring Michelle Best and Chris Stack was presented. Directed by Keith Bulla, this post Civil War romantic drama takes place in 1882 at The Chopin plantation 100 miles from New Orleans in an impoverished and destitute one street town in rural Louisiana.
Michelle Best played Kate Chopin, the defiant Irish beauty with a captivating frankness of expression and a brilliance of action. In the play, Kate Chopin (future author of The Awakening) must decide between her dying husband and her lover, Albert the wealthy planter next door (Chris Stack). She chooses her lover. He leaves her. In agony she goes forth to become the great writer she was meant to be.
This tour de force of obsession and liberation is rooted in the real life of the famous first great American novelist Kate Chopin. Chopin was considered a fine writer until she violated the mores of her time with her second novel, The Awakening (1899). She dared to portray her protagonist Edna Pontellier as a woman who evolves into a free thinking, free acting woman. Edna seeks out autonomy and uplifts her own individuality, regardless of the Southern culture’s finding this to be intolerable. These were near heretical notions for women in 1899 when the book was published, even in the North.
(L to R): Stephanie Thompson introducing the actors Michelle Best and Chris Stack in a reading from ’The Awakening of Kate Chopin’ by Rosary O’Neill (photo Carole Di Tosti)
Because Chopin portrayed Edna Pontellier truthfully, revealing her sexuality, her rich, inner life of freedom and her complex relationships with her husband and other men with whom Chopin, following literary conventions, insinuates she had passionate affairs, the press vilified her. For Chopin’s forward-thinking depiction of Edna and the other women in the novel, which was years ahead of its time, her work was excoriated as ’morbid,’ ’vulgar,’ ’disagreeable.’ Depressed about its reception, though it received a few positive reviews, Chopin returned to her short story writing, and never wrote another novel again. Four years later she suffered from a brain hemorrhage at the St. Louis World’s Fair and died two days later.
O’Neill’s play is based on elements of Kate Chopin’s life some of which may be discovered in a biography Kate Chopin by Emily Toth (1990). The Awakening of Kate Chopin details interesting concepts about Chopin’s life which dovetail with her characterization of Edna Pontellier and add an accessible elucidation to an understanding of the writer.
Michelle Best as Kate and Chris Stack as Albert are positioned tellingly, one anticipatory, the other relaxed and in control. A reading of ’The Awakening of Kate Chopin,’ presented by InspireCorps (photo Carole Di Tosti)
The play uncovers events which happened in Chopin’s life prior to establishing her writing career in St. Louis, Missouri where she eventually moved. O’Neill cleverly indicates that Chopin used autobiographical elements of her own life (all writers do) as literary fodder to create her magnificent portrayals of women in The Awakening, a novel venerated and read widely in schools, colleges and universities today.
O’Neill’s Kate and the other women in The Awakening of Kate Chopin are equally revolutionary for their time, and O’Neill’s work echoes the life of the real Kate Chopin. O’Neill’s Kate wants to hold on to her marriage and her six small children. On the other hand there is the allure of reaching beyond the traditional roles forced upon women. Kate’s inner life encourages her to perhaps seek something which she could call her own.
The tension continues in a reading of The Awakening of Kate Chopin by Rosary O’Neill with Michelle Best as Kate and Chris Stack as Albert, her lover (photo Carole Di Tosti)
As inexorable circumstances close in on her marriage and situation, Kate is inspired to launch herself as a novelist. However, her relationship with her husband is strained and she becomes walled in when their cotton business goes bankrupt and a wealthy next-door neighbor presents more complex problems.
Ultimately, O’Neill’s Kate is is torn between establishing her own independence by writing and maintaining her love for her children, against negotiating a failed business, a philandering husband and a seductive, sexy planter. Though the sequence of events has been tweaked with regard to the real Kate Chopin’s life, there is a passionate affair (scandalous for the time).
The conflicts and elements in O’Neill’s evocation of Kate Chopin’s life in The Awakening of Kate Chopin are all too real. Many women in 2017 will empathize with O’Neill’s characterization of her protagonist, for she is an iconic woman confronting issues that married and unmarried women face in their life journeys. The Awakening of Kate Chopin, which leaves off right before the real Kate Chopin moves to St. Louis and becomes known to the world, is an epic drama of the first American woman novelist who is still highly controversial today.
Michelle Best, Chris Stack The Awakening of Kate Chopin (courtesy Rosary O’Neill)
I was intrigued to be at the salon to hear the reading of segments of the play for the first time with these well cast, fine actors. Michelle Best was subtle and evolving as the conflicted Kate. Chris Stack portrayed the sexy Albert with predatory insolence and sensuality. The soon-to-be-divorced Albert helps save Kate’s family business from Oscar’s (her husband) poor decisions while igniting her desire for a sexual relationship.
Director Keith Bulla conferring with Rosary O’Neill, the playwright of The Awakening of Kate Chopin (photo Carole Di Tosti)
Michelle Best played Kate Chopin, the defiant Irish beauty with a captivating frankness of expression and a brilliance of action.
Keith Bulla is a director who has extensive experience working with playwrights on the development of new work. He predominately does this at the Actors Studio but may be encouraged elsewhere if it is the right property. Bulla’s interest and insight spearheaded the reading. His gentle skill with the actors elicited from the depth of O’Neill’s writing a growing understanding by Best and Stack of how to best access these complex, fascinating characters.
The salon was sponsored by Stephanie and Geordie Thompson who are co-founders of InspireCorps, a non-profit arts education organization dedicated to supporting the arts.
(L to R): (L to R): Carole Di Tosti (journalist) Linda Langton (literary agent) Rosary O’Neill (playright, The Awakening of Kate Chopin) at InspireCorps’ salon reading of The Awakening of Kate Chopin (photo Carole Di Tosti)
Based upon the audience’s response in the ’talk back’ which generated discussion about Kate Chopin as a writer ahead of her time, yet obviously living these events in her time before she moved to St. Louis where her writing took off, I would say this is an auspicious ’first’ which portends great things to come for The Awakening of Kate Chopin.
PLAYWRIGHT ROSARY HARTEL O’NEILL REFLECTS ON PARIS
December 8 2016 by Meagan Meehan
Feature photo from Degas in New Orleans
Rosary Hartel O’Neill is a regaled playwright and scholar who is currently juggling several different plays being performed in venues across the globe. One of her most promising works, Degas in New Orleans, focuses on the real-life experiences of the renowned French painter Edgar Degas who travelled to New Orleans in the years after the Civil War in attempts to help his finically struggling American family. Rosary, who was raised in New Orleans and is bilingual, hopes that the play will be performed in both English and French. In September of 2016, she traveled to Paris where she discussed the future possibilities for the work and her newest play, Beckett at Greystones Bay, which follows a period in the life of famed writer Samuel Beckett. Below, writer Meagan Meehan chats with Rosary about these experiences.
Meagan Meehan: What were these experiences in Paris like?
Rosary Hartel O’Neill: Fantastic. Everywhere you walk you are surrounded by so much beauty. I lived in the 5th arrondissement right next to the Sorbonne and just a half a block away was the gorgeous huge Pantheon and just four blocks away was Luxenbourg Gardens with its gigantic statue of Cupid and Psyche reminding us always of the importance of love and beauty and the huge gift that art is for the heart. I was recharged and began re-loving my role as a writer, a passer thru of stories and of experiences.
We live so briefly and it’s marvelous to see and hear and be surrounded by Churches and Parks and the Seine and museums and fountains all that remind us of beauty and of our little part in the legacy of life if only to pass our experiences on. I wondered as I left if Degas hadn’t felt something similar when he came back from New Orleans to Paris. New Orleans is the only Southern city that was preserved perfectly after the Civil War because the soldiers didn’t get that far South to destroy it. But the French Quarter which is where Degas roamed, is only 14 square blocks and the commercial area where he painted “A Cotton Office” is not much bigger. Surely, when he returned back to Paris the sight of these enormous buildings gracing the sky must have once against astonished him, the splendid city hall, Hotel de Ville, the Notre Dame Cathedral stretching its peaks up into the sky, and then the Arche de Triomphe, Tuileries Gardens. It goes on and on. When you are surrounded by beauty and majesty you want to create up to a higher level. And when you capture the pain as Degas did in his portraits of Nurses, invalids, the colors and the pain about illness and death has a depth that goes down even further.
Megan: What are the future possibilities for Degas in New Orleans?
Rosary: Well, just a skip and a jump behind the Irish Cultural Center in the Latin Quarter where I had the residency is the great Sorbonne University – the oldest European university dating back to the 16th century – and so the graduate students in American studies came over the huge courtyard of the Irish Cultural center to learn about my play and in April of 2017, graduate students in Joseph Danan’s masters class will put on a staged reading in French of Degas in New Orleans in the Salle de Richelieu of the Sorbonne. That show will hopefully also be performed in the Courtyard of the Irish Cultural Center. And the scandalous story of Degas’ visit to New Orleans will be experience in Europe for the first time.
Megan: What was the food like in Paris? Would some of the dishes be what Degas and his family might have eaten back in the 1800s?
Rosary: The food was buttery, spicy, and fresh, like escargots, seafood salad, duck confit. I particularly loved how Parisians buy the baguette of bread right before supper and carry it with a napkin because the loaf is still warm. I’m sure the bread was wondrous back in 1872 too and, of course the restaurants in New Orleans today like Antoine’s and Galatoire’s — which were around back then — still serve that hot warm bread. One of the scenes in my play Degas In New Orleans takes place on Christmas Even when Degas’ family is drinking warm eggnog with the froth on top and Edgar confronts his cousin Telle with his love for her. Another scene (Edgar’s arrival scene) Edgar enjoys chicory coffee prepared for him, a drink locals still relish in the city today. New Orleanians’ love for drink and food rests on their Latin roots: appreciation of companionship and leisure. In Degas In New Orleans, Degas and his relatives sit on the gallery and imbibe lemonade while struggling to confront the quicksand life around them. Bullets are fired on the street and they hurry inside. No longer can Edgar pretend that New Orleans where he had hoped to live is like the marvelous outdoor promenades of Paris where people sit imbibe and people watch.
Megan: Paris is a hub of the arts, including fashion. How did you approach the fashion angle of your historic Degas play?
Rosary: Women in Paris dress in understated elegance. Sheer cashmere sweaters, with a string of pearls, soft leather clutch purses, and the finest equestrian boots. In Paris, people dress for others, to make an entrance and an exit, because they live outside their small homes on the glamorous wide streets, which are resplendent with light even at night. I imagine it was difficult for Edgar’s relatives who were living in poverty in Reconstruction New Orleans to greet him in dingy clothes, old shoes, and worn ribbons rather than new finery, which the event would have mandated. So much of Degas’ time in New Orleans was spent indoors because of the fierce heat and harsh weather conditions, something he rarely experienced in Paris and the danger in the streets from the occupation by Northern soldiers.
Megan: How did the weather in Paris differ from New Orleans? For instance, might Degas have been surprised by how warm the American South was? If so, do you think that affected his work?
Rosary: The heat irritated Edgar’s eyes and kept him trapped inside with his cousins – one of whom he fell in love with. The heat motivated the moody close-ups he painted which led to his impressionistic paintings in France. One has the sense in Paris with its open streets and high skies that foul weather can easily pass through. In New Orleans, Edgar experienced the violence of weather: hurricanes, floods, mosquito-infested days. The weather warred inside his soul and created a texture of loss below even the sunniest of paintings.
Megan: Transportation has made it much easier to travel. Today, you can hop a plane to Paris in a few hours. What was the process of traveling like for Degas? How long would his trip have taken?
Rosary: Well, traveling to Paris from New York today seemed short (seven hours) until I got to the airport and had to wait five hours on my feet to go through security – some passport problem somewhere for someone stalled the lot of us arriving in Charles de Gaule. I was reminded of the hostile time Degas visited New Orleans during Reconstruction 1872, how much paperwork you needed to travel then, how difficult it was for foreigners and blacks to move about when all were suspect. The idea of war waging in the wings heightens drama. I particularly wanted to go to Paris during this post-Iran terror time to show the French how much I love and cherish them and Paris. I suppose Degas had the same anticipation and unease traveling to New Orleans to help his cousins. Degas was also meeting his brothers – who were trying to save his Uncle’s Cotton business and going bankrupt there – and his brother’s wife whom Edgar was still in love with. So much courage it took for Edgar to go to Louisiana with a small pocket of money and a big pocket of love.
Megan: Do you have any new plays, or parts to Degas, planned for the future?
Rosary: Well, not for Degas, but in April my new play Beckett at Greystones Bay will be performed at Columbia University Paris’ Reid Hall as part of their Global outreach series. Barret O’Brien who staged the two act play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Midnight Series will star. Beckett left Ireland to claim Paris as his home and wrote all of his plays there. A street in Paris is now named for him, and all Frenchman claim Beckett as un fils de la France (a son of France).
Megan: Do you hope to return to Paris soon?
Rosary: I will be in Paris in March and April of 2017 for the staging of Degas in New Orleans and Beckett at Greystones Bay and to work with Philippe Adrien at the Theatre de la Tempete on the latest staging techniques he has used when mounting Beckett.
Megan: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Rosary: Well, while the excitement of Paris is its old and beautiful and rich, the excitement of New York – returning to the place that is now my home – is its new and exciting and daring and unbridled so there’s a kind of energy in the creation here that is magical. One expands into history by daring in the present. I think that Degas and Beckett would both love NYC and spend a lot of time in the parks and museums here and look for cafes for rest stops where they could reflect and talk. Travel helps me take rest stops in my home to look and see differently to appreciate where I come from and to reach out globally to all my brothers and sisters in the arts who try to work each day to the strengths of their abilities and use what their countries give them to create the finest art. Hopefully as an artist I will keep growing and learning and Paris is a touchstone in this. Only death would keep me from Paris!
Paris: The Sorbonne, The Irish Cultural Center and an American Connection
posted on November 21 by Carole diTosti All Along the NYC Skyline
The Pantheon, near the Irish Cultural Center, La Rive Gauche (photo Carole Di Tosti)
Rosary O’Neill has more than a cursory connection to Beckett and Degas. She has thoroughly researched both men’s lives and has written plays about each. Her play about Beckett, Beckett at Greystones Bay received a focused reading in Paris in a downtown venue this September. It was directed and acted by Brendan McCall.
Earlier in the summer Barrett O’Brien directed and acted in the role of Beckett in a staged production of Beckett at Greystones Bay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As a result of that production, O’Neill collaborated with the director and upon his suggestion, expanded the work into two acts. O’Neill’s Beckett is being developed for future focused readings and productions in Paris and back in the US.
Barret O'Brien, Susan Lynskey, Beckett at Greystones Bay, Ashland Shakespeare
Barret O’Brien and Susan Lynskey in ‘Beckett at Greystones Bay’ at Ashland Shakespeare Festival (photo Dylan Paul)
O’Neill’s love of Degas began when she first appreciated his work as a young child. It blossomed when she was a Drama Professor at Loyola in New Orleans, Louisiana where she founded the nonprofit theater company, Southern Repertory which produced a number of her plays.
It was during the time she ran Southern Rep, that she researched Degas’s life and discovered that he had strong familial ties to New Orleans where he stayed for about six months during the tumultuous era of reconstruction seven years after the Civil War. Fascinated by Degas’ relationship with his brother Rene’s wife, Estelle Musson, and intrigued by Rene’s spendthrift lifestyle which bankrupted the Degas fortune along with the crash in the cotton markets during and after the war, O’Neill marshaled her talents and wrote Degas in New Orleans.
Sinead, Rosary O'Neill, Irish Cultural Center
Sinéad Mac Aodha and Rosary O’Neill at an Irish Cultural Center event (photo Carole Di Tosti)
This year marks the centennial year of Degas’ death. O’Neill, who has collaborated on productions of her two act play Degas in New Orleans has enjoyed seeing her work performed in regional theater in Texas and Louisiana. The play has received focused readings in New York City and New York where it caught the attention of professional musician and Bard College professor David Albert Temple, who wrote music for the play and collaborated with O’Neill to make Degas in New Orleans, The Musical.
Their collaboration which included producer/director Deborah Temple and a cast from a regional performing arts high school, brought the musical to New York City where it was performed in a one-night-only show. Prior to its New York premiere, the production was performed in upstate New York at Bard College’s Black Box Theater.
