Saturday, October 31, 2009

review of "*Chess,* in concert"

review of "Chess, in concert"
at Spokane Civic Theatre
Oct. 30-31, 2009
directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson

I'm grateful to Yvonne Johnson and the Civic for delivering a concert-style production of a seldom-performed musical, and to all the singers and musicians and crew members who volunteered their time to make it happen. But Chess is only a partial success.

With lyrics by Tim Rice, a book by playwright Richard Nelson, and music by the ABBA guys, Chess has a decent pedigree.

There were problems with dynamics: In too many numbers, it was the singers vs. the orchestra (especially the horns and guitar) -- and the singers didn't win. The early, establishing numbers like "Freddie's Entrance" and "Press Conference" were almost disastrous in just being undifferentiated sonic onslaughts -- we weren't getting the information we needed to get situated. (Perhaps putting 13 musicians onstage instead of in the pit contributed to the problem? So did some mic failures early on -- but the latter half of the first act avoided that problem, largely by concentrating on simple piano accompaniment for ballads and more comprehendable lyrics.) Early in Act One, particularly, the passages of dialogue came as a relief: At last, quieter lines that we can understand.

The score is a mix of prosaic and forgettable songs with several highlights.
Too many songs in Chess are expository, like the opening "Story of Chess" and songs like "Merchandisers" and "Diplomats," which aim to inform more than to inspire. Fairly often in this show, people break out into song not because they're feeling any deep emotion, but because Nelson and Rice need to inform us some more about some detail of their plot.
It's a plot that, especially in the second act, starts to resemble a soap opera draped around a story of Cold War intrigue so as to personalize big forces that we might be too imperceptive to grasp. (Hence the CIA/KGB faceoff gets entangled in the more graspable love triangle of a woman torn between two grandmasters.)
Some of the highlights clustered in the middle of Act One: "Quartet" featured Molokov (Henry McNulty), the Arbiter (Tim Campbell), Florence (Andrea Dawson) and Anatoly (Jordan Gookin) singing precisely and in counterpoint, with the argument over chess rules raging but each voice distinct and powerful. "You Want To Lose Your Only Friend?" -- a duet for Robby French as Freddy, the brash American/Bobby Fischer figure, and the wonderful Andrea Dawson as Florence, the woman who gets caught in an international grandmaster sandwich -- was powerfully sung, with its "1956 and Budapest is falling" refrain taking us back to the wonderful opening image of a little girl, fascinated with chess pieces. And French rapped out the lyrics to "One Night in Bangkok," celebrating the lavish nightlife that Johnson's staging (slide show of international locales, a collection of flags with stars and stripes pitted against hammer and sickle) helped emphasize.
But there's more to this musical than just its one hit song."Terrace Duet" immediately follows, with Dawson and Gookin, in the course of just one tune, making clear why their characters mistrust each other but still start to fall, almost unwillingly, into love.
After Freddie has been pushed aside and lost the girl, French sits at the front of the stage for the self-pitying "Taste of Pity" -- recalling his moving sadness as Jesus in the Civic's Godspell last season, but in the service here of another song that tells rather than shows. Dawson finishes Act One impressively with "nobody on nobody's side," and then Gookin, as Anatoly, stands and delivers the "Anthem" to self-loyalty over patriotism: "My land's only borders lie around my heart." He's going to defect, and damn the consequences.

Act Two is about the consequences. A weakness in the book is bringing in Svetlana, Anatoly's estranged Russian wife. Emily Bayne sings expressively, but we've barely heard her name and suddenly, in three successive songs, we're supposed to care about the inner turmoil of her heart.
But those manipulations are more than made up for (after all, Florence and Anatoly will turn out to have been terribly manipulated by their governments) by Dawson's delivery of "Heaven Help My Heart" (praying in a church, troubled by what it will mean to fall for Anatoly). It's almost impossible to praise Dawson's talent too much; she's that good.
But soon after you recover after feeling exhilarated by Dawson's voice, the book falls into the trap of analogizing everthing to chess moves: "Don't we all make foolish moves?" and "It's your move now," and other facile chess comparisons, and we are supposed to Nod Knowingly at the Weighty Significance.
Gookin and Dawson share a lovely duet, the reprise of "You and I" (marred by Rice's habit of stepping in the lyrics on obvious rhymes), and we arrive at the rather unlikely denouement.

