Somewhat optimistically, we set up 50 seats for the December 3rd staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris at the Lawrence Public Library. To my astonishment, as the crowds poured in, we had to add another ten chairs to accommodate everyone. I was thrilled, not for myself, but for the actors, whose wonderful work after only three short rehearsals truly deserved to be seen by as many people as possible. Herewith, my personal note of thanks to each and every one of them:
Benjamin Good (Young Frank) is new to me. I ran into Margaret Kramar, his mother, at the local farmer’s market a couple of months ago. I had worked with Margaret before. When I asked if she would like to participate in the upcoming staged reading of my play, she not only said yes, but also introduced me to her son, saying he had done some acting as well. After speaking to him briefly, I cast him on the spot.
Will Averill (Middle Frank) was one of my earliest playwriting students in the English Department at K.U. He wrote a delightfully nightmarish play called The Sea, which English Alternative Theatre (EAT) produced in the early 1990s. The play called for a grotesque 9-foot tall articulated female puppet, so we constructed one, and brought her with us to a fancy cocktail party Chancellor Robert Hemenway was giving at his residence on campus. Since then, Will has also appeared as an actor in innumerable EAT shows, including his star turn as a nerdy young Hugh Hefner who accidentally hits on the idea of publishing a girlie magazine called Playboy. Our production of Bunnies by Michael O’Brien was subsequently invited for performances at the national festival of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C.
Dean Bevan (Old Frank) is another one new to me. I don’t know why we haven’t had the opportunity to work together before, but I am so glad he was available for this reading. He commands attention on stage with his powerful voice and presence, and his line readings are absolutely spot-on. He kept asking me for notes after each of our three rehearsals, but I really had no notes for him. I hope to work with him again, and again.
Jeanne Averill (Nita Harris, Helen “Nellie” O’Hara) was in the original 1980 production of the play at the Lawrence Community Theatre when it was still in the old Carnegie Library building. Back then, Jeanne played Frank’s timid illegitimate daughter Frances Congden. For this production, she has graduated into the part of Frank’s shrewish second wife. I first saw Jeanne in an experimental production of a play called Telemachus Clay sometime in the mid-1970s. I remember very little about the play itself, except for one line Jeanne uttered: “I’m not crying. It’s the rain on my face.” It was heart breaking and, to this day, I still hear echoes in my mind of how she uttered that line.
Kitty Steffens (Laura, Young Kate Stephens, Yolande) is someone whose work I had been impressed by, in various Card Table Theatre productions. I first worked with her earlier this year in the staged reading of Collected Stories, the prize-winning play by Donald Margulies, also at the Lawrence Public Library. There is something luminescent and magical about Kitty on stage, and I am so happy we got to work together again on this one.
Cynthia Evans (Anne Harris, Mrs. Lorna Mayhew, Mr. Scully, Princess Alice) is another one who goes all the way back to early 1990s with EAT, sometimes as a scenic designer, more frequently as an actress. Among her most memorable performances are Ruth, the enigmatic siren in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming; and the cranky old ax-wielding backwoods woman in Topple the World, an original script by Ken Willard.
John Younger (Thomas Harris, George Bernard Shaw) is a god-send, someone who can do no wrong in whatever role he undertakes on stage. For me, he has been Creon in Antigone, and also the Older Tom Wingfield in my production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, in which I decided to split Tom into a younger and an older self, in much the same way I split Frank Harris into three different selves in Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris. Besides being a Classics professor, John is also an archeologist who has been digging at sites in Crete for many years. He plans to retire soon, to move to Crete to be among his beloved ruins. which will leave a big hole in the local theatre scene.
James Carothers (Mr. Kendrick, Oscar Wilde) is a distinguished professor in the English Department at KU, who has also distinguished himself as an actor in various EAT productions through the years, appearing in almost all our Labor Day staged readings, most memorably with colleagues James Hartman and the late Bernard “Bud” Hirsch in our presentation of Art by Yasmina Reza in the auditorium of Spencer Art Museum.
Shawn Trimble (Byron Caldwell Smith, Reporter, Masked Man), like Will Averill, was one of my earliest playwriting students. He was a Religious Studies major when I first knew him, and he wrote a deeply philosophical Nietzschean play called The Abyss, which EAT produced. Since then, Shawn has appeared as an actor, not just with EAT, but also with EMU and Lawrence Community Theatre in all its incarnations.
Stephen Moles (William Harris, Rev. Verschoyle, Priest, Policeman, Reporter, Servant) is another one of my playwriting students. After graduating from K.U., he left for New York and attended Columbia University, where he discovered his true passion for creative non-fiction. I’m delighted he hasn’t abandoned theatre altogether.
Margaret Kramar (Mrs. Emily Clayton, Old Kate Stephens, Baroness) is a lecturer in the English Department at K.U. In 2010, when we lost an actor in EAT’s production of What Really Happened, an original script by Benjamin Smith, she gamely stepped in and learned the part just days before we opened. She was a joy to work with then, and she’s a joy to work with now.
Amy Devitt (Frances Congden, May Congden, Erika Lorenz) is another distinguished professor in the English Department at K.U. Like Jim Carothers, she has participated in a long list of staged readings for EAT, and was Amanda Wingfield in our full production of The Glass Menagerie. I’ve always thought she would make a terrific Mary Tyrone in Eugene Oneill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, but I retired before we could do that one. Maybe I can talk Card Table Theatre into mounting a full production of this one with her in it.
Karl Ramberg (Mr. Sumner, Prince of Wales, Judge) was in the very first EAT production back in 1990, a double-bill of Susan Sontag’s The Way We Live Now and Terence McNally’s Andre’s Mother. Karl reprised the part he played in a staged reading of the same double-bill when I retired in 2010. In between, Karl has appeared in at least half a dozen other EAT productions, most notably as a homeless man in Upright, an original script by James Hilburn. He also frequently composed original music which he performed live for many of our productions—cello music for Edward Albee’s The Sandbox, and piano music for Susan Sontag’s The Way We Live Now, as well as Loraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
I’ve been blest, to have been served by such fine actors. I am so glad there was an enthusiastic audience to see their marvelous work in our staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris on December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library. Thank God for family and relatives, for Facebook friends, and for social media. In the waning days of fading print, it is social media that’s helping us to get the word out to potential audiences for theatre.