The musical like the play focuses on Edgar Degas’ time spent with his mother’s relatives, the Mussons. It intimates the potential for a love relationship with his brother’s wife, Estelle. Surely, if his brother had not bankrupted the family fortune after the crash of the cotton trade (a painting of the family’s cotton office hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art, as does his portrait of Estelle Musson with lovely red peonies), the situation would have been very different for the painter. Degas would most likely have stayed in New Orleans to pursue the possibilities of love with Estelle and to help her pick up the pieces after his brother Rene deserted her for her maid America. His painterly subjects would have been of the city of New Orleans, family portraits and perhaps even his cousin Norbert and his wife who were mixed race and free persons of color. But alas, Edgar had to return home to financially support his father, who was suffering a near breakdown because of Rene’s wantonness wracking up gambling debts.
Rosary O'Neill, Sorbonne, Irish Cultural Center
Rosary O’Neill and students from the Sorbonne at the Irish Cultural Center (photo Carole Di Tosti)
It would have been a magnificent tribute to Degas to mount a production of either the play or the musical Degas in New Orleans in New York City in celebration of the centennial of Degas’ death on September 27, 1917. Currently, the process is on hold. However, O’Neill’s play about Degas and the strong cultural ties between New Orleans and Paris are being studied by the students at the Sorbonne. French Professor of Contemporary Literature Joseph Danan will be examining Degas in New Orleans as contemporary literature. Additionally, the play will have a focused reading in French at Columbia University’s center at the Sorbonne at Reid Hall. It is an event that is a first-of-its-kind.
Rosary O’Neill has made friends of visiting artists in residence at the Irish Cultural Center where she will be staying as her work is being studied and performed in Paris. She will continue to write, speak and share with the visiting Irish artists in residency at the Center, and be stimulated by their support and brilliance.
The Irish Cultural Center is the go-to place for events that highlight the strongly rooted Irish experience in Paris. It serves as an amazing resource for the community, students from the Sorbonne and visiting artists who are looking to feel at home in Paris. O’Neill is enthusiastic about her stay at the Center, and is happy that she, in a small way, is continuing to affirm links among the learning centers of the Sorbonne, the Irish Cultural Center and New Orleans. It will be a pleasure to cover the readings of her plays Beckett at Greystones Bay and Degas in New Orleans.
October 2016 - Playwright Rosary O'Neill Soars in Paris
By Meagan Meehan
BrendanMcCall in BECKETT at Les Rendez-Vous D'ailleurs Theatre, Paris. Credit: Christian Raby.
Nathalie Peltier in BECKETT at Les Rendez-Vous D'ailleurs Theatre, Paris. Credit: Christian Raby.
Rosary O'Neill is a renowned playwright for whom the year 2016 has been as exciting as her plays. A writer who uses the histories of real-life and long-dead people as muses, Rosary has traveled to Paris, France, to participate in a performance of Beckett at Greystones Bay (recently staged in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Midnight Series for which she has been asked to write a second act) and to develop a production of her play Degas in New Orleans for the Tricentennial of the founding of Louisiana by the French in 2017-2018.
In residence at the Irish Cultural Center in the Latin Quarter, Rosary is partnering with Brendan McCall – a theatre director/producer based in Norway to produce Beckett at Greystones Bay at the Theatre D’Ailleurs in Paris. From there, O’Neill and McCall hope to stage the work in several Parisian venues like the Irish Cultural Center and Columbia’s University’s Global outreach program at Reid Hall in Paris. Beckett at Greystones Bay entertains and educates and so the piece can aid theatre practitioners in their worldwide programs.
Rosary has greatly enjoyed working in Paris with Brendan McCall. “He’s another Irish American who first staged my Beckett play at the Arthur Seelen Theatre in NYC in 2007 and then staged Marilyn/God in Oslo. Norway,” Rosary explained. “We plan to set in motion a series on artist icons, what it took for them to excel, and the legacy they left behind!”
Rosary is also meeting with Annick Foucrier the head of the American Studies at the Sorbonne to coordinate a production in Paris of her other French-themed play Degas in New Orleans since the university — which holds one of the highest international reputations of academic institutions – is regaled for its high-quality literature programs and appreciates both the subject of Rosary’s plays and the effort that it takes to pen them. Rosary is planning the groundwork for her Degas production in 2017 the centennial of Degas’ death and the beginning of festivities for the Tricentennial of Louisiana’s founding by the French.
Other Rosary projects include: working with the American School in Paris to have a production of Beckett at Greystones Bay there in 2017, with the Sorbonne to have a reading of Degas in New Orleans at the Theatre Richelieu in February 2017, hosting a writing workshop for Sorbonne students in the Courtyard of the Irish Cultural Center in late September.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Rosary O’Neill is fluent in both French and English and revels in tales of artists who were somehow connected to Louisiana, Paris and Ireland – especially those who lived in times long passed. She relishes stories of artists who overcame much hardship and strove to keep creating work even when the odds were against them. “I want to use my work to heal global wounds between artists and countries,” Rosary stated. “Art and beauty can come from difficulty and grief; it’s remarkable how many artists sacrificed so much so they could keep working.”
Irish poet Samuel Beckett intrigues Rosary. Beckett had extreme difficulty getting published in Ireland–a reality that was doubly hard for him since his mother was completely unsupportive. After feeling shattered physically and emotionally, Beckett chose to admit himself into psychiatric therapy in London. “At only 26, his soul and his body were falling apart,” Rosary, explained. “He had boils, sties, chest pains, night sweats, breathing problems – all these physical conditions were interfaced with his failure as a writer and his contentious environment where no one but his deceased father believed in him.”
Rosary’s extensive research left her amazed by how much Beckett doubted himself – and was doubted by others – given all the incredible laurels he won at a young age for his achievements as a professor at his alma mater Trinity College in Dublin. Beckett taught in Paris on a fellowship and even assisted famed author James Joyce. “He left academia to pursue writing and be true to his soul,” Rosary said. “He shows the reaches of great talent, to move beyond the ordinary and even quick success in the wrong realm. I am always aghast and mesmerized by the tortures that great talents confront to propel their work into the universe. It almost seems that the bigger the talent the more hurdles the artist has to overcome.”
Despite all the trials he faced, Beckett found happiness in Paris, France, which he adopted as his city. He subsequently wrote many works in French and was better received by audiences there than in his homeland. Rosary found this history to be very interesting; “Beckett is perhaps the greatest playwright of the 20th century. A humble man, he devoted his life to his talent and remained a true man of theatre, working in diverse languages and even writing in German and French to get published. When his work wasn’t accepted in Ireland or London, he moved on to Germany and then successfully to France. That takes a lot of dedication and guts.”
The first act of Rosary’s play about Beckett takes place on the beach on the day of his father’s death. The plot centers on young Beckett as he tries to decide whether to kill himself or claim his talent and go to London for therapy. Ultimately, he chooses to go to heal himself physically and spiritually and get strong so he can be a great writer. This act was presented as a short play and now, with the addition of act two, the work will be a full length. According to Rosary, “Act Two takes place in London where Beckett is undergoing therapy and coming to terms with his vicious mother and his violent thoughts and deciding what to do after the non-acceptance of his writing with English publishers.”
Along with exploring events about Beckett and Degas in Paris, Rosary is making connections with artistic institutions promoting culture including the American School in Paris, French Louisiana Association, Mona Bismarck Gallery, American Library, the Cultural Attache of the American Embassy, and the Fulbright Commission for American Exchange.
“The Irish Cultural Center has been very supportive,” Rosary stated. “It was, in fact, an Irishman who brought me to Paris. Oscar Wilde the subversive wit and playwright, like many Irish before him and since, fell in love with Paris. He was a fixture of the bohemian artistic circle, wrote his play Salome there, and after his fall from grace following his trial in 1895, he called Paris home.” Moreover, the Irish Cultural Center is situated in the heart of Paris at 5 Rue des Irlandais – a few blocks away from the Pantheon and within walking distance of the Sorbonne.
Rosary has her own strong ties to France. Her first play, Wishing Aces, garnered her a Fulbright Scholarship – the first of several – to Paris in 1992 and a French family housed her in their garret basement every summer for ten years so she could write there. “Other Parisians, colleagues and friends supported me through five more Fulbrights in Paris,” Rosary declared. “My friends who believe so much in me and my art inspire me to keep writing as does the beautiful city of Paris which has been lifting the souls of artists for centuries. I have had several plays staged in Paris by invitation of institutions’ there including Theatre de Nesle, American Center and Sorbonne University. The Fulbright Commission introduced me to so many artists who championed my work, translated it, and staged it. There is an unfathomable love for artists and playwrights in Paris. In 2014 I was in residence at the Cartoucherie Theatre writing my play about Marie LaVeau.
Akin to Beckett, Degas faced horrible struggles. Despite his status as a masterful artist today, Degas’ was initially considered a middling artist. “I want to uncover the soul behind their genius and reveal the legacy of their lives behind the art,” Rosary declared of both Degas and Beckett. “I find it fascinating that both had such strong ties to France, just like I do. Being of Irish descent and raised by an Irish grandmother in New Orleans, I felt I knew and had a connection to the family of Beckett. And Degas, well, his mother was from New Orleans and he still has thirty descendants there. I knew his world well having been raised in New Orleans and having lived there most of my adult life. I felt he too like Beckett was a traveler. Degas went to New Orleans to save his uncle’s cotton business and to reclaim his family there and witnessed and was part of the horror of Reconstruction. But triumph comes from pain.”
The reception of Beckett at Greystones Bay has been overwhelmingly positive among both French and Irish audiences. The big exhibition of Degas presently at the d’Orsay has resulted in great interest from the French Louisiana Association and the full support of the Attache Cultural of America to have the show performed for the Tricentennial of the founding of Louisiana.
“I met with enthusiastic folks at Reid Hall the global outreach center of Columbia University Paris,” Rosary explained. “Being a member of the Harlem Writers Project at Columbia in NYC furthered me in talking about Degas in Paris in 2017-2018 there. Beckett and Degas are European celebrities whereas in America they are historical men. Of course in NYC, with the many Degas paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Degas has heroic status, but in Paris when you talk of Beckett and Degas many people in the streets bow their head. That is mainly the reason why I passionately want to showcase my work here.”
Indeed, Rosary has many projects slated for the future and she intends for her work to promote international cooperation and world peace. She intends for Beckett at Greystones Bay to be staged in both Paris and Oslo before returning to the United Sates for runs in New York. Rosary says, “I feel audacious to be from the South and from NYC now and to dare to write about and hear the work I have written performed for Europeans. But Parisians and Irish here are so bright so compassionate so interested in the arts that I went to keep talking and writing. Playwriting enables us to celebrate these mighty men, these great heroes, these visionaries. We thank them for their suffering and my role, as playwright is to share the humor and the misery and the ultimate exhilaration they experienced out of being artists. There is great support for the arts in Paris and an amazing interest in culture. We artists here are moving forward by holding hands and marching in little steps to bigger and bigger projects. The audience is here in Europe for new and historical American plays.”
Click here to read the review on line by Meagan Meehan
BECKETT AT 110 IN OREGON: CELEBRATING A FAMED POET THROUGH THEATRE
By Meagan Meehan
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is the only year-round festival theatre that employs 90 actors and over 300 employees in America. Located in Ashland, Oregon, OSF offers a diversity of experiences that feel like a Festival event. It includes nine plays in rotating rep, new play readings, backstage tours, park talks, lectures, classes, workshops, pre-and post-show conversations and a free Green Show before the evening shows.
Revolutionary in multi-diverse casting and subject matter (both daring versions of Shakepeare and bold new plays,) the festival celebrates in its seven theaters by showcasing timely and brave works in American theatre and the classics. Nestled in the gorgeous mountains of Oregon amid bright blue skies and bleached white clouds, OSF does outdoor theater in a Globe Theatre which replicates the one Shakespeare used in 16th century England and indoor theatre in a variety of in the round, proscenium, and multiple use stages. In 2016 a giant state-of-the-art rehearsal space will allow many productions to be in rehearsal simultaneously.
The season of this not-for-profit professional theatre founded in 1935 runs from February through early November, in the village of Ashland. OSF offers eleven different plays that include three or four by Shakespeare and seven by other classic writers, as well as modern and contemporary work and world premieres.
Famed poet Samuel Beckett would have been 110 this year and OSF – now 81 – is dutifully celebrating the once maverick playwright with an experimental staging of a play that was inspired by his remarkable life. Following in this path of heralding new works, company actor Barret O’Brien has organized a workshop of Rosary O’Neill’s play titled Beckett at Greystones Bay. Hence, it is not simply a reading but an “OSF Midnight Project” which is a company-driven branch of the theatre that supports experimental plays-in-progress. Barret O’Brien stars as Beckett and Susan Lynskey plays all the voices in Sam’s head: Mother, Brother, Father, Edna, and Margaret.
Samuel Beckett was one of the most regaled poets of all time and playwright Rosary O’Neill–who is well-known for writing plays concerning real life, long dead, public figures–found his life’s story to be fertile ground for her own creative writing. The multi-published and award-winning playwright subsequently penned Beckett at Greystones Bay, a one-man play that is set in Ireland in the 1930s and offers some factual information about Beckett’s life.
Beckett at Greystones Bay features one single actor–who happens to be Rosary’s own son–who plays the role of a young Samuel Beckett. Only 27 at the time that the play takes place, Beckett is visited by various ghosts from his past and is close to having a nervous breakdown as he struggles to write. Essentially, the play focuses on the actual turning point in Beckett’s life where he had to choose between abandoning his writing or choosing to go into therapy in London to save his mind.
Like most of Rosary’s work, this play beautifully blends historical fact with artistic experimentation and it is due to have its French debut in Paris this September. Fittingly, Rosary was inspired to write the play whilst she was in Paris on a Fulbright. “A colleague said he had the perfect topic for a play on Samuel Becket: the point in his life where he had to choose between his writing or therapy,” Rosary explained in a recent interview. “I had no idea that Beckett went through such a torturous time right after his father died nor that he had failed so astronomically in his youth as a writer before his ascent into fame, nor that he had to leave Ireland and all he held dear to find himself as a writer. I felt his story could inspire others as it did for me, a writer who had recently left New Orleans and moved to Paris when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her past.”
During the course of her research, Rosary was interested in the fact that Beckett was a college professor who taught in Paris and at Ireland’s Trinity College yet he felt very alienated in an academic environment. “The fact that he spoke five languages and received many honors; the fact that he was James Joyce’s assistant and lost him as a mentor because his deranged daughter fell in love with him – all of that was fascinating!” Rosary declared, “Also the terrible experiences he had in love; namely the young girls who betrayed him and the cousin of his fiancé who died pining for him. His mother’s fierce jealousy and cruelty to him was also shocking. Beckett’s life was a stream of stony hurdles but his commitment to his writing was awe-inspiring. I wanted to get to know him more and stage his ascendency.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspects to Beckett’s personality were his unwavering devotion to his writing and to France. He also never lost his willingness to experiment nor his insatiable curiosity about life. In his older years, he even forgave – and tried to visit – a thug who had attempted to kill him. Such a historic figure certainly deserves a well-produced show. “I would love to stage my Beckett play in a way that is very cinematic and visual with ghost pictures of faces from Beckett’s past on curtains, keening music and even smoke,” Rosary explained. “Since throughout the play Beckett talks to and is visited by the ghosts from his past and future, the use of mystery in the staging would be pivotal.”
Barret O’Brien, who will play the role of Samuel Beckett, spent most of his childhood at the Southern Repertory Theater in New Orleans that his mother founded. Rosary was also the person who most inspired him to become an actor–something he is grateful to her for. “I like being constantly pushed out of my comfort zone,” Barret stated. “Every first rehearsal I feel like my daughter at the first day of preschool, standing by the door with my lunch box, nervous and eager.”
When asked specifically about how he prepared for the role as Beckett, Barrett cited a strong desire to know the histories and personal preferences of the historic figure. He explained, “With real-life characters you get the gift of limits. Beckett admired Keats: check. Beckett was plagued by his relationship to his mother: check. Beckett was artistically ambitious: check.These answers are there and don’t need to be overly-debated. Then one can move to adding layers upon those layers – that’s how I prepared for the role.”
Click here to read the review on line by Meagan Meehan
A reading of Beckett at Greystones Bay in Paris will be held from September 9 to 12, 2016. To learn more about the play, visit Rosary O’Neill’s official website.
‘Degas in New Orleans’…the scandalous tale as told by playwright Rosary O’Neill
By Meagan Meehan
Playwright Rosary O'Neill is proud to be a seventh generation, bilingual, New Orleanian. Though she now lives and works in New York City, she maintains a soft-spot for people who were associated with Louisiana, such as the famous voodoo witch Marie Laveau. At present, Rosary is working on a project involving the famed French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, who visited New Orleans in 1872.Playwright Rosary O'Neill, is proud to be a seventh generation, bilingual, New Orleanian. Though she now lives and works in New York City, she maintains a soft-spot for people who were associated with Louisiana, such as the famous voodoo witch Marie Laveau. At present, Rosary is working on a project involving the famed French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, who visited New Orleans in 1872.