Bobo remembers Jordan Gookin as a gifted but still young comic actor who skilfully spoofed up a lot of comedies at Lake City Playhouse several years ago. He went to Lake Arrowhead (I think) in California and now has returned -- more mature, singing and acting well, glowering as the disaffected Russian and playing a lead dramatic role effectively. Welcome back, Jordan.

Henry McNulty, as the KGB agent who acts as the Russian chess player's "second" or consultant, conveyed Solzhenitsyn dignity in a manner that commanded respect.

All three principals -- French, Dawson, Gookin -- were impressive. I just wanted to hear them in the service of better (or at least more consistently compelling) material.
I wanted to like Chess more, I really did. I enjoy and dabble at chess; I like political intrigue; I remember Fischer vs. Spassky and later, glasnost and Gorbachev and all of it. I even like musicals with sad but meaningful endings, like this one. And this performance of Nelson's Broadway version (which over-talks a lot of plot points) left me wishing that Americans might be able to hear Trevor Nunn's 1986 London version (which has different locales, different plot details and a very different song list).
But a lot of it was over-loud wailing-screaming rock opera that was kind of like melodrama ... except that they were playing for high political stakes ... except that it's really just a love triangle thrown not very plausibly into the middle of an international power struggle ... except that there were several lovely songs performed by all three principals, especially Dawson as Florence ... except that many of the songs are neither hummable or memorable ... except that this show's goals are laudable ... except that it doesn't attain its goals.
A musical like Chess can leave a guy feeling seriously ambivalent.

One performance remains at the Civic: Halloween night from 7:30-9:45 pm. (You can still party afterwards.)

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Friday, October 30, 2009

correction: *String of Pearls* times

Bobo's print preview in the Oct. 29 Inlander got it wrong.
Actual remaining performances:
Thursdays -- Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 -- at 7:30 pm
Fridays -- Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and Nov. 13 -- at 7:30 pm
Saturdays -- Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 -- at 7:30 pm
Sundays -- Nov. 1, Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 -- at 2 pm
(There are no Saturday matinees.)


review of "Pride and Prejudice*

[portrait of Jane Austen from]

The best things about Gonzaga's production of Pride and Prejudice (continuing tonight at 7:30 pm and on Sunday at 2 pm) are the stage adaptation of the novel by Marcus Goodwin (which he himself directed at Seattle's Book-It Rep Theater nine years ago) and the direction of Brian C. Russo, in keeping the traffic of so many Regency dandies and high-waisted gowns flowing.
The opening image is impressive: all five Bennet girls striding confidently right at us and sharing the famous opening line about "a single man in possession of a good fortune": At a stroke, the aggressive/precarious/desperate situation of the unmarried daughters is established.
There is much moving-about of furniture and clambering into and out of carriages, but Goodwin and Russo have managed to mingle scenes both crowded and intimate in a mostly fast-moving way. Several first-act scene transitions, however, lagged, slowing the pace; entrances should start before exits are fully completed.
The standouts in the cast are Brigid Carey -- showing range in dual roles, from the hands-thrown-up-and-shrieking society-gossip hysteria of Mrs. Bennet to the remote hauteur of Lady Catherine DeBourgh -- and Jason Meade as Mr. Darcy -- handsome and aloof at first, but gradually making the transition to a man willing to explain himself and show his vulnerabilities.
I'm no Austen expert, but it didn't appear that any major chunks had fallen out of Goodwin's stage version. Which is both a strength and a weakness. Somehow he encapsulates an entire novel in about 2:20 of running time (with intermission), and the pace has almost cinematic quickness. But no one reads P&P all at one go -- and being subjected to a crash course of country strolls and elaborate missives and squealing excitement and hands excitedly clasped in anticipation of the next gentleman caller ... well, I love Austen, but her talent is for the dry narrative observation (not easily included in a theatricalized version, though Goodwin includes several, announced presentationally by the actors). Austen's narrator's voice, of course -- even with the adapter working hard to preserve it -- is going to fall out of any stage version.

