Sunday, October 1, 2000

'Woolf' actress not afraid of controversial play


        Judy Malone is always playing mothers.

        After spending several years being a mother, she decided to try community theater. After a couple of unsuccessful auditions, at the motherly age of 36, she landed her first part — the title role in I Remember Mama at Drama Workshop.

        She's played plenty of moms since, in shows like 'night, Mother and Greetings. For the next two weeks Mrs. Malone will be taking on one of the epic characters of modern American drama in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for Ovation Theatre.

        Playwright Edward Albee certainly had mothers and motherhood on his mind when he created Martha. She brings home an innocent young couple from a faculty party, the better to use as tools to bludgeon her henpecked husband George.

        Director Joe Stollenwerk had worked with Mrs. Malone in Ovation's A Perfect Ganesh last season. He's directing Virginia Woolf and called and asked her to audition.

        She almost said no. “Just the thought of playing Martha was overwhelming,” she says. “I wondered if I could put myself through the trauma of the play. This couple is so abusive. You really have to dig deep. It's hard work.”

        Mrs. Malone blasts through the common misperception that if someone doesn't make a living acting, performing is going out and having a good time. Would-be professional companies like Ovation take the work seriously.

        “I live with this character on a daily basis” through weeks of rehearsals and performances, Mrs. Malone says. “My husband supports my need to do this but he dreads it. My mind is somewhere else for a long time.”

        Another challenge, she says, is playwright Albee's language. “At one point Martha says to George, "Have you ever listened to your sentences, you're so freaking convoluted.' It's like that.”

        This is not the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton Virginia Woolf, she promises. “It's a different interpretation. We've spent a lot of time thinking about the relevance of Virginia Woolf to the play, and about how women used to define themselves.

        “As a woman who was a stay-at-home mom, I very much lived through that aspect of the play — how women would try to find something relevant to do with their lives, how they were defined in relation to the men in their lives.”

        Joining Mrs. Malone onstage at Ovation are Joe Hornbaker, Christine Brunner and Blake Bowden.

        Virginia Woolf will play at 8 p.m. in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Theater Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 14. There's a 2 p.m. matinee next Sunday. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 students/seniors. This Thursday is a pay-what-you-can night. Call 241-7469 for reservations.

        Mrs. Malone has signed on for her next project. She'll play — surprise — a mother (“who is also a daughter” she laughs) in the regional premiere of Tina Howe's Pride's Crossing for the Drama Workshop in the spring.

        Evening with Athol: It was standing room only in CCM's Werner Recital Hall Monday night for acclaimed South African playwright Athol Fugard. The evening began with CCM drama students Brandon Jones and Samuel Sticklen, who were impressive in a brief clip from Master Harold... and the Boys.

        Then Mr. Fugard, a slight, puckish gentleman in khakis, olive green bush jacket and running shoes, took the stage and did a surprising thing. He read for more than an hour from his memoirs.

        He dug back to his childhood for the source of his art, which he defines as always being about “action and secrets ... my characters are always under pressure to hide or reveal secrets.” So it has been in Master Harold...and the Boys, The Road to Mecca, Valley Song and more.

        At the heart of Mr. Fugard's greatest work, sometimes only in undercurrents, has been his unrelenting fight against apartheid.

        It is the change in South African law, Mr. Fugard remarked, that now makes it possible for the “indulgence” of being introspective, something he never felt free to do when there were “fundamental moral issues — are all men and women created equal?” to be addressed in his art.

        Patriot playwright Mr. Fugard finished his presentation by philosophically acknowledging “South Africa still has not achieved truth and reconciliation. You cannot legislate changes of heart.

        “Racism is still a problem in my country — as it is in yours.”

        A big week: It's been a big week for UC's Norma Jenckes, who masterminded Mr. Fugard's appearance, and several events surrounding it.

        Cincinnati Shakespeare has chosen Ms. Jenckes' short play Andromache in Baghdad to debut its new studio series. After a week of intensive work at CSF Andromache will have a public reading at the festival at 7 p.m. Oct. 30.

        That reading will serve as the final entry in Janus Project's month-long reading series of semi-finalists for its spring Minerva play, which has a mission to be written and produced by women.

        “Every tenet of the studio seems to be getting filled by this first workshop,” festival artistic director Jasson Minadakis says.

        “It's by a local playwright. It's a work with an interesting classical bent — it's a deconstruction of a Greek myth (set during the Gulf War). Both Jay (Apking, Janus artistic director) and Norma felt the need for a workshop, and this is why we created the studio.

        “The script works with our company, it seems like a perfect collaboration. We're really excited about it.

        “Hopefully we'll be able to give the script a fair shake. If Andromache were to move on to a full production with Janus, that would be wonderful, but that's not the purpose of the studio.

        “We want to give Norma the best experience she can have as a playwright.”

        For more information about the festival's new studio series and productions, including the regional premiere of contemporary Irish ghost story The Weir, opening Oct. 12, call the festival box office at 381-2273.

        For more information about Janus Project call 235-6597.

        Long drive home: Marylee Herrmann is from Wyoming. She considers Wyoming Players to be her home theater. So when Mary Benken-McCauley called her and asked if she'd like to play a bride in Nuptials, Ms. Herrmann said yes, even though she's been living in Lexington for the past two years.

        That has translated to one l-o-n-g commute — 90 minutes each way three times a week during the seven weeks of rehearsal. This week she'll be in Cincinnati every evening leading up to performances Thursday through Saturday.

        “There are people who drive an hour to work they don't even care for,” Ms. Herrmann reasons. Too, she “hasn't found the kind of involvement” in Lexington community theater that she had in Cincinnati. “Cincinnati is special,” she says. She's lived a lot of other places, including Philadelphia and Queens, N.Y., and never found anywhere else as welcoming as her hometown.

        The former flight attendant moved to Lexington because, she laughs, “I'm 5 feet 7, blonde and blue-eyed, but Cincinnati is still so German there are too many women who look like me.” She's had better luck getting film and commercial work in Lexington, where there seems to be a shortage of tall, blue-eyed blondes.

        As for that long commute, Ms. Herrmann has found it useful. “It gives me a lot of time to learn my lines.”

        Nuptials plays at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Oct. 13 at Wyoming Middle School, 17 Wyoming Ave. Tickets $8. Call 761-0041 for reservations and information.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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