Recently, Rosary O’Neill took the time to speak to the Consulate General of France in Louisiana about her experiences working on “Degas in New Orleans” and being a writer in general:
Meagen Moreland-Taliancich (M.M.): As an accomplished writer and playwright, your work has brought you to New York and Europe for the past several years. Despite being pulled away, would you say your roots are in New Orleans?
Rosary O’Neill (R.O.): Absolutely. I'm from seven generations of New Orleanians, drinking mint juleps and cafe au laits and loving the warm river breeze and rain in the afternoon…you never get that out of your blood.
M.M.: One of your current projects, "Degas in New Orleans" is based on the brief period French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas, spent in the Crescent City in 1872. What attracted you to this subject, and why do you think it makes great theatre?
R.O.: I was stunned to find out that Edgar had a mother from New Orleans and that his cousins from New Orleans had spent summers in Paris with the Degas boys. Since my earliest childhood--and education with the Sacred Heart nuns on St. Charles Avenue--I have been enamored by Paris. I majored in French at Newcomb College just so I could spend a year in France. So, finding out that Edgar had these deep ties to New Orleans was a delight to me. The story of Edgar's time in New Orleans makes great theatre because the trip occurred at a prime time in Edgar's life. He was 38 and his younger brother Rene--who had married their cousin Estelle--was 26. So the trip to New Orleans occurred during a pivotal time in Degas' life at an age in which he was leading man material. His life could have spun into glory or regret. Edgar was still dreaming of living in New Orleans, having a Southern family, and joining with his two brothers in Louisiana. Edgar's three cousins in their late twenties and early thirties were also full of beauty and possibility.
M.M.: Next year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of Degas’ death, followed in 2018 by the New Orleans Tricentennial celebration. Why do you think Degas’ story is particularly poignant now, at this momentous intersection of our city’s past, present and future?
R.O.: Edgar still has over 30 descendants in New Orleans and even 100 years later the secret of his visit and the scandal of his brother's betrayal all are known. Moreover, many creative people who are now living in New Orleans claim lineage from this great artist.
M.M.: You are hoping to produce “Degas in New Orleans” in Paris next year with high school students. Is educating French students on this link between our cultural heritages important to you?
R.O.: Yes, the teen years are the important years where we learn whom we love and whom we come from and I think it is important for Louisianan and French teens to know how long our history goes back together and how much Edgar Degas loved Louisiana and its people. His first great painting titled The Cotton Exchange was bought by the Musee de Pau in France. It was a painting of his maternal uncle's bankrupt cotton office, in New Orleans, done when Edgar came to America to save the business and failed. It's also important for teens to see how failure can be the source of great beauty and art.
M.M.: Where can people find more information about your work, and get involved with the project?
R.O.: People can find out more information on my website or with the French Louisiana Association in Paris or the American Studies Program of the Sorbonne which are sponsors of the project.
The Consulate General of France in Louisiana would like to thank Rosary and journalist Meagan Meehan for their participation in this interview and contribution of the information below.
About Rosary O'Neill:
Rosary Hartel O’Neill, Ph.D., is the author of twenty-five plays and three nonfiction books; her text “The Actor’s Checklist” is used in schools nationwide. Rosary has received numerous awards and her plays have been produced all over the United States and abroad. Moreover, she has showcased work at the New York City Fringe Festival known as FringeNYC. Rosary is also a Professor of Drama and Speech who once taught at the esteemed Loyola University. Rosary was also the Founding Artistic Director of the Southern Repertory Theatre, the leading Equity theatre in New Orleans where she was born and raised.
About "Degas in New Orleans":
Edgar Degas’ visit to New Orleans was not pleasant, but it was certainly eventful and the details of the scandalous trip remain engrossing. Rosary’s play, “Degas in New Orleans,” is a work of fiction that is based on fact and set during his ill-fated journey to The Big Easy. Rosary researched the story for ten years under five Fulbright Fellowships and one from the American Academy in Rome.
A dedicated scholar, Rosary even lived for several months in Degas’ family home on Esplanade in New Orleans. She subsequently developed a broader work of narrative nonfiction--although the initial play was the crux of the story’s success, having been published by the esteemed Samuel French Inc. The play chronicles actual events in the life of Edgar Degas, who was both fascinating and tragic. The plot centers on recently exposed scandals that were hidden for over 100 years due to dishonor, bankruptcy, and betrayal.
Edgar Degas was the only French Impressionist with American relatives. His mother was from New Orleans and his uncle was in the cotton business. From the time he buried his mother at the age of twelve, Edgar pined for Louisiana yet he only visited the land once when he was 38 years old.
The year was 1872 which was not long after the end of the American Civil War. During this “Reconstruction” era, Edgar was not yet famous and New Orleans was wracked with poverty. Fifty banks went out of business, currency had depreciated by 1000%, the cotton business failed, and fortunes were lost. In this dark time period, his uncle’s cotton business was bankrupt and Edgar arrived in the United States with money from his father’s French banks to help. Yet Edgar’s troubles went deeper than debt; during his trip he fell in love with his sister-in-law, Estelle Musson, nicknamed “Telle,” who was the wife of his brother and also the Degas’ first cousin.
Ultimately, Edgar’s family went bankrupt, his beloved sister-in-law went blind and birthed a dying child, his brother squandered the remaining fortune--whilst carrying on an illicit affair with his wife’s best friend--and his uncle joined the White League, a racist militant organization. The stress of these toxic situations caused Edgar to suffer from insomnia and the brutal New Orleans heat damaged his eyes.
Yet he continued to paint, mostly to help his father in Paris who had been rendered broke by his attempts to help his in-laws. Despite all of his troubles, Edgar salvaged his senses and found a new direction for his painting and a deeper meaning in his life. Ultimately, his story is one of resilience in the face of adversary and overcoming tragedy.
Rosary was captivated by Edgar’s story due to its drama and rich historical merit. Her main goal is to have her play performed in France to help European high school students understand their deep ties to New Orleans. Ideally, the play will be performed in both French and English. Rosary is planning a visit to France in September of 2016 to make this dream project a reality on a residency with the Irish Cultural Center in the Latin Quarter.
She is working with Annick Fourier, Chair of American Studies at the Sorbonne and Joseph Roussel of the French Louisiana Association.
Click here to also read the review in French culture by Meagan Meehan
PLANE LOVE AND FRINGENYC: AN INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT ROSARY O’NEILL
By Meagan Meehan
This year marks the 20th Annual FringeNYC Festival, which will run from August 12 – 28, 2016. Founded in 1997, FringeNYC is one of the largest multi-arts events in North America. The festival takes place over the course of two weeks every August and is spread out on more than twenty stages across several neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan, notably the Lower East Side, the East Village, and Greenwich Village. Attendance is generally in the tens of thousands. Unlike most Fringe festivals, FringeNYC uses a jury-based selection process and approximately 200 shows, out of a much larger pool of applicants, are selected for inclusion each year.
Rosary O’Neill is one of the playwrights who will have her show, Plane Love, produced at FringeNYC 2016. Rosary is an award-winning playwright who has had her worked produced all across the United States and abroad; a number of her plays have also been published by Samuel French. Rosary decided to enter the FringeNYC competition after a friend of hers had overwhelmingly positive experiences with the festival.
Although getting accepted into FringeNYC is undeniably an honor, it also comes with a lot of responsibility and hard work attached. “I was very pleased with how open and cooperative everyone was,” Rosary said, while noting that the technological aspects of the festival were the hardest to manage. “I found it challenging to respond to the needs of the larger social networks that are attached to the Fringe,” she said. “Anyone who enters the festival has to be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion and make many deadlines.”
While submitting a play to FringeNYC is free (and can usually be done easily via email), if the work is accepted for production playwrights are required to pay a $700 participation fee. They are also largely responsible for producing the show— including finding a director, designers, performers, and rehearsal spaces—as shows need to be brought to the Fringe fully staged. However, the Fringe does provide photographs and a review, which is extremely helpful for promotion. Rosary expressed extreme gratitude towards her director, producer, and several technical supporters who helped her make “Plane Love” a reality. Anyone who is considering submitting a play to FringeNYC should be aware of the time and dedication that such an endeavor requires.
“Out of all my twenty-five plays, I chose to enter Plane Love to FringeNYC because it’s a two character play that can be done anywhere,” Rosary said. “The Fringe does not let you know right away what theater space you will get, so your company must be flexible in terms of staging and also in terms of setting up the show and striking down! In order to keep the cost for playwrights manageable, the Fringe negotiates with many theaters to get the best venues, but often the artists do not know until summer.”
As of June 10, Plane Love was still waiting to be assigned its venue. Despite such delays, Rosary is very pleased to be involved with the festival. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have a show produced in NYC, where most of my new work is limited to readings because of the cost of production,” Rosary said. “The brilliance of FringeNYC’s founder, Elena Holy, is inspiring. She put this dream project together and has tirelessly kept the organization thriving for twenty years.”
Plane Love chronicles the relationship between two stars who are embroiled in a steamy romance. Like most of Rosary’s work, this play is based on actual people and events—namely the romance and 1939 marriage of Hollywood movie icons Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. “I was inspired to write this play because I was mesmerized by the enduring love affair of Clark and Carole and its tragic plane crash ending, which completely changed Clark so much that he would fly into gunfire and take on the darkest flight missions of World War II,” Rosary said. “I wanted a play with a different ending than the one he confronted, which was only finding one of his wife’s sapphire blue earrings at the site of the crash!”
With a cast of only two performers, Plane Love makes an impact largely through dialogue. The majority of the play—which takes place in modern times—features the two characters emailing each other while separated due to business obligations. The play chronicles their early flirtations to their marriage, and covers their struggles with infertility and untimely death. Ultimately, the play is a glimpse into a very intimate relationship between a man and a woman, people graced with glamorous lives of fortune and fame that still fail to protect them from difficult situations and tragic outcomes.
As the characters become engaged in a spiraling series of emails, the messages become increasingly more personal and sensual. The audience is thereby offered a revealing glimpse into the lives of two stars and the jeopardy incited by their deadly attraction to each other. Described as “uplifting, funny and sad” by reviewers, the play will strike a particularly strong chord with anyone who has ever fallen in or out of love.
Rosary and her husband, Bob, actually met on a flight, and a good portion of the dialogue was inspired by their courtship conversations via text, email, and other e-communications. Plane Love also employs the turning points of Gable’s and Lombard’s lives: the click-snap falling in love when they meet, their gradual recognition of their feelings for each other—despite being involved with other people—and the tug and pull throughout, until they symbolically choose what is beyond their power to resist. Try as they might to deny it, they are soulmates who belong together and cannot fully enjoy life without one another. This plot line is similar to the actual love story of Carole Lombard—who died in a plane crash at the age of 33—and Clark Gable, who mourned her loss for the rest of his life.
Essentially, Plane Love is an illustrated commentary about how intimacy can be achieved through letters and/or other forms of text. This concept is particularly timely in today’s technological society, where texting and emailing are more regular occurrences than meeting in person or even speaking on the phone.
Overall, anyone who enjoys love stories will find Plane Love of interest, and the play holds additional appeal for fans of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Tickets will go on sale starting July 15 and can be purchased via the official FringeNYC website.
Click here to read the Fringe NYC Interview on line by Meagan Meehan
June 2016 - Marilyn/God
On June 1, 2016, Marilyn Monroe would have turned 90. Click here to read review of the Kansas City production of Rosary O'Neill's Marilyn/God: Review by Meagan Meehan from Breaking Character Magazine - the online magazine of Samuel French Publishers.
Read Hampton Stevens of the Kansas City Star's review of the Marilyn/God production at the Fishtank Performance Studio.
"...Directed by Jeff Church, starring Heidi Van as America’s ultimate sex symbol, the story is a brooding little oddity: a one-act psychological melodrama with dashes of dark comedy that histrionically, but ably, explores the destructive nature of fame...."
Read Liz Cook's review of Marilyn/God for Pitch News.
"If you haven’t yet seen Marilyn/God — the chilling, one-woman vehicle for the Fishtank Performance Studio’s Heidi Van — stop reading this review and buy a ticket. It’s the kind of show best confronted cold...."
Read Meagan Meehan's interview with Rosary about "Marie Laveau and the Vampire"
"Theater is an ideal setting to explore ideas that are funny, dramatic, strange and/or historic and “Marie LaVeau and the Vampire,” the latest play by Rosary O’Neill, manages to encompass all of those genres in a span of approximately 90 minutes...."
COMING TO PARIS IN 2017
Read the Cultural Services of the French Embasy in the US interview with Rosary O'Neill about "Degas in New Orleans" by Meagen Moreland-Taliancich
Playwright Rosary O'Neill, is proud to be a seventh generation, bilingual, New Orleanian. Though she now lives and works in New York City, she maintains a soft-spot for people who were associated with Louisiana, such as the famous voodoo witch Marie Laveau. At present, Rosary is working on a project involving the famed French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, who visited New Orleans in 1872.
Recently, Rosary O’Neill took the time to speak to the Consulate General of France in Louisiana about her experiences working on “Degas in New Orleans” and being a writer in general.
Excerpt from review in the Kansas City Star by Hampton Stevens, Special to The Star
This ‘Marilyn’ holds a mirror to its subject in a Fishtank production
At a time when the technological glitz of superhero movies dominates the entertainment landscape, how can a mere play compete for the attention of an audience? Quite well, in fact. Because live theater can do things that a film cannot.
A play can offer the high-wire act of live performance. A play, rather than shouting at us with spectacle, can entice us with a whisper. That’s doubly true when the show is staged in a small space like “Marilyn/God” at the Fishtank Performance Studio.
Directed by Jeff Church, starring Heidi Van as America’s ultimate sex symbol, the story is a brooding little oddity: a one-act psychological melodrama with dashes of dark comedy that histrionically, but ably, explores the destructive nature of fame.
We open, cheerfully enough, with Marilyn Monroe’s death. Guided by disembodied voices and text messages above her, the actress must audition her way into heaven. It’s a satisfying conceit, terribly apt for a culture obsessed with celebrity.
It’s also a sturdy premise for allowing Marilyn to explore herself. She does so over a dark, hourlong journey, confronting her dying mother, an ex-agent, old lovers, the conflicting demands of femininity, and her own capitulation to the star maker machinery. This show makes Marilyn hold a mirror to herself, forcing her to face the ugly truth of what she lost and what she willingly gave away.
The mirror, by the way, is literal. The stark set, designed by Mark Exline, resembles the interior of a morgue, with porcelain slab for bodies. Above it hangs a giant mirror, making manifest the play’s twin themes of death and vanity.
The lighting by Jamie Leonard serves double duty. Leonard’s design plays beautifully on Van’s features, at times transforming her into Marilyn-as-dazzling-goddess, at times making the star look haggard, alone and afraid. Also, with Van being alone onstage for the whole performance, the light must act as a surrogate for unseen characters, be they angels or paparazzi. It’s no mean feat.
This show, however, rests on Van’s bare shoulders. It succeeds because of her fearlessness. Costumed in little more than a white slip and lingerie, she writhes, rolls, paces and preens around the tiny stage, mere feet from the audience. It’s both attractive and disturbing. The play, after all, deals with the destructive power of the sexual gaze. It’s unsettling to watch a story that explores the ruinous nature of sexual objectification while sitting in a crowd that’s ogling a hot, half-dressed woman. That, one suspects, is the point. Read more here.
Review of Marilyn/God from Pitch
Heidi Van blows up the Monroe mythos in Fishtank’s Marilyn/God
By Liz Cook
If you haven’t yet seen Marilyn/God — the chilling, one-woman vehicle for the Fishtank Performance Studio’s Heidi Van — stop reading this review and buy a ticket. It’s the kind of show best confronted cold.
If you have seen it, you know what I mean. The one-line synopsis — Marilyn Monroe auditions for heaven, judged by an audience of her aborted babies — is nightmare fuel. It’s also oversimple, saddling a nuanced, uncomfortably intimate script with the curb appeal of Starlight Express.
But as the (apocryphal) quote goes, if you can’t handle playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill at her worst, you don’t deserve her at her best.
The show opens in an autopsy theater in the wee hours of August 5, 1962 — the day Marilyn Monroe died from an overdose of barbiturates.