Russo shared with me that, when asked about the fall production, women in particular would repeatedly volunteer their personal connection with Austen's novel. And it's true: Elizabeth Bennet (played here by Millie Duchow, straining too much vocally but good at being feisty and self-assertive, as she was with in the title role of Shrew this summer) has to face familiar obstacles: overcoming her own misperceptions; fighting the restrictions of class and gender prejudice; fending off acquaintances who are snooty, superficial and stupid; enduring the insufferable self-regard of that damnably handsome (and rich!) Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth, in other words, provides a template for women's self-determination in a world with rules (all that curtseying and formal dancing and yes-Mum propriety).
Michael Barfield's unctuous Mr. Collins (the nerdy clergyman with no social skills and elevated self-image) was subtly comic: slight stumbles, twitchy mouth, out-of-step awkwardness, a wonderful mixture of ineptitude and self-confidence -- an awkward bear cub scampering among all the ladies with their pretty dresses.
John Hofland's set design sketched in Regency elegance with five large gilt frames depicting a mansion's exterior, the corner of a grand ballroom, and so on. With some inlaid designs surrounding a central wooden floor, and with Summer Berry's gowns and waistcoats depicting the formal wear of Austen's world, we got a strong sense of how constrained these people were by etiquette and propriety.
The second act dragged and the acting's uneven, but the Gonzaga Pride and Prejudice provides a Cliff's Notes reminder of what Austen's novel is like, and the many challenges that likeable Elizabeth faces and overcomes. Just old-fashioned chick lit? No. Universalized human experience performed so convincingly that the high stakes will be apparent to all? Not that either. The Goodwin/Russo Austen provides many amusing moments and scattered insights, but it's like getting hit with a hardback in the forehead: There's an overwhelming sameness when you drink your P&P all at once.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

review of *Doubt*

at Interplayers Professional Theater
seen Oct. 28

Doubt — isn’t that the one about the nun and the priest, and she’s convinced that he’s a creepy child molester? I saw the movie — why bother seeing it again?
Because seeing it onstage, reduced to just four characters, is a more intense and psychological experience. Because Interplayers’ four cast members are uniformly fine in their roles. And because this is the best drama Interplayers has produced in the past three years (and probably in the past five).

Start with Aaron Murphy’s Father Flynn — East Coast Irish accent, all-American looks, the bemused look of a man who has something to teach you and knows he has a clever way to do it. We see him solo, alone, then suckered into a meeting with two nuns that’s not at all about what he thinks it is — the priest, marginalized in his own parish.
Murphy was so convincing, he put this former Catholic schoolboy right back in the confessional. When he ended his second sermon by making the Sign of the Cross, I came this close to joining him. (We laugh at these 1964 people and their exaggerated respect for the Church’s hierarchy -- but you know, once in 1962, when I was in first grade at St. Mary’s of the Assumption, I peered over the rectory wall and saw a priest, sunning himself. With his shirt off. And was immediately convinced, truly, that I had committed a mortal sin and would roast in hellfire eternally. Which is a hard thought for a 7-year-old to bear.)

Ann Russell Whiteman strolls with authority around her office desk, convinced utterly — convinced beyond all doubt — that Father Flynn must be stopped and the children protected. (There was much talk afterwards about how the show changes from night to night. And it’s true, this time it registered with me, the number of times she’s referred to as joyless, a Puritan, cold and unforgiving; at other moments, she can appear like a warrior for righteousness.)
Whiteman’s eyes glisten early on, when she plants suspicions in the young nun’s mind; Whiteman makes clear that Sister Aloysius is a bit too eager to be regarded as the most clever fox in the henhouse. No upstart young priest is going to outmaneuver her.