Monroe’s death was at the time ruled a probable suicide. Since then, a laundry list of conspiracy theories has taken root (communist murder plot! FBI assassination!). But O’Neill’s view — an accidental overdose — hews closest to the Monroe many remember, a life-drunk star with ambitions to match.
O’Neill’s Monroe greets her death with impatience and defiance, refusing to obey audition instructions that appear on a heavenly marquee. “I’m not dying!” she insists and ticks off a list of corporeal anchors. “I’m studying Freud. Training with Lee. I’m still in shape!”
Van starts the show coffin-still, masked by a somber white sheet as the audience files in. Even in the Fishtank’s voyeuristic space, the rise and fall of her chest is barely perceptible. At Saturday’s performance, Van was so discreet that a man seated near me yelped when the lights dimmed and the corpse moved.
That commitment is the first of many physical and vocal feats Van performs. She floats with ethereal lightness, stretches like a cat in the sun. Her voice maps the contours of Monroe’s husky purr without ever affecting flirtation. (The program credits Scott Stackhouse as her vocal coach.) More impressive still is her ability to shed any scrap of self-consciousness. Though she’s within spitting distance of the audience for more than an hour, her focus never wavers. We feel spellbound, invisible — as strangers must have in Monroe’s presence. We’re tourists in the world Van creates here. She’s not interested in ours.
Director Jeff Church steers her masterfully, exploiting the small space in a staging attuned to both power and practical constraints. Mark Exline’s dynamic set masks several surprises — late in the play, a mirror wall emerges from behind a white drape, allowing us a clear view of Van from any angle — and Church refashions each piece to suit his purpose. In one memorable tableau, a white sheet clings to Van as if by chance, subtly evoking Monroe’s iconic cocktail dress from The Seven Year Itch.
Projection and lighting designer Jamie Leonard makes an indelible impression with tone-shifting lights and projections that undulate like pond ripples on a clever, ceiling-mounted screen. Sound designers Jae Shanks and Jason Bauer suggest movement through the supernatural world with eerie, atmospheric sound effects and voiceovers that ebb and flow like a radio signal.
If the play falters, it does so in a fraught sequence addressing Monroe’s back-room abortions. When signs from heaven demand that she explain — and number — these procedures, Monroe launches into a lengthy speech about the pressures of stardom, the sleaze of Hollywood agents and the (wanted) child she lost while married to playwright Arthur Miller. In less capable hands, the lines could feel leaden, but Van resists melodrama and makes Monroe’s defense one of clear-eyed resignation. The scene is tough to play but even tougher to project: Leonard thankfully refrains from painting the ceiling with bloody fetuses, but the demonic-eyed cherubs are heavy-handed enough.
Still, eliding Monroe’s tragedies would have been worse. O’Neill and, to a greater extent, Van draw on them to paint Monroe as both indomitable and fatally naïve. The title’s ambiguous punctuation (is Monroe struggling with God, or is she God herself?) underscores the tension within a woman who spent her career channeling a powerful drive through narrow opportunities, building a career on sex so she could strive for sincerity.
Our collective image of Monroe seems to shrink with each passing year. Praise to Van and Church for banishing the supplicant sex goddess and keeping the woman in view.
From Artists Review Kansas City by Ian R. Crawford
Marilyn/God at the FISHTANK 05 APRIL 2016 on Theatre
Marilyn/God by Rosary Hartel O'Neill
Directed by Jeff Church
Performed by Heidi Van
Just hearing the name Marilyn Monroe conjures up a whole universe of tousled blonde curls, provocative feminine curves, and sultry crooned tones. She has become an indelible part of our culture - an icon of sexuality, more of an idea than a living, breathing woman - and the myths that she built to catapult herself to fame and stardom still swirl around her legacy.
Marilyn/God, now playing at the FISHTANK Theatre (a bastion of innovative and exploratory theatre in Kansas City) takes a look at the myths and the icon, but mostly the woman at the heart of Marilyn Monroe.
One thing you must admit about Heidi Van, Curator of the FISHTANK, is that she knows how to carefully create an experience. As you approach the theatre from the street, the storefront windows are filled with blown-up news clippings from the days after Marilyn's death, and the lobby space echoes with radio hits from 1962 (the year of her death). This kind of careful attention to our experience, even before we enter the theatre, is a signature of the FISHTANK's work. It helps to pull us back in time to that hot August night in the early 60's.
Inside the theatre, a cold, other-worldly blue light illuminates designer Mark Exline's ingenious setting. A low, U-shaped wall thrusts out into the seating area and wraps around the playing space creating a perfectly claustrophobic capsule, complete with grimey tiled walls and acoustic paneled ceiling. The slick, sterile world of a morgue, with saws, scalpels, and syringes, lays before us.
A whirring, cacophonous soundscape building to a ringing phone rouses the bewildered Marilyn, who pulls off her death shroud still groggy with the trappings of celebrity jet-setting and barbiturates. "Where am I? New York? LA?" she asks. Marilyn, I don't think you're in Hollywood anymore.
Director Jeff Church deserves immense credit for creating clarity in a text that in less capable hands could easily feel like a sprawling, unwieldy tone-poem. Integrating projection, from above and below, helps to drive the action and define the trajectory of the piece, the abstract imagery adds an otherworldly quality to the visual world of the play. Dynamic staging, despite the small playing space, helps create memorable, striking stage pictures that build to a spectacularly beautiful final ascension, achieved with little more than a stool, sheet, and projections. The choice to set the primary action of the play on an autopsy table, complete with a drain at one end for the disposal of bodily fluids, places the play squarely in that thin space between life and death.
Heidi Van's Marilyn goes much deeper than an impressive impersonation. Her hour-long high wire act thrills with touching vulnerability and unexpected humor. It adeptly dissects both Marilyn's privilege as a Hollywood megastar, the searingly felt trials of her lost loves, and her descent into drug abuse. Van's impressive vocal chops make for some of the evening's most nostalgic moments, touching on Monroe's iconic renditions of "Happy Birthday", "I Wanna Be Loved By You," and "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend". With an incredibly difficult script that might send a less experienced actress spinning, Van is clear, sharp, and enthralling.
The production is heightened by impressive contributions from sound designer Jae Shanks, whose nearly constant soundscape taunts and pulls Marilyn along her journey. The lighting and projection design by Jamie Leonard elevates the production and creates swirling, lush, beautiful visuals. Although Van is alone on stage, she is surrounded by a host of voices, skillfully played by students in the UMKC Graduate Acting program.
Marilyn/God is a rare opportunity for Kansas City to witness a deeply nuanced, carefully crafted, and visually arresting tour de force. I'll admit, the post-bow encore at first rubbed me the wrong way. It felt strange to see Marilyn putting back on all the razmatazz of her Hollywood persona, but it made me appreciate a central tenet of the production: the myth, the woman, the star, the drug abuser, the icon, and the actress are all facets of one being. For a production that deals so ferociously with death and loss, it doesn't hurt to give the people what they want now and again. Marilyn always did.
Local actress channels iconic Marilyn Monroe for one-woman show
Kansas City actress, Heidi Van teamed with director Jeff Church and presented “Marilyn/God,” a one woman play that visits the sex goddess on her death bed as she slowly drifts out of her body.
Forget about all the conspiracy theories, the Mafia connections, the lurid affairs with the Kennedy brothers, Joe DiMaggio, etc. This play takes a simple look at the Marilyn Monroe's last few minutes of consciousness and her journey beyond to her final peaceful state.
Heidi Van channels the late sex goddess and captures her innocence and charm. Marilyn exuded sex, yes, but was funny and never crossed the line to be considered vulgar. Her sex appeal, comedic timing, and that fact that the camera loved her made her unique. Van uses a plethora of facial features to keep the vision soft, flattering, and alluring.
“Marilyn/God” comes from Rosary Hartel O’Neill and was directed at the Fishtank Theater by Jeff Church, mostly known as Artistic Director of Kansas City’s Coterie Theatre. The show continues though April 24 in the tiny Fishtank Theater. This particular show seats less than 40 per show.
“Marilyn/God” takes the audience back to the fateful Aug. 5, 1962 when the iconic actress was discover dead in her bed, an apparent victim of accidental suicide by pills and champagne. As she drifts out of her body, she is confronted with complex directions for another audition.
According to information from The Fishtank, the time of the play is sometime before 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1962. So the action begins just prior to the time of Marilyn’s death and continues through her out of body experiences and official death.
Heidi Van navigates the transitions with seeming ease. At one moment, Monroe is not deceased. The next, she is looking down at her life that has slipped away. Next, she is recalling past personalities and events from earlier days. The concept sounds complicated, but with Van in total control, the pieces fit seamlessly into a nice flow for an approximate hour long play. In all, the show runs about 70 minutes. Van never allows the characterization to become maudlin or beg for sympathy. The show presents the premise matter-of-factly and allows the audience to bring to or take away what they will.
Van gives an absolutely flawless Marilyn character without giving the impression that she is mimicking Monroe. Playing a legend can trap an actress into copy-cat behavior, but not so with Van. The character remains true to the sex goddess without imitating her or sacrificing the performance quality. Van is exquisite as the movie legend and absolutely shines in the part. And, how can anyone do a show about Marilyn without the mention of diamonds and her classic early movie knockout performance? Be advised: Van shines as brightly as the diamonds that are Marilyn’s best friend.
Even thoug the show is a one- woman bonanza, a team of theatre professionals helped create the magic. Jeff Church led the production team as director. He was assisted my Brian Buntin, stage manager; Mark Exine, set design; Jamie Leonard, projections/lighting design; Jae Shanks, sound design; Jason Bauer, assistant sound designer; Rasheedat Badejo, production assistant; Zachary Andrews, photographer/graphic designer; Andy Chambers, make-up/styling; Scott Stackhouse, vocal coaching.
“Marilyn/God” continues at The Fishtank Theatre through April 24. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m. Thursdays, April 14 and 21 feature a “Pay what you can” format so those on limited funds may see live theatre. Those shows are also at 8 p.m. For more information check out the Fishtank website.
This is what one New York Literati, Jay Olstad said about the theme of my play Gable/Lombard/Plane Love:
Gable & Lombard shared an elemental kind of love that transported them to the hightes highs and lowest lows, from stardom to star crash.
Their love took them to places where they fought, made up, shared the same passionate intensities. Gable was a man's man who loved sports, and Lombard was a woman's woman who could switch to a tom girl to play tomboy with Clark and the guys on a hunting trip. In this sense, there's a dimensional plane of the soul that transported them to love's highest heights as equal soul mates in the greatest love in their lives, and perhaps greatest love stories of all time, only to have their love killed by the flip of a coin.
Gable and Lombard were touring the country selling War Bonds. When their tours ended in Vegas, Gable had to return to Hollywood by train, but Lombard wanted to stay behind for a few days in the company of her mother and business manager. When their time came to return to Hollywood, Lombard wanted to fly but her manager wanted to take the train. They flipped a coin. Lombard won the toss but lost her life when the plane crashed into a mountain, killing all.
It was said that Gable was so distraught following Lombard's death that he drove his powerful car recklessly at night full speed down California's twisty roads. One friend of Gable said, "He's suicidal." Another friend said, "No, he is not suicidal, He's just reached a point where he doesn't care whether he lives or dies."
In short order, Game experienced what few people do: He was the world's most famous star madly in love with an equally famous soul mate. And then fate took her away, plunging him in to the darkest depths a lover can endure.
During the war, Gable joined the Army Air Corps and flew tail gunner on B-17s. The tail gunner was considered its most dangerous position.
The late 1950's movie "The Misfits" is sad to see knowing it was both Gable and Monroe's last movie. These great stars of love and adventure died soon after. The doctors said that Gable died of a heart attack and Monroe of an overdose. But I say they died of broken hearts.
Posted by carole ditosti
'Degas in New Orleans,' by Rosary O'Neill, directed by Deborah Temple, music by David Temple at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. (L to R) Lucy Makebish, Patrick O'Shea, Trevor Kowalsky,
‘Degas in New Orleans,’ by Rosary O’Neill, directed by Deborah Temple, music by David Temple at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. (L to R) Lucy Makebish, Patrick O’Shea, Trevor Kowalsky, Natalie LaBossier, Sarah Newcomb and Elizabeth Lococo. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
Edward Degas, one of the most renowned and beloved of the French impressionist painters and sculptors is most often associated with paintings and drawings of the dance. His pale ballerinas in pink, blue, green and white tulle evoke an ethereal world of striking still points of movement. Their delicate loveliness is a gossamer of bodies twirling, bending, stretching, leaping, pirouetting, balancing, posing and dressing. His dancers spark fantasy and mythic beauty. There is not a pose, position or action of the mystic ballerinas that Degas has not rendered in painting or drawing, so avidly possessed was he with ballerinas.
wrapleft Why did ballerinas stir him? The haunting melodies and beautiful rendering of Degas in New Orleans by Rosary O’Neill, with music and arrangements by David Temple, incisively directed by Deborah Temple suggest a reason. When Degas visited his brother and beloved sister-in-law Estelle, her daughter Jo danced ballet and wished to be a ballerina in Paris. This and other symbols whisper through the characterization, song, direction and staging in what can only be described as a consummate production which which premiered at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore in New York City in a one-night showcase. The musical connects the tragic time Degas spent with family in New Orleans before he was famous to the evolution of his greatness as the founder of Impressionism.
‘Degas in New Orleans,’ (L to R)
Lucy Makebish and Sarah Newcomb.
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
It opens with the spotlight on the painter Degas reminiscing about his visit to America. He begins with a song of remembrance about the time he lived in New Orleans where his mother was from. He sings of the key family members with whom he lived, family whose unreconciled relationships with him would impact his life and art after he returned to France. Degas (Trevor Kowalsky in a sterling and evocative portrayal of the painter), sings Temple’s wistful melody of nostalgic longing, “I have a picture in my mind,” as the play flashes back to the roiling events in the Degas family household.
The in-laws/cousins, the Mussons, live on Esplanade Avenue in a New Orleans of 1872 that is raging against the carpetbaggers in the last days of Reconstruction. It is the beginning of the racial terrorism that blossomed like deadly nightshade and continued into the twilight of the 20th century. During Degas’ introductory song which sets the events and succinctly reveals the back-story of his visit to the most French city in America, the director has skillfully created the interior rooms of the Degas House. It is here the painter stayed with his brother René and tried to help out the family financially. He was also in New Orleans to escape the tumultuous events occurring in Paris during the days of the commune.
For this memorable opening scene (which also serves as the closing scene of Degas’ flashback), director Deborah Temple cleverly stages a tableau of the characters who are instrumental in spurring on the transformation of Degas’ personality and art: his brother René Degas (Tom Bloxham is wonderful as the arrogant, cruel and duplicitous brother), René‘s Father-in-law, Michel Musson (Patrick O’Shea rings out this sexist, racist, humorous curmudgeon), Mathilde Musson Bell (Elizabeth Lococo in a superb and well grounded performance), Didi Musson (the excellent and heartfelt Natalie LaBossier), René‘s wife Estelle Musson Degas (the exquisitely acted, operatically talented Lucy Makebish), and most poignantly the budding ballerina Josephine (Jo) Balfour, who is Estelle’s daughter from her first marriage (in a wonderful portrayal by Sarah Newcomb).
‘Degas in New Orleans,’ Trevor Kowalsky
and Sarah Newcomb. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
Together, the sisters (Didi, Mathilde and Estelle), and René subtly effect the influences that sideswipe Degas’ well being to devastate his emotions. O’Neill and the Temples have deftly drawn Degas’ family trials. One cannot help but intuit that this period in his life greatly influenced his career and was a turning point. The superb production and eclectic music (in an amazing rendering of different styles) David Temple ingeniously uses to infer the past and in some numbers suggests hints of blues and jazz that we associate with New Orleans in the present. The cogent directorial elements and memorable songs emphasize the import of Degas’ stay in New Orleans as a time of sorrow, loss and pain, and suggest that these obstacles ultimately served to strengthen him; no doubt they contributed in helping pave the way for his entrance onto the art scene.