As Sister James, Bethany Hart uses subtle facial expressions to convey her wonderment, doubt, anger and sadness over what her superior is trying to do. As the mother of the young boy who’s supposedly the object of Father Flynn’s pederastic lust, Rebecca M. Davis plants herself in that office chair and scowls, even as she observes decorum. She mixes being deferential with being defiant (nicely sustaining the play’s ambiguity and balance), and the emotion’s contained but still evident.

Throughout this intermissionless chess game, what we’ve been waiting for is the faceoff of priest and nun in the penultimate scene. When it arrived, at first I thought Murphy was being weak, unassertive — until I grasped (so I thought, can’t be sure, still have my doubts) that he was wearing down under Sister Aloysius’s interrogation. The pendulum was swinging: In a performance in which, for most of the time, she had seemed joyless and vindictive — and he, cheerful and innocent — now our doubts about him were rising to the forefront. Sister’s methods may be Machiavellian (corrupt means, but valuable ends, she preaches) but maybe, just maybe, she has ferreted out corruption in the end.
Or not. Doubt is a mirror that shows us ourselves: inclined to trust others, or accuse them; inclined to forgive or indict. The value of such a production — especially in a Catholic town dominated by a Catholic university and its law schools’ many graduates, its parochial schools and G-Prep Bullpups, its own sad history of priestly sex abuse and coverups — is not only that it “takes you on an emotional journey,” but that the journey, quite likely, will differ from night to night.
Theater should piss some people off. Being inoffensive is not, forever and always, a virtue. When people get angry, somebody’s touched a nerve.

Roger Welch has directed seamlessly, with no fuss and with many of the most gripping speeches delivered while stock-still. Renae Meredith’s set includes a polished-wood square for the priest’s sermons, both in the pulpit and on the basketball court: an arena for the baring of our souls.

Certainty without evidence is faith. But when certainty, absolute conviction, turns past the point of being willing to hear contradictory opinions and evidence, it hardens into dogmatism. And Sister Aloysius — played by Whiteman with squinting, aloof, marble-cold implacability — is dogmatic for 89 of the show’s 90 minutes. By the end, even she has her doubts.
Shanley is taking aim at dogmatism of all kinds, religious and political — at one point, the actual line “You lie!” is shouted at the priest, and suddenly I was transported back to Obama’s health care speech before the joint session of Congress.

Overcome your doubts (it won’t be any good, I’ve seen it before, sex abuse is such a sad topic, people draped in black who lived 45 years ago have nothing new to tell me), and just go. Theater is transitory — this one goes poof on Nov. 7 — but for theater this good, attention must be paid. Cancel your bowling night, skip Mass just this once, whatever — but go see Doubt at Interplayers.

And yes, I’m influenced by how meaningful and good tonight’s post-performance talk-back was — actors articulate, questions observant, Reed McColm moderating like a pro. Theater of the kind we can and should be proud of. An important play, done with subtlety and intelligence. I could go on and on about this cast, and about how Whiteman and Murphy’s performances in particular are exceptional and accomplished. But just go see the show for yourself.
With this show about sin, the most apparent sin is that more people aren’t supporting this show.
Lake City on the verge, Interplayers teetering — if you value theater in this town, overcome the excuses of "no time," "no money." Overcome your doubts and just go see Doubt.

[image: movie poster, from]

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

20 Questions ... well, about 14 Questions ... with Jean Hardie

Jean Hardie has been doing shows at the Civic for 28 years. She's currently appearing there in String of Pearls

First, let's do the bio.  Where did you grow up and go to school? First exposure to theater? Theater you did in high school and college?  How many years and shows at the Civic? How many years teaching at St. George's?  How many years with Box 'n' Hat?