Happier days in ‘Degas in New Orleans,’
(L to R) Trevor Kowalsky, Lucy Makebish,
Sarah Newcomb, Patrick O’Shea, Natalie
LaBossier, Elizabeth Lococo. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
Of the three Musson sisters, Estelle, who remains loyal to his adulterous brother René, is the one who breaks Degas’ heart. Degas is unable to shake his lifelong love for her which he nobly expresses and which he more nobly understands will never be consummated because of Estelle’s integrity and sanctity. O’Neill with the help of Deborah Temple’s direction and the adroit actors (the uber talented Makebish is stunning in the part of Estelle and Kowalsky is powerful as her soulful, haunted Edgar) brilliantly weave Degas’ love into a force which compels him toward a spiritual attachment with Estelle and her daughter ballerina Jo. The director wisely stages Jo as a central figure; throughout we see her practicing her positions as she dreams of flying away, perhaps to Paris to one day join the ballet. Jo also hopes with a great and tender love that her mother Estelle who has become blind and attempts to hide this fact from Edgar will one day see again. Encapsulated in Temple’s wistful song, “I dreamed that I could fly,” Estelle and Jo sing to each other echoing these and other yearnings which we later discover never come to pass.
The play develops smoothly following the arc of human foibles and is faithful in following the history of Degas’ life when he stayed in New Orleans. In the flashback Degas arrives at the house and there is great joy and a sense of wonder and appreciation for the painterly cousin, brother-in-law and brother. As the action progresses, we learn why. The family perceives Degas to be the savior who will make everything right for them since they are in a state of physical, mental and emotional devolution. Initially unaware of this situation, Degas is happy to see the one he has always loved, Estelle, whom he knew when she and her sisters visited him Paris. This is his first time in the new world and he has a positive and outlook about America and New Orleans which family letters have kept alive for him.
'Degas in New Orleans,'
Lucy Makebish and Trevor
Kowalsky, one night showcase
at the Arthur Seelen Theatre
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
But family was not forthcoming about their condition or the cultural circumstances of New Orleans after the Civil War. The longer he stays, the more his awareness grows; he begins to understand the darker elements consuming the city and his family. O’Neill’s play and the production masterfully reveal the series of devastating pictures the situations paint for Degas. As a result of these dramatic scenes and the misery he sees and experiences, on his return to Paris he will be forced to emotionally vitiate his suffering through his art. The economic portrait of his family who live in cramped quarters is borderline squalid. We see this especially in the second act when New Orleans floods: rats drop from trees around the house, the family takes in as many homeless as they can to help their neighbors at their own expense. The city is reduced to a fetid swamp whose filth can never been expunged or wiped away. The song “Rats” sung by America (a terrific job by Mickey Lynch and the company) is humorous, dark and revelatory of the city’s torpor, want, financial devastation and foreboding.
By degrees reality stencils terrifying images on Degas’ soul. He discovers Estelle is blind and pregnant though they can’t afford another baby. René has not paid off the debts which are increasing exponentially and threaten to bankrupt the family in New Orleans and France. René and Michel seek the oblivion of alcohol and drink throughout the day, becoming willful, argumentative and confrontational. Mixed race cousin Norbert Rillieux, who was a wealthy free man of color before the Civil War, is being threatened daily by the White League, a white supremacist group growing in political power.
'Degas in New Orleans,' Tom Bloxham and
Mickey Lynch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
What horrifies Degas most is that René has “turned his back” on beloved, beautiful Estelle and is having an affair with America, a married woman who tutors the children. America (Mickey Lynch is superb), has gradually insinuated herself into the family and by the play’s conclusion is ruthlessly running the household, the sisters and René as she arrogantly steps around Estelle who “sees nothing.” Didi, who loves Degas and wants to be with him in Paris, tells Estelle that René is cheating on her. She does this in a jealous fit of rage after Didi discovers Degas loved Estelle. Estelle tries to be stoic but she eventually confronts René who lies to her. Estelle is a tragic figure caught in circumstances from which, as a woman, she will never escape or rectify. She must just try to survive and prevent her newborn from dying. Degas is appalled at the family’s deterioration and Estelle’s lifestyle. All has turned from the joy of his first weeks with them, symbolized by the song they sang to unmarried Didi for her birthday celebration (“The Sunny Side of Thirty”). Now there is only chaos, argument, racial tensions and impoverishment.
Trevor Kowalsky and Liz Louie in 'Degas in New Orleans,' by
Rosary O'Neill, music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple.
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
O’Neill has created interesting parallels between the family’s deterioration and the decline of New Orleans which has not recovered economically and whose white citizens angrily blame on Reconstruction politics. Degas learns that many of the white males have joined the White League and the Knights of the White Camellia to take the city and the South back from the Northern marauders. Mathilde’s husband Will and Father/Uncle Michel are important leaders and they have shunned Norbert from their family and most probably would not stop his being lynched. Even René has been persuaded to their side.
As Norbert’s wife Emily (Liz Louie is terrific as a free woman of color who is angry, fearful and sorrowful as she recognizes a new, terrifying city), sings of the augmenting racial hatreds in Act I (“Don’t Matter If You’re Free”), and in Act II when she tells Degas that she and Norbert are leaving for Paris fearing for their lives (“Time to Say Goodbye”). Degas acknowledges New Orleans is a dangerous, racist and demoralized city. In comparison to France and Paris which are havens of justice, New Orleans is reprehensible. Degas is further unsettled when a letter arrives to announce that his father has gone bankrupt and has been thrown into prison. René’s mismanagement of finances and importunity with money have economically destroyed the family in Paris and in New Orleans. When Edgar confronts his younger brother, they argue and he almost pummels him but restrains himself. He is not a brutal man; he will use his hands for painting. René kneels to him for forgiveness, but Degas is powerless to change his brother or the circumstances. He must leave for Paris to help whom he can help, his father. Somehow, he must restore the Senior Degas to wholeness and pay off the creditors. Painting is his only way out.
Degas in New Orleans,’ (L – R) Trevor
Kowalsky and Tom Bloxham. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
At the end of the play in a song reprise when Jo leaves for the convent, Jo and her mother again sing “I Dream.” It is a magnificent moment, for we understand the tragedy of hopes never realized: Jo dies of malaria at 18; Estelle, having never regained her sight, is abandoned by René who marries America and goes to Paris. Only Degas’ dream is realized, the dream which establishes him as a world-class Impressionist painter. O’Neill implies and the production so beautifully reveals that the fires of his greatness have been stoked in New Orleans. The regrets of an unfilled love with Estelle and the sorrow of his failure to to stop his family’s and especially Estelle’s decline become the emotional sources of his art.
'The Little Dancer' by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas most probably carried his love for Estelle and Jo to the grave, a spiritual attachment which Degas in New Orleans conveys. After seeing this incredibly realized production, we know that if not for that fateful visit, we would not be able to appreciate the 24 works he painted in the Big Easy such as “A Cotton Office in New Orleans,” or his three paintings of Estelle completed at the Degas House. As for Estelle’s daughter from her first marriage, Jo, whose wish to go to Paris and be in the ballet was cut short?
Perhaps she got their after all. Degas’ loving remembrance of her, manifested in his numerous paintings of the ballet, is the triumphant iconography of his work. These paintings, sketches and sculptures of ballerinas when not loaned out to museums around the world, have remained in Paris and in France through wars, protests, floods and plagues. It is vital that the meaningful connections between Paris and New Orleans in Degas’ life and work be acknowledged. The wonderful Degas in New Orleans is a step in the right direction to uplift the life and work of this incredible artist for the upcoming 100th year anniversary of his death in 2017.
The production was awarded a generous grant from Red Hook School District in New York and was produced by Deborah Temple with the Red Hook Performing Arts Company.
To see musical video clips of the production, click on the following links:
"Don't Give Me Hope"
"I Have a Picture in My Mind"
"Don't Matter That You're Free"
"An Intimate Moment"
Thanks or believing in me
Unsolicited review of Degas in New Orleans the Musical:
To the Editor: "The River Chronicle," will publish in their next edition also sent to the Poughkeepsie Journal
Last Sunday I saw at Red Hook High School an amazing show that could have been on Broadway. It was a musical based on the true story of a visit to New Orleans in 1872 by impressionist painter Edgar Degas, who was visiting his brother and other relatives of his American mother.
The musical, "Degas in New Orleans," originally a play by New Orleans playwright Rosary O'Neill, was produced by Red Hook's own incredibly talented duo, David and Debbie Temple. David composed and conducted the memorable music of amazing depth and scope which ranged from dreamy impressionist melodies with exquisite harmonies to swinging, foot-stomping jazz. Debbie brought the story and music together with her inspired direction, creating a seamless and moving drama, all on one charming period set. The story opened with a full cast already assembled on the darkened stage, and progressed with smooth unnoticed transition from one scene to the next.
The performers were mostly high school students, including thrilling soprano Lucy Makebish, mellow crooner Trevor Kowalsky, groovy chantress Elizabeth Lococo, cool saxophonist Jake Carter, lyrical flutist Larra Agate; and adding a very gifted sixth grade ballerina, Sarah Newcomb.
I wish the Temples would bring back this impressive production when the weather might be friendlier and people not away on holiday, so that many more Hudson Valley residents could experience this remarkable event. A word to the wise - don't miss any future presentations by the Temples, and I hope there will be many.
80 Kelly Road
Red Hook, NY 12571
The musical DEGAS IN NEW ORLEANS was such a hit and I thought of how long you have believed in me!
Oh my god people stood up. They were humming "I dreamed I was a bird and I could fly" the opening number and "Don't mean nothing if you are free" the foot stomping number. David's music was astonishing. Big cast. Huge operatic feel. Flooding aura. New Orleans at her wicked best. And unforgettable music with an old time blues undertone at points (beginning of jazz undercurrent) Of course David's classical guitar music was breathtaking. So glad I'm upstate where so much work could be done. The brilliant director has been tweaking the actors since August. Oh my. I am in heaven. Only want my shows as musicals from now on!
(See below for articles)
Who Was Edgar Degas? The Musical 'Degas in New Orleans' Reveals Another Side of the Painter
Posted by Carole DiTosti
Degas in a Green Jacket, Edgar Degas.
Photo taken courtesy of the Wiki Art site.
Much of the background (setting 1872, New Orleans) ,of the Musical, Degas in New Orleans written by Rosary O’Neill, music composed by David Temple, is gathered from biographies written about Edgar Degas.
The World Premiere of Degas in New Orleans produced and directed by Deborah Temple with the Red Hook Performing Arts Club is being presented at The Bard Fisher Center. The dates are Thursday, December 18th and Friday, December 19th at 7:00 pm. It is being presented at Red Hook Central School District on Saturday, December 20th at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 21st at 3:00 pm.
About Edgar Degas, the Background for Degas in New Orleans
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) has been regarded as a founder of Impressionism because he was a key organizer of exhibitions of those painters who designated themselves as spontaneous and painted en plein air (in the open air). However, he disliked the categorization and preferred to be noted as a realist. He commented, “What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.” (Armstrong, 1991, p. 22) His scenes of Parisian life, his experiments with form and color and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists, for example, Mary Cassatt and Édouard Manet, connect him intimately to the Impressionist movement (Roskill 1983, p.33), even if he denied it himself.
Pink Dancers, Before the Ballet,
Edgar Degas (1884). Wiki Art site.
The eldest son of a wealthy banking family, Edgar’s artistic talent was recognized early by his father. Degas wanted to improve his artistic skill, so in his youth, as was done in Paris, he spent time copying the Italian masterpieces in the Louvre. Later, Edgar traveled to Italy in search of copying the greats: Michelangelo, Titian, and other Renaissance painters, visiting various churches to see the works on display. Not stuck in the past, Degas enjoyed studying modern artistic techniques, including photography and engraving. In searching about for his life’s work, he studied law to help with the family business as most sons did. But he decided against it and ended his law career in 1855 to pursue his early love of painting, sketching and drawing.
Degas had family in the US, his mom’s family, the Mussons. It was his Uncle Michel Musson and his daughters who lived in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue in what is today known as “The Degas House.” After the Civil War broke out, and the conflict increased in intensity, the Musson sisters, Edgar’s cousins, were sent to France which is where Edgar first became acquainted with them. The youngest cousin, Estelle (Tell), lost her first husband during the War, while pregnant with their daughter. Despite Edgar’s affections for Tell, it was Edgar’s youngest brother, René who married her and took her back to live in New Orleans. René amassed tremendous debts, ruined the business and eventually had to be bailed out by Degas, after Degas returned from his stay in New Orleans. It is his trip to New Orleans to visit his brother and the family when he discovers the family crisis and his brother’s negligence to the business and his own family.
Portrait of Estelle Musson Degas, Edgar Degas
(1872). Courtesy of the NOMA site.
Composer David Temple’s Observations Related to the Musical World Primere ‘Degas in New Orleans’
Degas joined the National Guard to fight for France during the Franco-Prussian War. During rifle training, his eyesight was found to be defective. And it was on his subsequent visit to New Orleans that he realized his right eye was permanently damaged: “What lovely things I could have done …if the bright daylight were less unbearable for me. To go to Louisiana to open one’s eyes, I cannot do that. And yet I kept them sufficiently half open to see my fill.” In years to follow, he lost his ability to read and to identify colors, and he worked more and more in sculpture, a more tactile medium. By 1891, he would write, “Ah! Sight! Sight! Sight!… the difficulty of seeing makes me feel numb.”
Edgar’s own failing eyesight most probably increased his empathy and affection for Tell who he discovered had gone blind after she returned to New Orleans with René. Edgar expressed his feelings in a letter to a friend: “My poor Estelle, Rene’s wife, is blind as you know. She bears it in an incomparable manner; she needs scarcely any help about the house. She remembers the rooms and the position of the furniture and hardly ever bumps into anything. And there is no hope!”
Our attempt in this production is to elicit the artistic — and amorous — affections of the Musson – Degas clan, and to have a window into this beautiful yet tragic connection of the two who are losing their sight — yet perhaps truly “see” more clearly than anyone else — has been an exciting journey. We so hope our work reaches the passion and artistic vision of each audience member.
Playwright Rosary O’Neill with
Degas’ The Dancer in Green
exhibited at NOMA (New Orleans).
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER
Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.
WHEN: THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.
Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.' Photo courtesy of the Temples.
Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Photo courtesy of the Temples.
PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
WHEN: SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.
Armstrong, Carol (1991). Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-02695-7
Roskill, Mark W. (1983). “Edgar Degas.” Collier’s Encyclopedia.
David Temple co-wrote the article.
Degas in New Orleans, a Musical World Premiere, Opening Thursday at Bard’s Fisher Center
Posted by caroleditosti
Edward Degas’ dancers. Courtesy of the
website, Old Art.
The year 2017 will mark the centennial of Edward Degas‘ death when the renown French Impressionist died in Paris, quite alone and nearly blind. Events celebrating Degas’s life and work are already gearing up. Playwright Rosary O’Neill, and the husband wife team, composer and solo guitarist David Temple and producer/director Deborah Temple are in the forefront celebrating the beloved artist in the World Premiere of the musical Degas in New Orleans which is opening Thursday, December 18th at Bard’s Fisher Center.
Degas is most famous for his paintings, prints, and drawings, and is closely identified with the subject of dance, since more than half of his works depict dancers. He has been associated with Impression, though he preferred to characterize himself as a realist. What many Americans do not realize about Edgar Degas was that he spent a period of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana, with his brother Rene and his family, staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue. This dramatic period of his life is the setting of the new musical Degas in New Orleans, written by Rosary O’Neill, with music composed by David Temple. The production, which is beautifully conceived and directed by Deborah Temple, has the honor of being presented by a select group of students in the Red Hook Central School District
Degas in New Orleans is about Edgar Degas’ visit to his family who were in a state of crisis after the Civil War and struggling to survive. Degas is swept up in the events of family, the political currents and the cultural changes that are upending the city of New Orleans. He attempts to give his moral and financial support, but finds the circumstances there more and more troubling as he becomes entranced with Estelle and other family members. He gains solace through painting family; notably there is a niece who loves to practice her dance. As the conflicts grow more desperate in his life with them, he discovers secrets about his sister-in-law, Estelle and his brother Rene. The circumstances spin beyond his control ultimately break his heart. The production of Degas in New Orleans is in its final rehearsal stages. As you can see from the production photos, it looks to be one more amazing achievement in the careers of the husband and wife team David and Deborah Temple and Rosary O’Neill.
About the composer, playwright, director/producer
David Temple at a solo event.
Photo courtesy of David Temple.
David Temple is a noted composer, classical guitarist and faculty member of The Bard College Conservatory of Music. Temple collaborated with Rosary O’Neill and Deborah Temple on the production Broadway or Bust, which was also presented at the Bard Fisher Center a year ago and for which he originated all of its music. Temple is a solo and instrumental composer who has performed globally and whose works are being used for film and television. His CDs may be found online along with his performance schedule and videos of his performance events.
Rosary O’Neill is a noted playwright, whose works have been produced at The Southern Rep, a theatre she founded in New Orleans. Her plays have been published by Samuel French. Some of them have been compiled in three anthologies whose subject is one of the loves of her life, her native New Orleans. She has written novels and screenplays and has also authored texts on the theater, acting and the dramatic arts. Her most recent published work is non fiction. It is a subject close to her heart and on which she is an expert, New Orleans Mardi Gras which has its roots steeped in the occult and mystical Carnival celebrations of Europe.
Deborah and David Temple, director/producer
and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.'
Photo courtesy of the Temples.
Deborah Temple has years of experience producing and directing musical theatre and is well known in upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley circles. For over a decade her dedication and tireless efforts directing and producing talented students in the Red Hook Performing Arts Club with the assistance of friends and community members have garnered the support of all those in the Red Hook Central School District and beyond. Her reputation for high standards in producing quality productions precedes her. As a long time Red Hook Central School District employee and Performing Art’s Club adviser, she is thrilled to be an integral part of the community. And whether she is aware of this or not, in producing exceptional high school productions she has become an important vehicle for sustaining regional theater in upstate New York, especially in a time when it is increasingly difficult to mount and/or innovate theater productions without incurring massive debts (the budget of a minimalist production could feed 2 families with children for a year).
Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of
Deborah Temple, producer/director.
Tom Bloxham and Mickey Lynch
in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’
Production photo courtesy of
Deborah Temple, producer/director.
The Cast of Red Hook Performing Arts Club is a group of select, highly talented students whose energy and creativity have inspired them to collaborate with composer David Temple and director Deborah Temple. Together this group of artists have evolved the songs for Degas in New Orleans in “real time,” honing the words and the musical lines to perfection. It is a process all composers use when innovating the musical scores for both opera and regular musical productions. Their dedication to this amazing project is truly remarkable and speaks to their professionalism, work ethic and love of performance.
The cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club
in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans.
Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.
The production photos indicate the quality of the scenic design, the staging and the sheer beauty of the dramatic rendering thus far created by the director’s artistry and skill. The period costumes and set pieces were generously supplied by Montgomery Place, the Center for Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck, Bard College, and other local sources. The Pit Orchestra is made up of Red Hook Central students and teachers. Production staff, technical support, and set construction staff are a combination of professionals, students, parents, and Red Hook alumni.
PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER
Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.
Cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.
Trevor Kowalsky as Degas in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.
WHEN: THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.
PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
WHEN: SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.
Degas in New Orleans: A Musical World Premiere Presented at Bard’s Fisher Center
Posted by caroleditosti
Rosary O’Neill with Degas’ Dancer
in Green in NOMA (New Orleans).
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
Producer and director Deborah Temple and the Red Hook Performing Arts Club are presenting a world premiere of the new musical, Degas in New Orleans. The play is written by New Orleans native Rosary Hartel O’Neill. It has been set to music by local composer David Temple.
Degas in New Orleans, tells the story of the French painter Edgar Degas’ five-month stay with his family in the Crescent City shortly after the Civil War. It reveals much about the post-war South, political and ethnic strife unique to Louisiana, the dynamics of a family in its social descent — as well as the passions of unrequited love, and the struggling vision of a great artist at a crossroads in his life and career.
The historic marker which indicates
the house where Degas’ family lived
and where he visited in New Orleans.
Photo by Carole Di Tosti
A select group of students in the Red Hook Central School District have embraced an extraordinary artistic challenge: to transform a drama based on a life-changing time in a famous painter’s life into an original musical and make it performance ready for a state-of-the-art stage at the incomparable Fisher Center. The project was initiated by long time Red Hook Central School District employee and the Performing Art’s Club adviser, Deborah Temple. Deborah Temple has worked alongside playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill at Omega Institute during summer writing seminars for a number of seasons and their collaboration at Omega inspired their working together on two of O’Neill’s plays:Broadway or Bust and Degas in New Orleans.
Neither O’Neill nor Deborah Temple are new to the theater. Temple has almost two decades of experience in direction and production. O’Neill ran her own theater, Southern Rep, in New Orleans. She has authored over twenty-two plays, twenty of which are published by Samuel French. And her plays may be found in three anthologies. She has written textbooks on the dramatic arts, as well as novels and screenplays. Her book aboutNew Orleans Mardi Gras has been receiving notices as a fascinating account of the secrets of Mardi Gras Carnival Krewes. O’Neill, who now resides in Rhinecliff, proposed to have Degas in New Orleans transformed into a musical, knowing of David Temple’s extensive musical gifts. The Performing Arts Club has stepped up with its energy and talent to make the project a reality.
The Degas home on Esplanade Avenue,
now converted into a noted Bed and
Breakfast. Photo by Carole Di Tosti
Composer and classical guitaristDavid Temple is renown as a solo performer and instrumental composer. His works are played internationally for film and television. He composed music for O’Neill’sBroadway or Bust which premiered in November 2013, also at the Fisher Center. Having collaborated with O’Neill he was excited about this new project. Songs for Degas in New Orleanswere created in “real time.” Sketches of the new pieces were originated during the actual rehearsals of scenes, designed not only for specific characters, but for the vocal capabilities of the actors. This is one of the finest ways to originate and compose musical works by collaborating with the singers/actors. Douglas Moore in his operatic composition, Ballad of Baby Doe created the music and worked with singers to test out the musical waters and vocal ranges elaborating and changing the score and enhancing it.
Likewise, with the Temples these student/actors have been refining their character portrayals, running lines and learning original songs in an ongoing developmental process that has been organic and alive. The final result is a celebration of the creative process. Their effort and dedication to a project that has demanded ingenuity, acting craft, brilliance and flexibility is nothing short of astonishing. To say that these highly talented students have embraced a professional work ethic wholeheartedly is an understatement.
Period costumes and set pieces were generously supplied by Montgomery Place, the Center for Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck, Bard College, and other local sources. The Pit Orchestra is made up of Red Hook Central students and teachers. Production staff, technical support, and set construction staff are a combination of professionals, students, parents, and Red Hook alumni.
David Temple with his guitar.
Photo taken from the David Temple website.
Click links below for more information.
PERFORMANCES AT BARD COLLEGE FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER
WHEN: THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 758-7900 and sold at the door.
PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
WHEN: SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.
Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.
Bard Fisher Center Website
‘Broadway or Bust’ Traces Trials and Tribulations of Aspiring Actors
By Carole Di Tosti | Monday, November 18, 2013
Filed under: Arts, Culture and Society, Feature Stories, Theater
Tags: Broadway or Bust, David Temple, Deborah Temple, Larry Miller, Lucy Almada Makebish, Mickey Lynch, Moorea Martin, musical, musical theater, Natalie LaBossier, Omega Institute, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Rosary O'Neill, Trevor Kowalsky, World Premiere
Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in NY
(courtesy of the Bard College website)
Sometimes actors don’t have to be connected with a performing arts high school in New York City or the Yale School of Drama to find a place in professional theater. Sometimes, their dreams can lift them toward that goal via an alternate route. What is needed is the determination, the perseverance and the talent to “bring it on,” and “bring in a great audition.”
This is what Susan (Moorea Martin) and Johnny (Trevor Kowalsky) and fellow actors (Mickey Lynch, Lucy Almada Makebish, Natalie LaBossier), high school seniors, discover when they audition for an Off Broadway musical in Broadway or Bust by Rosary O’Neill with lyrics and music by classical guitarist and composer David Temple. Broadway or Bust directed by Deborah Temple enjoyed its world premiere at Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts this week in a limited run.
Sweethearts Susan and Johnny have their sights set on Broadway careers. If they can showcase their talents Off Broadway, all it will take is similar leaps of faith and great roles and performances. Then the Great White Way will be in their reach. It’s a hope shared by thousands. Susan and Johnny know the competition is very stiff, but they are doing their best to audition with special song and dance numbers. However, the casting director/interviewer (Larry Miller) is alienating and disaffected. Also, their personal troubles threaten to impact their steadiness. Underneath, fear is trying to slip in to grab hold of their convictions and undermine their faith in themselves.
Johnny (Trevor Kowalsky) and Susan (Moorea Martin) in the world premiere of the musical ‘Broadway or Bust’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)
Overcoming the casting director/interviewer’s attitude, Susan and Johnny sing beautifully and execute the dance steps so the interviewer doesn’t dismiss them outright. However, as the interviewer calls out the minutes left and the audition grows more intense, we realize there is more to this than their dreams of a Broadway and entertainment career. In a subtle turning point conveyed by the book, music and lyrics, O’Neill and Temple have raised the stakes and elevated their characters’ situation to another level. They are in a race against time in a life and death struggle.
To an extent, life and art parallel each other in this collaboration between the regionally-renowned Red Hook High School Performing Arts Club and Bard College which has opened its doors to the talented high school seniors. The production is a true showcase of the students’ exceptional skills and effort, and of the hard work put in by the director and writers. Rosary O’Neill is an established playwright, but, this work represents the first successful collaborative work among these creators on a musical. Between O’Neill and the Temples there was a meeting of the minds and hearts almost magical and seamless.
Susan (Moorea Martin, center) and the team (not in order) Mickey Lynch, Lucy Almada Makebish, Natalie La Bossier) in’ Broadway or Bust’ at the Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College,(photo Carole Di Tosti)
But Murphy’s Law came to visit (if things can go wrong they will) and things went awry in the personal lives of the director and the playwright. Despite obstacles of every shape and color, including physical injury (the playwright broke both ankles and was unable to see the performances) the final production received a standing ovation to a sold-out house.
Indeed, though the clichés abound in this musical world premiere (“the show must go on,” “there’s no business like show business,” “break a leg”), one thing appears certain. The playwright, director, and musical director and composer are considering their next step with this production. There is the the hope that Off Broadway NYC and beyond is a direction they will head in with feet planted firmly on solid ground.
David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill: Writers Giving Back to Writers
SEP 30, 2013
Posted by caroleditosti
Writing I worked on during a workshop at Omega Institute.
The Paradigm Shift
The long needed paradigm shift for authors is here. Like never before, successful writers of all genres are available to their fans and others as many discard traditional publishing routes that were profitable to everyone but the writer. Self-publishing and direct to the source return the profits back to authors. As social media, blogs and e-zines trump traditional media, and streaming (House of Cards) Youtube (plays and shows) and Google Hangouts (live music shows) become widespread, TV venues that formerly preyed upon the division between the creator and the passive audience are dying. It’s about interactivity. As a result writers are relying on interactions with followers on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc., to promote and sell their work, engage their readers and update them on their latest triumphs. To remain current, they must stir the pot and trouble the waters of innovation and artistry. How else can they benefit from the currents of cultural resplendence? If they don’t connect, they will eventually be choked off as is happening to old line venues for the cultural arts.
Authors Stay Juiced Through Workshops and Master Classes
Nick Flynn at work during the workshop at Omega Institute.
Another way noted writers are connecting is by giving back in workshops, conferences and master classes. It is particularly rewarding when brilliant authors are sure footed guides who can shepherd their fellow writers up the mountain of difficulties regarding word-craft to unlock inspiration. Fluid workshops are settings which inspire writers to share their work without fear. They encourage spontaneous, authentic writing. They help authors learn new techniques and allow them to bathe in the creative flow of juiced writing.
Three noted writers and authors whose workshops and classes I took in the last months were particularly helpful and each was extremely generous. David Henry Hwang, successful Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright, Nick Flynn, poet and memoirist, and Rosary O’Neill, playwright, screenwriter and diverse author reached into their bounty of spirit and shared liberally. Reflecting back on the process with these exceptional writers, I now see that the exchanges and connections offered unique experiences that are helping me hone my craft and provide direction for my writing projects.
MASTER CLASS WITH DAVID HENRY HWANG at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC
David Henry Hwang graciously speaking with us
and staying for pictures after the class at the Cherry
I absolutely adore this man, this stunning screenwriter, librettist and multiple award-winning playwright best known for M Butterfly, Yellow Face andChinglish. I have seen much of his work on Broadway and Off Broadway. The first time I saw M Butterfly (I saw it twice.) starring John Lithgow and B.D. Wong, I remember telling my cousins after the performance that it was a happening. Thrilling and alive, it was like seeing Venice for the first time or tasting my first sip of vintage wine from a bottle that cost more than $150. Poor similes, I grant you, but I was gobsmacked. Taking this class with him I was anxious to understand his technique. I had seen his development and knew early works likeDance in the Railroad. I and was looking forward to seeing his Kung Fu at the Signature Theatre in March of 2014. What would he share?
The writers/students in the master class with David Henry Hwang were at various stages in their writing careers; their backgrounds were motley. Wang enjoys people and he interacted with us after getting a general feel for this large group who was there to breathe the same air as this multiple award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee. He of course, is unassuming, disarming and a sponge of humility you could just hug and squeeze. Despite the large numbers in the group, David Henry Hwangput us at ease and somehow created an intensity and intimacy during the session, a talent in itself.
David Henry Hwang and Carole Di Tosti.
Move toward the unconscious.
The master playwrightencouraged us to continuallytranscend the conscious mindand write frequently, overriding our conscious censor. For example, when thinking “I’m not good enough,” or “Why should anyone care about what I’m writing,” that is the nihilistic self-critic. Inspire yourself and unblock using various techniques; some suggestions are below.
• Silence the censor by writing as fast as you can. You can always go back and edit.
• Cut out phrases from a magazine article and shuffle them into various sequences. Copy a phrase or two priming the pump until it’s flowing. Don’t stop until there is a natural pause.
• Write out words in free association. Put them in a hat and choose various ones that continue the associations. Write continually and automatically. Follow where the writing leads you; don’t lead it.
• Of course, David Henry Want suggested to always write what inspires and keeps your interest. The more you have fallen in love with what you are writing about the better.
• Allow yourself to give your characters free reign. They will lead you to amazing places that you never new were possible on the journey.
NICK FLYNN’S MEMOIR AS BEWILDERMENT at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY
Nick Flynn chatting with writers before the
workshop begins at the Omega Institute.
Nick Flynn is a poet and best-selling memoirist. He wrote The Reenactments,The Ticking Is the Bomb, and the haunting and beautiful best seller, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City which was published as Being Flynn, the title of the independent film based on the book. The film stars Robert DiNero and Paul Dano. Flynn’s three books of poetry are The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands, Some Ether, and Blind Huber. I was familiar with his memoir Another Bullshit Night... and liked his style of writing. During the two day workshop, Nick Flynn was generous answering questions about the making of the film (it took seven years) and his writing life. He challenged us, attempting to jar our sensibilities into the unusual because only then could the chaffing break us into the realm of the unexpected to authenticity. As we wrote and shared our writings, elements he uses in his own writing resonated deeply. His wonderful humor carried us through any nervousness.
Use image and object chains from various sources.
• Flynn encouraged us toward selecting images and objects threading them in our work. Images carry emotional power and weight. These are tied to associations from our unconscious that have meaning beyond what we may not recognize consciously.
• Write down dreams and the images will more naturally appear to us. Incorporate images or objects in automatic writing which should be spontaneous and unedited.
• The writing muscle should be exercised each day, a minimum of seven minutes. Write ceaselessly allowing the flow and trusting it to take you wherever. Dare to risk the journey, the more bewildered the better. Eventually rationality through the concrete image emerges.
• Create moments of surprise and use them in writing. Look for a science article (NY Times, perhaps) that is filled with images or objects and write about one that has energy and interest. Look through old pictures. List three questions about the people or objects in the photos. Write on each for 7 minutes. Incorporate the results in your work then edit later what doesn’t sing. You’re practicing powerful description and your technique will be enhanced overall with your writing projects.
ROSARY O’NEILL’s SCRIPTWRITING WORKSHOP at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY
Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, and Mary Anderson at the
Rosary O’Neill, Ph.D. is a playwright, director, screenwriter, writer of narrative nonfiction and a scholar who hails from New Orleans. She wasthe founding artistic director at Southern Rep Theatre where her plays about family with Southern Gothic themes were produced for many years. A prolific writer and virtual dynamo who has received 7 Fullbrights, and fellowships to the Norman Mailer House, Tyrone Guthrie Centre and other venues, she has studied abroad where she has completed research for a play about John Singer Sargent and a book and play about Degas, to name a few works. With extensive experience in acting and theatre production, she has written The Actor’s Checklist, is currently working on a soon to be published book with new information never before revealed about the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Rosary O’Neill has written 22 plays. Most have been published by Samuel French. Many of them have been performed at the Southern Rep and many have garnered readings at the National Arts Club, the Rattlestick Theatre, The Players Club and in regional theaters like The Westchester Collaborative Theatre and Bard College. Her latest work, an uplifting musical entitled Broadway or Bust with lyrics/music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple will be performed at Bard College Black Box Theatre, November 13th and 15th. She has written a TV series entitled Heirs that that is currently being shop optioned. An experienced college professor, Rosary’s class was a joy and steered folks in a different direction, toward writing characters that live and are breathing and vital. This is playwriting/screenwriting at its best.
Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, Mary Anderson, Carole
Di Tosti at the Omega Institute.
Sound character when creating dialogue.
• When writing characters, think of individuals you know, their high points and dramatic episodes. Ask yourself why you remember them; what strikes you about them? Give yourself a prompt that you think might help you distill who they are in an image, then write about them. Eventually, this can be worked into creating character.
• Read all dialogue aloud. Make sure it sings. If you are bored and don’t wish to read it, have someone else read it aloud. If it doesn’t resonate to you or the other individual, then drop it and move your inspiration elsewhere.
• Select a scene where there have been family get-togethers. Dialogue should reveal differences in character, cadences, phrases, accents, content. How are you revealing tonal messages through speech? Act out the lines. What doesn’t fit, jettison.
• Remain upbeat at all times. Shun negative thoughts. Do you have anything better to do with your life than to create life, through characters, dialogue and plays/films? All dialogue has run through you at one point or another. You are recalling it to your remembrance and shifting it around for greater use. Above all, enjoy the experience.
PARTING SHOTS: David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill
DHH- Find a way to have your plays read aloud, even if you are getting actors in your living room. It’s the only way to find out if the characters cohere, if the whole thing works.
NF-Only submit your finest work, your best, work, the stuff you’ve edited and crafted and you still find vibrant after reading it 100 or more times. If you don’t want to read what you’ve written, then put a red line through it and circle it. Cut it out. You’re bored with it, others will be too.
RO-Spend a lot of time editing and revising. The work must pop, the dialogue must sing. If it doesn’t, you’ve overwritten. It’s too long. Cut, cut, cut, but still be logical and make sense. You can always add. The editing is hard, but vital to great writing.
All of them: Keep on writing!
Westchester Collaborative Theatre: New Season, New Innovations
Jun 3, 2013
Posted by carole di tosti
WCT announcement for Summerfest 2013
The Westchester Collaborative Theatre has been on a whirlwind beginning January when Alan Lutwin and Marshall Fine received a 2013 Arts Alive Grant from ArtsWestchester! The WCT is officially a non-profit 501C3 corporation and will be able to intensify its fund raising efforts and continued integration with the New York City theatre community in Westchester. This inspiring and vital group theatre continues to evolve productions and projects, some of which with further development may move to New York City venues. The artistic symmetry and free flowing energy between and among artists in Westchester and New York City move their currents back and forth. This company is open and flexible and inspired by its artists’ innovations. It is apparent they will not limit themselves.
Alan Lutwin, discussing upcoming events at WCT.
LABS, where great work continues to be read and presented and where guest artists conduct workshops, now follow a new tri-monthly schedule. On March 21st Sheila Speller conducted an acting seminar workshop and on April 11th, John Pielmeier, author of Agnes of God was the Guest Artist. Buddy Crutchfield, director of the Off-Broadway hit Freckleface Strawberry, was the Guest Artist at the May 23 Lab.
During May, two events enabled WCT to contribute its energy and engage its directing and acting talent. One was in celebration of the Village of Ossining’s two hundred year birthday. Actors (including the current mayor) directed by Alan Lutwin dramatically recreated the first Ossinging Willage Board Meeting that was held in 1813. The event, “The Village of Sing-Sing, How It All Began,” was produced in the Town of Ossining Justice Court. WCT actor members who were in the production were Sherman Alpert, Jon Barb, Marilyn Colazzo, Janice Kirkel, Joe Lima, Ward Riley, Jeff Virgo and Howard Weintraub. These individuals linked their gifts to Ossinging’s history and had a ball. Lutwin who researched the project discovered, among many other interesting facts that some of Ossinging’s early residents had slaves. All slavery was banned in New York State on July 4, 1827.
Playwright Rosary O’Neill
The second event was a full length reading premier of White Suits on Sunday, a play by New Orleans/New York City playwright Rosary O’Neill directed by WCT member (actress and director) Elaine Hartel.
Elaine Hartel, Director
With the help of WCT, O’Neill has been developing the play and was thrilled that actors were able to portray the characters, allowing her to understand what sections of the play resonated and what dialogue, if any, needed tweaking. After the reading, discussion followed. Initially, O’Neill thought to entitle the play, Exposition Boulevard, referring to the play’s setting in the elite section of New Orleans. Then she reconsidered (She was raised in New Orleans in a wealthy family.) because those living on the real “Exposition Boulevard” might be offended. O’Neill’s play, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, The Great Gatsby, peels the onion on the culture of wealth, but in New Orleans. (The play has themes similar to a TV series O’Neill also wrote, Heirs. The series is currently being option shopped by Executive Producers Wendy Kram and David Black.) O’Neill’s writings (plays, the TV series) about New Orleans reveal the rages, complexities, machinations of families in this elite class with often humorous results. It is a familiar subject dear to O’Neill’s heart.
O’Neill and Lutwin after the reading listening to
The discussion after the reading which held praise for the playwright, the play, the director and actors also pinpointed that the title “Exposition Boulevard,” resonated with the action and themes. Considering the current productions about New Orleans on cable TV (Treme) the widest latitude about the cultural life of that amazing city should be explored and O’Neill’s work does that with humor, grace and depth. Hers is a rare look at New Orleans’ economic strata and a reminder that the gaps among rich and poor can only be melded if they are first examined.
Deacon Hoy, Sharon Rowe, Janice Kirkel, Evelyn Mertens, Enid Breis
Margie Ferris, Marilyn Collazo, Deacon Hoy, Sharon Rowe, Janice Kirkel
Cathy Jewell-Fischer, Margie Ferris, Marilyn Collazo
The WCT continued June 1st, with its dynamic Spring Fundraiser at the Steamer Firehouse with their theme “Trash n’ Vaudeville.” Members dressed for the fun event in offbeat attire and enjoyed the food and drink during and after entertainment. The fundraiser signals that the summer season is in full swing. The SUMMERFEST 2013 plays which were announced in May are currently being worked on by the directors and actors and will be presented on Friday, June 28th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 29th at 2:00 PM. Five selected plays that participated in the Lab process will be performed: You Were Awesome by Bob Zaslow, Hedge Fund by Csaba Teglas, Excess Baggage by Carol Mark, Facebook Friends by Marshall Fine and Wander Inn by Ginny Reynolds.
The Friday and Saturday performances will be at the Budarz Theater in Ossinging. Additional performances are planned at Atria-on-the-Hudson on Saturday June 22 at 2 PM and Briarcliff Atria on Sunday, June 30 at 2PM.
While other theater groups languish for lack of vision, the Westchester Collaborative Theatre continues to move forward innovating, growing, pulsating life. WCT is fed by the creativity, ingenuity and vitality of its members. All are sustained by an immense passion for theater and the enjoyment and community of creative endeavor. This is a group to watch, nurture and hold dear. You “ain’t seen nothing, yet!”
Plane Love by Rosary O’Neill Performed at the Players Club
Mar 5, 2013
Posted by caroleditosti
Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who had a passionate romance that developed into an enduring love and successful marriage until Lombard’s life was cut short. Plane Love by Rosary Hartel O’Neill references the relationship of these two celebrities.
You know how you can see one version of a play with one set of actors and another version with different actors and a whole new meaning is presented with different themes and an enhanced understanding? Last month Rosary Hartel O’Neill’s play Plane Love directed by Melissa Attebery and starring David Copeland and Shana Farr presented at the Player’s Club in New York City had that effect on me. The play had a previous showing a year ago at the National Arts Club with a different group of actors and production values. I enjoyed it then and thought the play’s promise, if picked up by other Off Off Broadway producers had the potential to create momentum and drift up the line so that it could create a followership as happens with many Off Off Broadway productions.
Rosary O’Neill and Diane Bernhardt (then President)
at the National Arts Club reading of Plane Love.
The reading of Plane Love was held in one of the many anterooms of the
National Arts Club’s beautiful Victorian building which is a historic landmark.
A bit about Rosary Hartel O’Neill, the playwright before I discuss the play will elucidate some interesting details. I’ve known Rosary’s work now for over a year and have been privileged to have seen a number of her plays presented in scene studies at the Actor’s Studio. I have seen a few presentations of Plane Love, one at the National Arts Club and the other at The Actor’s Studio. I have read a number of her dynamic plays and absolutely love her The Awakening of Kate Chopin, based on the real life Kate Chopin. (If you have not read Chopin’s groundbreaking The Awakening, regardless of whether you are male or female, it is a compelling story and you will walk away from it shocked, your intellect, your soul lazered.)
Rosary O’Neill and Melissa Attebery (Director) at the Player’s Club cafe.
O’Neill’s play The Awakening of Kate Chopin reveals how the real Kate Chopin came to write The Awakening. O’Neill strips open the events which are iconic in shaping Chopin’s phenomenal work. After The Awakening was published and universally vilified with criticism nearly likening her to the maw of Satan (Male critics at that time were terrorized by the true tenants of her themes.) Chopin never wrote or published another word again. O’Neill’s play is historical yet modern, it is vibrant and transfixing and it should be added to the repertory of seminal works showing casing men’s and women’s struggles with self-definition as they attempt to step beyond issues of sexual stereotype and fail miserably. Sound familiar? Welcome to the 21st century. Chopin’s character is a modern day Medea with a twist. O’Neill’s play examines the Kate who could write such an incredible story.
David Copeland (Actor’s Studio actor) and Shana Farr in the library of the
Player’s Club where the reading was held.
Plane Love echoes some of the struggles of love, autonomy in relationships and trust revealed in the play The Awakening of Kate Chopin. But Plane Love has lighter notes, is clever and witty with the deep undercurrents playfully brought to the surface in a successful expiation. Interestingly, it too, has a basis in real life relationships. The characters and situation are styled after a celebrated Hollywood couple, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who were passionate for each other and fit together in a Plato’s soul love that is rarely duplicated. It was a love that Gable never overcome after Lombard’s death in a plane crash. The couple in Plane Love is also mirrored to some extent to reflect O’Neill’s relationship with her current husband, Bob. Rosary and Bob met on a plane and grew their romance through letters. (In the play they chat via e-mails and IMs. Tweets and Facebook posts are too potentially public. Yes, folks their love chats were private and personal, not to be shared with others in this Anthony Weiner social media culture of “fat finger” clicking mistakes.) Their absences, because of Bob’s extensive travel and Rosary’s living in another part of the country made their joyful hearts bond with the heat of their words and imaginations. Distance love can be a really great spur for passion.
Shana Farr plays the role styled after Carole Lombard in her relationship
and marriage to Clark Gable. Melissa Attebery is introducing the play.
Energetic and vital David Copeland and Shana Farr melded with the ethers of director Melissa Attebery and the result was dynamic and alive. Some script changes were made for the better and the ending was supernally charged and had morphed from the time I had seen it at the National Arts Club and the Actor’s Studio. I will not give a spoiler alert except to say that the changes made the poignancy and connections to today really pop. I was moved and emotionally affected where in the previous versions I was not. The actors subtly and seamlessly developed the relationship between the characters through their power and ability to be eternally present. Exceptional acting talent whispered and nuanced the delicacy of how couples bond, the wheels and woes of emotional stripping and unmasking toward trust, the inevitable hurts and glories and the risks of unifying one soul to another.
After the performance, the audience applauds . David Copeland, Rosary O’Neill and Shana Farr
This production for me proves that casting excellent talents like Copeland and Farr is essential, good direction is paramount. A fine play will stand despite mediocre direction and a lack of will on the part of all concerned. Nevertheless, the audience will walk away from such live theater feeling something was not quite right, there was a drop of energy, the actors had a bad night or the play had dead spots. And as such, a good play will be forgotten until it is unearthed two decades later and electrically the cast gets it, the director is on fire, there is a unity of spectacle and everything is right. That is when the audience walks away with a sigh of relief, energized in a catharsis of human feeling and the play has a long run or a full run.
Great actor Edwin Booth purchased the Victorian building off Gramercy Park to have a place where he and his actor friends could congregate and enjoy themselves. He hired Stanford White to renovate the place adding various features which were conducive to enjoying parties and seeing plays. There is a cafe downstairs and auditorium with a stage on the second floor. There is an amazing library with old volumes and the place is festooned with paintings and pictures and drawings of actors. Booth also had White renovate an upstairs portion where he had apartments for himself. When all this was finished, Booth lived at the Player’s Club for five years and then died…presumably a happier man for giving his actor friends a comfortable and convivial place to hang out in NYC,
This production of Plane Love was in the second category. Look for the playwright, the actors and the director. They are not fading away, and look for Plane Love to gradually get its wings and fly uptown eventually toward wider avenues and brighter lights.
Posted in NYC Theater Reviews
From Westchester to NYC. New York Regional Theater’s Burgeoning Westchester Collaborative Theater
Dec 13, 2012
Posted by caroleditosti
WCT Program, 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays
Regional Theater is the engine that drives original theatrical productions and puts them on the map, moving them toward greatness. If new plays are nurtured and developed with love, effort and artistry, eventually they may be shepherded to Broadway. This is especially true if the theatrical group has an esprit de corps and inspired guide to watch over the flock of artists and their offerings. The beauty of such non profit theater is that there are no chains shackling its creativity. Without the pressures of time and money weighing heavily upon it, the best regional theaters make the most of their incredible opportunity to experiment, innovate and collaborate with a fluid mix of playwrights, actors and directors.
This has been the case with Westchester Collaborative Theater, established in 2011 in Ossining, New York. Within the span of barely two short years, this regional theater group’s productivity has burgeoned like Jack’s magical beanstalk. WCT has produced Winterfest 2011 and Winterfest 2012. These events included a number of Ten Minute Plays, original offerings by WCT member playwrights…world premiers, acted and directed by professionals and aspirants. With a variety of individuals at the ready, a spirit of generous camaraderie infuses openness and flexibility not regularly accessible in the closed atmosphere of stuffy professional theater which is hesitant to take risks.
Campbell Scott, award winning actor and director,
was a guest artist in November.
A blessing for WCT is its proximity to New York City, the theater hub of the world. Guest artists who live in the area, like comedian Robert Klein (last year) and in November of this year, well known actor and filmmaker Campbell Scott, are able to share their talent and expertise and serve as an inspiration to veteran performers and engaged newbees. The atmosphere at WCT is creative and non threatening, the overriding risk of lousy box office receipts absent. WCT thrives on donations, grants and the good will of patrons and the surrounding community. It is a labor of love won by the efforts of dedicated individuals like Executive Director, Alan Lutwin, who adore live theater and the living moments of performance art.
This year’s Winterfest follows on the heels of a productive year for the Westchester Collaborative Theater which included the scheduled Summerfest of One-Act play readings, monthly LAB with developmental readings and talk backs about select playwrights’ works in progress and a full length play reading. As a result of WCT’s labs, playwright/director Michael Thomas Cain was able to develop his play and present Enough’s Enough at La MaMa E.T.C. in NYC as part of the 2012 NY International Fringe Festival.
The works-in progress initiative for playwrights, directors and actors has been exciting. Each week guest artists with years of experience in the entertainment industry engaged in readings and talk backs. In November award winning actor and director, Campbell Scott (Victor Geddes with Julia Roberts in Dying Young and the protagonist of David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, Co-director of the award winning film, The Big Night with Stanley Tucci) performed a reading of The Wife and the Widow Next Store by Richard Manichello. The playwright, screenwriter, actor, poet (penned the award winning Choices of the Heart for television) who wrote Agnes of God, John Pielmeier (he also wrote the screenplay for the film Agnes of God) was another guest artist in November who shared his experiences and contributions to the theater and television community.
WCT Director, Alan Lutwin, introduces the
This season’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays included new members, professionals and those whose love of theater, writing, directing and acting have kept them involved in regional theater in the New York City area. Many of the artists’ works have appeared in Drama festivals in New York City and around the nation. Of these, some have been semi-finalists or finalists at the festivals, nominees of major prizes and award winners of other venues.
One such notable is Richard Manichello, 30 years in the entertainment business (actor, producer, Artistic Director of Peekskill Playhouse) and an Emmy Award-winning director and writer of stage, film and television. Manichello directed two plays for the WCT Winterfest. The first was Hooters, written by playwright Gabrielle Fox. Fox’ plays have been produced throughout New York City and the metro region. Manichello also directed Lava Sus Manos by playwright Jess Erick.