            I was born over in Mount Vernon and lived in Anacortes until I was 8, then a year in LittletonColo., then on to Sacramentowhere I grew up. My father was a musician and my mother was a dancer; but by the time I came along, my father managed a dime store and played his saxaphone on weekends and my mother had opened her own little dance studio. There was always music and dancing around. I took tap and ballet from the time I was very young and danced in recitals, etc.  Apparently, I played Little Black Sambo’s Mother in our first-grade play, although my memory of it is somewhat vague. I was in one play in junior high and spent my high school years pining to be a cheerleader. But I did write — and act in — a lot of the skits for the pep rallies. 

I went to Sacramento City College after high school.  On my 18th birthday, my best friend and I decided to audition for the first play of the year. We were both so scared! Well, she got the lead and I got a small part — and that, as they say, was that. I was completely and utterly bitten by the “acting bug." I think I was in every production we did there for the next three years, including my first musical...the role of Alma Hix in The Music Man (“that woman made braaaazen overtures...”).  I went to Sac City for three years ... I lost a big part of one year to a bout of mono ... but although I dropped a lot of classes, I didn’t drop out of The Cherry Orchard. After those three years, I worked for a year and saved up money to go on to Sacramento State. Pete and I got married during that year. We also worked at the JayRob Playhouse, a community theatre in Sacramento which did all comedies. We ushered, did props, worked backstage, played small roles — and watched a lot of performances of a lot of shows ... great experience. And I was a member of a group of young performers — very much like Box ‘n’ Hat, actually — for about a year. 

On to State College. A lot of the same — did a lot of shows, but I was, in actuality, an English major. In 1970, the year we graduated, the Kent State shootings occurred.  That year sort of ended in a blur ... a bunch of us theater types formed a political sketch comedy troupe, and we ran around doing our show wherever we could — including the park downtown next to the Capitol building in Sacramento. I think we were somewhat disappointed that we never got arrested, although we did get asked to move on a couple of times. (It was a different world.) I got my degree even though I never really finished a couple of my classes. The professors accepted a write-up of our theatrical exploits in lieu of finals. Go figure.

          Upon graduation, a group of us — a lot of the same kids — decided we knew enough to start our own theatre ... and so we did. Major Gray’s Company was formed, and we did some pretty good shows over the next couple of years on the second floor of one of the few buildings left standing in Old Sacramento ... just before it got developed into quite a happening tourist destination. But by that time, Pete and I had moved up to Seattle. He got his master's in Design at UW. I worked and had daughter Joanna. Then, out of the blue, we were invited to move to Helena, Montana, where Pete worked as the resident designer at the Grand Street Theatre. I did lots of shows there and I had son Ian. In 1981, the job at Civic opened up, Pete applied and was hired; and we moved here. Our youngest son, David, was born here.

          Since 1981, at Civic Theatre, I have directed – and, where applicable, choreographed — somewhere around 33 shows. String of Pearls will be the 30th show that I’ve appeared in at Civic. I’ve also done shows for Spokane Children’s Theatre, Interplayers, CenterStage, and Valley Rep, but the Civic is certainly my theatrical home. 

            I directed the Box ‘n’ Hat Players for 20 years.  My daughter was one of the original players.  My youngest son graduated from the troupe in the last year I did it. A nice full circle. 

          I’ve been the Drama teacher at Saint George’s School for the last 13 years.  We do at least three mainstage shows a year out there ... so I guess you could say that I’ve done my fair share of theatre in Spokane. And I’m reasonably proud of most of it.


Let me be blunt and ask questions that you may certainly wish to overlook.  Right now, you're the ex-wife being directed by the second wife.  That sounds really awkward.  When was the divorce?  Was it a case of being terribly difficult to act anywhere near Peter for a few years, and then gradually becoming something that worked out?  (My sister got divorced after 20 years and four kids; for the following 20 years, she and the kids and her ex all lived in close proximity and interacted a lot, even as he remarried not once but twice. So I have some sense...)