Hooters by Gabrielle Fox. Directed by Richard
Manichello, with Jess Erick as Becca and Adam
Glatzl as Sammy.
The Hunters by Joe McDonald, Directed by
Matthew Silver. Janice Kirkel (left) as Eileen
and Lorraine Federico as Rose.
New Orleans Playwright, Rosary O’Neill’s
Turtle Soup from White Suits in Summer.
Directed by WCT actor and director Elaine Hartel.
Turtle Soup: Suzanne Ochs as Lucille (left)
and Janice Kirkel as Aunt Jean.
Another professional, Rosary O’Neill, whose work was presented at the Winterfest, like Manichello, has weighty career experience and many awards and fellowships under her belt. O’Neill who is from New Orleans is a published/produced playwright (22 published plays) novelist, actor, director and retired Professor of Drama and Speech at Loyola University of New Orleans. The fourth edition of her textbook, The Actor’s Checklist, is used in schools nationwide. O’Neill founded the Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans and for many years was its Artistic Director, producing a number of the plays she had written. The comedic 10 minute play “Turtle Soup,” directed by Elaine Hartel (actor and director for WCT and other New York regional theater groups) was excerpted from O’Neil’s semi-autobiographical play about a wealthy family in New Orleans, White Suits in Summer.
Snow Birds by Csaba Teglas.
Directed by Michael Thomas Cain
with Jon Barb and Leslie Smithey
For more information about the Westchester Collaborative Theater’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays, the actors, directors and playwrights, or for information about membership in this active regional theater company, check their Facebook page, Westchester Collaborative Theater.
Not pictured, Take One for the Team by Carol Mark. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. With John Barbera as Will, Margie Ferris as Terri and Taku Hirai as Kevin.
Bobbo’s Bullet by Wayne Paul Mattingly.
Directed by Joe Albert Lima.
Left to right, Sara Beth Colten, Femi Alou,
Pe’er Klein, Margie Ferris.
Lava Sus Manos by Jess Erick.
Directed by Richard Manichello.
From left to right, Femi Alou, Shelley Lerea, Tracey McAllister, Ryan Mallon, Mary Roberts.
Women's Film and Stage Roles! Are Any Good, Dramatic Parts Being Written?
Author: Carole Di Tosti.
Published: August 21, 2012 at 9:08 am
You've most likely heard older female celebrities discuss the issue on The View and Charlie Rose. Meaty and substantial women's parts are lacking on Broadway (drama, not necessarily musicals) and in films, which are dominated by cartoon super-heroes, sci-fi and action thrillers appealing to men aged 18-49.
According to a new report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, there were more females in the top 100 domestic grossing films of 2011 than there were a decade ago, though the parts were not memorable and women were more likely to be sewing rather than working through conflicts or in leadership positions. Though things appear to be looking up in the summer of 2012 with strong women's roles, from Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of The Hunger Games to Salina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in The Dark Knight Rises, such female parts are little more than cartoon action super-heroes, with the women dominant in a reverse gender flip.
Emily Blunt expressed boredom with such roles feeling that they were bad for women actresses. "If you're an intelligent female actress, most superhero movies—and most action movies, for that matter—have nothing to offer you other than a paycheck. And if you can afford to turn down one paycheck in favor of another, why take work that’s thankless, and that you have little to no hope of elevating?"
Of course, they are female roles, albeit thankless ones. For Blunt, when searching for great female roles, it feels like "joining a pack of hyenas feeding on very few carcasses". The difficulty will be no less great if she pursues her desire to return to the stage most probably Broadway, since she is living in the US.
It is because of a dearth of female parts (for the over age 40 roles, it is worse as these parts comprise 25 percent of all female film characters written) that playwright Rosary O'Neill writes plays featuring strong female characters and is currently working on writing a TV script that includes substantive woman's parts. Marilyn/God (yes, Marilyn Monroe - it's the 50th anniversary of her death) The Awakening of Kate Chopin (Kate Chopin, feminist writer of The Awakening) and Buried Alive (Marie Laveau II of New Orleans 1827-1895) are three examples of O'Neill's works whose women characters undergo deep self-reflection and transform themselves with angst and humor toward freedom and redemption.
Recently, O'Neill premiered a reading of her work Buried Alive, a one woman tour de force about Marie Laveau, New Orleans' voodoo Queen and her daughter of the same name, who engaged in occult practices, conjured spirits and supposedly danced naked on St. John's Eve (June 23-24) for 12,000 spectators on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.
O'Neill, born and raised in New Orleans was the founding artistic director at Southern Rep Theater from 1987 to 2002. A resident of New Orleans for many years she has watched the legend of Marie Laveau grow into its own burgeoning tourist industry.
The reading of Buried Alive, sponsored by the Westchester Collaborative Theater Lab, and performed by Elaine Hartel in the role of Marie Laveau II, exemplifies the process of a play's development to eventual stage production in New York City. Depending on the actors' and audience's response, plays like Buried Alive go through a number of readings with different actors and audiences as they are tweaked, re-examined and revised by the playwright, then performed as staged readings with props and lighting, until they are finally produced. However, even after production Off or Off Off Broadway or even on Broadway, plays (typical of all organic artistry) are revised and revamped, tailored to the actors as they make the roles their own, and generally refined in various aspects during the play's run
Rosary O'Neill! New Orleans' Playwright Steps Into NYC Off, Off Broadway Scene
Author: Carole Di Tosti.
Published: February 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm
New York City is a tough place to root yourself into the solid earth. To travel there (now get the metaphor) you have to navigate waters that are shark infested. Ferocious currents can take you out onto the seas of such black, depressing career oblivion that you are drained of your resilience and vitality to persist. Or you may be cruising along making apparent headway when a huge roller (seamen's term for freak wave) capsizes you and your flesh is feed for the voracious predators who troll the waters. But if you make it through all that, you breathe a sigh of relief and step onto dry land. You think you've made it! But then you realize that the process begins all over again. And it's worse. Now you face the most deadly of all creatures, LAND SHARKS!
Thousands of actors, playwrights, fine artists have been churned by the city's fish bellies. Others have returned to the GPS grey zone with barely a ripple. To stay and really "make it," you need money, a lot of money to live in the Big Apple. "Summertime" in this city? Never. Here the livin' ain't never easy. If you've seen Glenngary Glenn Ross by David Mamet, then you know as coffee is for closers, New York is for closers.
How do you make yourself a closer in New York? If you are like Rosary O'Neill, coming from an alternate paradigm of flora and fauna, in her case, the magnolia blossoms and torpid summers of New Orleans, you embrace the challenge, dress for the daily tempests and, with enthusiasm and verve, "get on with the show!" Rosary, has sustained the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, her family home destroyed. So in light of such experiences and others, New York, though cold, offers less heartbreak for her, and in fact, it has offered its love.
Rosary O'Neill is the playwright-in-residence at the National Arts Club. During her years in New York, she has staged readings of various scenes of her plays as works in development there. The membership and her followers have embraced this southern lady with a N'awlins accent and have been enthusiastic about her offerings which have mostly been about New Orleans or dealt with renown celebrities or artists (Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, John Singer Sargent, Degas).
Last night was the first time, the NAC held a staged reading of her most recent play, fresh off a Word Perfect document, the world premier reading of Plane Love. And it was uplifting, funny and sad in a time where tragedy and comedy hold hands and make love, go through divorces and marriages, then part forever.
Rosary's inspiration for Plane Love as she laughingly says and her husband Bob enthusiastically confirms came from their own experiences falling in love after meeting on a flight. A good deal of the clever dialogue (When Rosary hears a particularly choice and hysterical line in regular conversation, she whips out her notebook and writes it down for "the feel of veracity.") and witty repartee was culled from their conversations via texting, e-mailing, mobiling. (Bob travels as a consultant.) Much of it is beguiling and steamy love talk which she includes in the play to her credit because it IS funny!
The other inspiration for Plane Love is based on the sizzling yet sweet relationship and eventual marriage of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard from the Hollywood Studio legends days. Don't know who they are? You haven't seen Gable in the iconic civil war epic Gone With the Wind? Well, if you are 20 and can't wait for The Hunger Games to come out, you're forgiven. (Hell, I'm waiting for the film to come out.)
Plane Love gambits the turning points of Gable's and Lombard's lives: the click-snap falling in love when they meet, their gradual recognition of what has happened, despite being involved with others, and the tug and pull throughout, until they symbolically close what is beyond their power to resist.
The production directed by Tavia Trepte and acted by Chris LaPanta (Bill Goodman-a la Gable) and Leanne Barrineau (Jane Darling-Lombard) highlighted with humor and pathos elements of the Gable/Lombard relationship. In the question and answer period afterward, one could understand the power of the bond between the characters and how it was likened to the one between Gable and Lombard. Gable never easily recovered from losing Lombard to a plane crash. He chose to be buried beside her, even though he had married again. The production of Plane Love expertly completed Rosary O'Neill's vision to reveal life's fullness with a tear and a smile, especially when it comes to love.
This full play production reading at the National Arts Club is a turning point for O'Neill in her celebration of being in New York. It is stepping up a career which has included 12 internationally produced plays by the invitation of the American embassy in Paris, Bonn, London and Moscow. But as she said last night in the question and answer session, "I guess I'm a New Yorker now!"
It is so. In New York she has accomplished her most prolific writing. Her plays have been featured in the Reading Series of the Abingdon Theatre, and the Rattlesticks Playwrights Theater, New York. Counting Plane Love, she has written 22 plays here, most of which have been published by Samuel French, Inc. Her play Uncle Victor was chosen Best New American Drama by the Cort Theater, Hollywood, and celebrated in the Chekhov Now Festival in New York. Her Blackjack was selected for Alice's Fourth Floor Best New play series.
And it is in New York where she has finished writing a series for televison/cable about a New Orleans' family, their foibles, their craziness, their humor, their tragedies. Sometimes, you have to leave an area you grew up in to find it again. It would seem that is the way for Rosary O'Neill.
The Awakening: Spectral Sisters stage play on Kate Chopin's life
The Town Talk - Alexandria, La.
Aug 5, 2010
Text Word Count:
Tragedy makes a good story great, and even better if the story is true.
Louisiana history is rife with tragedy, which pours from song and story as easily as water through a sieve.
Writer Kate Chopin was born in St. Louis in 1850, but spent most of her life in Louisiana -- much of that time in the Natchitoches Parish town of Cloutierville. Chopin is best known for her novel "The Awakening," which was banned from a public library in Evanston, Ill., and rumored to have been banned in the library of her hometown.
It's Chopin's tragic life and strength as a woman that so drew playwright Rosary O'Neill to her.
O'Neill lives in New York, but she was born in New Orleans, where she built the Southern Repertory Theater from the ground up.
Her fascination with Chopin came after writing a play about Edgar Degas, a painter who spent time in New Orleans when Chopin was there.
"I found out he was friends with (Chopin)," O'Neill said. "I mean, she was 32 with six children and her husband's dying of malaria. She having an affair with the wealthy man next door while she's going bankrupt. I was intrigued to see how she triumphed."
After much research and a trip to the Chopin House in Cloutierville just before it burned in 2008, she wrote "The Awakening of Kate Chopin."
The Spectral Sisters production opens today and runs through Sunday on the Hearn Stage of the Kress Theatre in the Rapides Foundation Building.
The cast is Kim Patton as Chopin; Dan Forest as Chopin's husband, Oscar; Jerry Havens as Albert Sampite, a wealthy planter with whom Chopin was rumored to have an affair; and Doan Moran as Maria Normand Delouce, the woman Sampite became involved with when Chopin left Cloutierville and returned to St. Louis.
When Spectral Sisters contacted O'Neill about producing the play, she knew she wanted them to do it. She had met much of the Central Louisiana theater community when City Park Players produced her play, "Blackjack: The Thief of Possession," last year.
O'Neill will be in the audience tonight, as she's in Alexandria for a few days to lead a Spectral Sisters play writing workshop.
"I love being there opening night because the actors are just as scared as I am," O'Neill said. "I love not knowing and being totally surprised."
Her being there surely will give one of the actors an added boost.
"It's very flattering," Moran said. "We don't get this opportunity to showcase our talent for someone as rooted in the arts as she is."
While it was difficult to condense Chopin's life into a three-act play, O'Neill found that Chopin's life lent itself the drama of theater.
"A lot happened to her in a short period of time," O'Neill said. "It's the old (Anton) Chekhov thing -- start as late as you can and get out as fast as you can."
"The Awakening of Kate Chopin" focuses on Chopin's time in Cloutierville -- the decline of her husband's health, her sexual advances toward Sampite and the Chopins' bankruptcy.
"I always like stories about women, sexual relationship and money," O'Neill said.
Moran believes the audience will empathize with the events on stage.
"Even though there's time separating us, the things that are going on today -- marital abuse, just trying to find one's self and the economy -- happened then," Moran said. "The Chopins were hit hard (financially). They believed in the infallibility of cotton."
And, Moran said, the Chopins lived and breathed in a community not far from our own.
"It makes for a unique experience," she said. "These characters once lived. That makes the tragedy more tragic."
What: "The Awakening of Kate Chopin" by Rosary O'Neill
When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: On the Hearn Stage of the Kress Theatre in the Rapides Foundation Building, 1101 Fourth St., Alexandria
Know to Go
What: Play Writing Workshop featuring Rosary O'Neill
When: 1-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: On the Hearn Stage of the Kress Theatre in the Rapides Foundationg Building, 1101 Fourth St.
The Town Talk - Alexandria, La.
Oct 8, 2009
Text Word Count:
City Park Players will be the first to perform a production written by a Louisiana-native playwright.
The play, "Black Jack: A Thief of Possession," takes place during a mandatory annual family reunion held on New Year's Eve on a New Orleans riverboat.
The matriarch of the family has required the attendance of all the unwilling members of the family, who would rather keep their personal lives to themselves.
Rosary Hartell O'Neill wrote the play based on fantasies she had as a child growing up in New Orleans, she said.
"I had a fantasy of being on these steamboats that wealthy people would use on New Year's Eve," O'Neill said. "These people are successful " but what if during this event, people realize they aren't as well as they seem?"
The play was deemed a comedy, but actor Casey Scarbrock said it has more of a "dramedy" feel.
"It examines a lot of aspects of family life," Theresa Louviere said.
Yet to bring out the elements of that family life, the actors and director Dan Forest had to "create the characters from scratch," Theresa Louviere said.
"It's been a learning experience for all of us," said Scarbrock, who plays son "Beau" Ellis. "There wasn't a lot of direction written into the play itself."
This gave the actors a wide creative foundation on which to build their characters, but "it was really scary, too," said Kimberly Patton, who plays Beau's wife, Kaitlyn Ellis.
"It's a mixed blessing (performing a play for the first time)," Forest said. "There's nothing to compare us to."
There is no tangible way to gauge how well their interpretation is working, Forest said, but at the same time there's no way to tell if it's working poorly either.
That's where the actors' investment comes into play, Theresa Louviere said. Spending so much time looking into the characters in order to make them three-dimensional means performers have a deeper understanding of the person behind the words than if the actor was to simply draw from performances given by other people.
Forest also got the chance to examine the words himself and create dialogue he felt could help enhance the play, he said. The original version of the script he received was greatly edited for publication in a book, so he requested a copy closer to what O'Neill penned.
After moving to New York in 2003, O'Neill edited the play to reduce some repetition and lend it toward visual storytelling that has become increasingly important in New York theater.
"People in Louisiana appreciate the spoken word perhaps more than people in New York," O'Neill said.
After receiving this version, Forest and the actors made some revisions to make it their own and created a re-edited version of "Black Jack: A Thief of Possession," he said.
The editing process took a couple of weeks, Forest said, but since then the cast has had a great time bringing the play to life.
"I enjoy watching my actors enjoying themselves," Forest said.
And Forest said he has enjoyed accomplishing one of his goals.
"I had been dying to direct for City Park Players," he said. "When they asked me if I would do this, I said I would direct anything."
One of the challenges he faced in blocking the play was keeping the performers active on-stage without them creating a distraction, Forest said. The technical crew helped accomplish this with special lighting designed to highlight the key scenes and draw the audience's attention.
"Black Jack: A Thief of Possession" will open at 7:30 p.m. today. Performances continue through Sunday and Oct. 15-18. O'Neill will attend Saturday's performance.
Know to go
What: "Black Jack, A Thief of Possession"
When: 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and Oct. 15-17, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 18
Where: Hearn Stage of the Kress Theatre, Rapides Foundation building, corner of Third and Johnston streets, Alexandria
Information: (318) 442-1800
Cost: $12 adults, $10 seniors 65+, $5 students