I am bewildered as to why this should be of any interest; and I am somewhat offended at your asking this question at all, so I sort of waffled between:

a) forgetting about this whole interview; b) saying “none of your goddamn business, so fuck off"; c) politely skipping past it; or d) just going ahead and answering. 

          It’s not awkward at all. The divorce happened about 10 years ago. Things may have been awkward for a very short time for the family, but since our decision to end our marriage was predicated upon our remaining best friends, there wasn’t much point in being awkward, bitter, angry, etc. Peter and I have been a couple since 1966. The romance may have worn itself out, but the love and the friendship have not. I cannot imagine my life without him as a part of it. I think the world of Susan … always have; and I am gratified to see them so happy together. 

          If there has been any awkwardness, it has been from other people not knowing how to react; but that seems to have worked itself out. 

Anecdote: A few years ago, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen for awhile; and out of the blue, he asked me how my daughter was doing.  “Fine," I said. “Still out in Seattle, doing some performing, etc. etc.”

“But what about this show that she’s directing in the Studio Theatre?” he asked.

“Uh … no,” I said.

“But it says so right here,” he said, showing me the Studio brochure: “Susan Hardie.” As it dawned on him what he had said, he was pretty embarrassed. I thought it was pretty funny.


From your perspective as a drama instructor, what mistakes do young and/or beginning actors commonly make? 

Commonly – and very generally: They fail to pick up cues, so the pace drags; and yet, they rush through the moments that need time — they are afraid of pauses.

They speak too quickly — sometimes too softly — and don’t enunciate clearly enough.

Often, they see themselves inaccurately ... they think they are performing an action or a movement in a much bigger way than they really are, and it is difficult to convince them to give you more.

They wait too long to get their lines learned. They don’t think enough about what the character is really saying, doing, wanting, meaning, thinking, etc.... they don’t listen or react enough; and what comes out is line recitation.

They resent the fact that acting/performing/rehearsing is hard work, and they whine.

They lose things, a lot — scripts, props, costumes, schedules, you name it. Some young actors are arrogant and sure that they know more than you do ... they don’t realize that no matter how talented you are, you should stay open to listening and learning for as long as you live.

          All that being said, it is also a most rewarding thing for a teacher or director when they feel they have really taught or brought out something in a student or young actor. It can be really thrilling.   


We hear a lot that the audience for theater is aging, graying, dying out. Yet with Box 'n' Hat and at St. George's, you work all the time with young people who are enthusiastic about theater. Has the High School Musical phenomenon paid off, with musicals increasingly popular among teens today?  Or do they hunger for more contemporary (not Oklahoma!) and less cheesy (not HSM) musicals?  Or do teens today have so much entertainment competition (mp3's, videogames, YouTube, movies) that they truly are losing any taste for handcrafted, live entertainment (of the sort that theater provides)?

I thought you were sending me the first 10 questions ... there are at least three or four questions right here!

I don’t feel that I am qualified to speak to this question for the very reasons you state above. I work all the time with kids who are already crazy about theatre, performing, singing, dancing, acting – even directing and writing – and watching. Their appetite for what is “new” is unquenchable.  The interesting part is that often what is “new” to them is really old stuff.  I see this pattern over and over again.  They are all about the newest thing ... Wicked, Spring Awakening, In the Heights, etc. But if you play them a classic musical theater song from some vintage musical, they fall in love with that, too — they “discover” it all over again. It’s cute. 

           I will also go out on a limb and make another odious generalization by saying that a big difference between theater geeks today and young people of my generation is a layer of ironic awareness that we didn’t tend to possess. They recognize cheesiness and embrace it knowingly in all its cheesy glory. You might call it the Glee Effect. At the same time, they recognize great artistry, too. They are free to love it all – even things they know are bad – as long as they are gloriously, sincerely bad. 

          As always ... non-theater geeks — of any age — need not apply. They will just look at you as though you were speaking a foreign language. It’s always been that way, and it will always be that way. I imagine that the percentage of high school theater geeks has remained pretty stable over the years.      


What's the most important thing that you've changed your mind about? Why did you alter your opinion?

            Having kids.  When I was young, I didn’t want to have children. (So I’m glad I waited until I was a little older before having them.) I have to be honest and say that my opinion was altered for me when I got pregnant. None of the three kids were planned. One thing I haven’t changed my mind about, however, is that having children should be a personal choice and that it is a big serious business that should not be entered into lightly!


What's your best idea for getting more people to attend theater?

            Get Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, Sutton Foster and Cheyenne Jackson to come to your town and be in one of your shows. Or get them to read the phone book. (You could probably sell tickets to watch them brush their teeth.) In general, I would say that most people are cautious about putting out the price of a theater ticket unless they are reasonably sure it’s going to be worth it ... hence, the cult of stardom. I do recognize the impracticality of this idea, however, and doubt that it’s going to happen.

          Beyond that, I haven’t the slightest idea. Do good theatre? Sure — but it’s no guarantee. Do well-known plays and musicals? They’ll be sure-fire hits ... unless they aren’t. Do new and exciting works? Create buzz? Great! But will it actually translate into ticket sales? THERE IS NO ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. If there were, theaters would be filled to capacity for every performance.

You do the best theater you can, get the word out as best you can and hope for the best. It’s a hard fact to accept that a great many people just don’t care for live theater. If we’re lucky, a few of them will give it a try and develop a taste for it, but most won’t. What seems magical and meaningful to us just isn’t attractive or interesting to most people. I think it feels like it’s going to be too much work or something.  That’s how it is. 

          Still ... more local media coverage couldn’t hurt. 


Think of all the shows you've done at the Civic — rehearsals, onstage, backstage, in the green room, the fiascoes, the relationships, all of it. Please specify your three favorite exact memories from your years at the Civic.

            One: On opening night of the very first run of Nunsense, during the last number of the first act, I did this little jump and pulled a muscle in my calf — I swear I could hear a “ping." I really couldn’t put any weight on it at all. I hobbled through the rest of the number in a blur. During intermission, we iced it and wrapped it and someone found me a cane. I really don’t remember who, but I owe this person a debt of thanks, because from that moment on, the cane became an integral part of Mother Superior as I play her.

During the second act of Nunsense, there is a scene in which Mother Superior is very angry at the other sisters and orders them to follow her offstage — presumably to do some kind of penance. At that precise moment, I remember thinking, “I’ve always wanted to do this.” I fixed them with a serious stare and said, “Walk this way.” Then I turned and limped off thinking, “If they don’t pick up on this, I’ll kill them!” They did. They limped off after me. The audience laughed – a lot – giving me a reason to whip around and almost catch them at it.  They – Marilyn Langbehn, Deanna Stover and Jennifer Jacobs – played it perfectly. We kept it in, and it always got a wonderful laugh, but there was something really cosmic – almost magical – about that first time.

          Two:  Watching my daughter play Maria in West Side Story in 1995. I think I was there for all but two or three performances. I had choreographed a production of WSS in Montana about 10 years earlier. She went to a lot of rehearsals with me and saw the show several times. I didn’t know it at the time, but she dreamed then of playing that part someday. I was thrilled and proud and awestruck by her performance. 

          Three: Every summer for the past 13 years, we have done summer camp shows at Civic. Several years ago, I began to write an original script for the Main Stage camp show each summer.  The first truly and completely original script I wrote was called Portrait of Love. It is still my favorite of all the scripts I have written. It involved paintings in a museum coming to life after-hours and interacting in the lives of the “real” people. During the show, there is a moment when the Woman in the Red Dress, who has spent the day in the “real” world, must now return to her painting. As Alli Standley moved back into place behind the painting, the lighting effect worked perfectly so that the portrait appeared to go from being flesh and blood to paint and canvas. The audience gave a collective oooh-aaaah. It was such a thrill! 


My guess is that you're very well read.  So what's on your night stand now?  Last good book you finished?  And what, in all her extensive free time (ha!), does Jean Hardie do in the way of hobbies?

            I am not well read at all. In fact, I am appalled at how little I read now compared to my younger years. So my stack of things to read is enormous and I will never work my way through it. I am particularly fond of biographies. Most recently, I finished a bio of Stephen Sondheim and have worked my way through most of James Lipton’s memoirs. I devoured the Harry Potter books and cannot deal with the reality that there won’t be any more. I read Entertainment Weekly every week. Right now, I’m reading the script of String of Pearls every day ... so that — and keeping up with all the dancing shows on TV — keeps me pretty busy.

Other hobbies? Well, honestly, theater is my hobby and my greatest passion; but I also love to do some crafty things with beads and decoupage when I have a little extra time. Oh, hell, let’s be really honest ... if it wasn’t for Spider Solitaire, I’d have time to take over the world!    


You get to meet your 18-year-old self. What advice do you have for her? Would she listen to you?

Well, aside from the obvious — eat less, exercise more and don’t forget to floss — I would say:

          Make bolder choices. Don’t be so afraid of failure: “Stink with authority.”

          Learn to handle rejection better. Don’t get so upset. Don’t take it so personally: “Deal with it and move on.”

          Learn not to care so much about what other people think of you. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself: “To thine own self, be true.”

          Deal with who you really are, not who you wish you were: “Know thyself.”


She would want to listen — she would recognize the truth and wisdom of the advice — but since she is still struggling with these issues even today, I’d say it’s unlikely that she would be able to implement the advice in any practical way. 


Please describe the half-dozen characters whom you play in String of Pearls. What do you know about one (or some) of them now that you did not know before rehearsals began?

Four of my characters are quite small in terms of lines and stage time. I play a down-to-earth housekeeper, a Tunisian woman who pretty much leeches off her niece, a judgmental Jewish mother and a knowledgeable jewelry store owner. These four are really just snapshots in the stories told by the other women in the play.

In rehearsal, we have talked quite a bit about how these minor characters are, metaphorically, some of the grains of sand which cause the irritation in an oyster that ultimately turns into a pearl. It’s a lot of fun to put on a costume and turn into someone else for less than a minute. You have a lot of freedom to make bold choices. You are the stuff of memory; and memory has distilled you down to what is most vivid to the rememberer. 

          My other two characters are ones who get to tell their stories. One is Ela, a Wisconsin divorcee and the other, Dora, a cultured New Yorker.

Each character tells of a set of experiences that bring about big life changes and which are, in some way, affected by the almost mystical power of this particular string of pearls. Since both women are, I think, very different from me, I’ve learned almost everything I know about them since rehearsals began. Before the auditions, all I really knew was that there were some pretty freakin’ long monologues in this puppy.  Now that the monologues have become stories, I’m surprised every night by how quickly the time goes and how soon I have to say goodbye and leave the stage. As always, I have also learned — again — that no matter how different someone may be from you, you will inevitably find something you have in common with the character.

I can certainly relate to Ela’s wounded self-esteem and her need to hibernate for a while. And like Dora, I fear the hidden power of the past. There are things we both want to keep at bay; and when they bubble to the surface, that’s going to be a difficult day.

There is both joy and agony in doing such a challenging piece as String of PearlsIt’s a joy to get to immerse yourself in the world of these characters, but an agony to have the fear that you won’t do them justice on the stage. But I am seeing a quality of work in this cast and crew that makes me very proud and happy to be part of this show.

[photo: baby Jean]
[photo at top: Jean Hardie and Robert Wamsley in Barefoot in the Park, at the Civic, Jan. '08  -- "a picture that actually I really like a lot" ]

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