Archive for the tag 'Frank Harris'

4 December 2015: Sweet Smell of Success!

December 4th, 2015

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.

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Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris: A Recreation in Two Acts

July 18th, 2009

Requirements:  35 parts which can be played by 5F, 8M

Setting:  The bedroom and study of Frank Harris in Nice.  Prominently displayed in one corner is a life-size plaster reproduction of the Venus de Milo.  For the flashback sequences, there is a limbo area downstage, and also various platforms upstage.  Mid-morning, late August, 1931.

Plot:  Because he was the editor of the prestigious Fortnightly Review and then the Saturday Review, and also because he had a knack for cultivating and befriending all the important people of his day, Frank Harris was the toast of London society by the time he was in his early 30s.   Among his intimates were George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, the Prince of Wales, Princess Alice of Monaco, etc.  But Frank lived lavishly and squandered his wealth.  To raise money, he wrote and published My Life and Loves, his scandalous autobiography which was immediately banned as pornography, and seized by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.  When the play begins, Frank Harris is again penniless at age 76 in 1931, living with his unmarried daughter in a small apartment in Nice.  His old friend George Bernard Shaw is coming to visit, and Frank expects to borrow money from him.  While waiting for Shaw to show up, Frank entertains his daughter with wonderful stories from the past, and it is through these stories that we learn not only about his scandalous “life and loves,” but also his spectacular “rise and fall.”  When Shaw finally appears, we get a battle of wits between the two men.

Theme:  It goes without saying that there can be great platonic friendships between men, and also between women, but is friendship between men and women ever truly possible, especially if sex is involved?

Notes:  Frank Harris is portrayed in this play by three different actors–Young Frank from age 11 to 18, Middle Frank from age 26 to 60, and Old Frank from age 61 to 75.  The three Franks see each other and talk to each other throughout, but Young Frank knows about himself only through age 18, and Middle Frank  only through age 60.  Old Frank is the only one who knows his entire history but, at age 76,  his memory is starting to fail him; to say nothing of the fact that, all his life, Frank Harris has always been accused of twisting and sometimes even fabricating facts to suit his own literary purpose.  As he puts it, “Facts frequently get in the way of the Truth.”  This play tries to portray the Truth as Frank Harris saw it.

History:  The play was first produced in Lawrence, Kansas by the Lawrence Community Theatre, on April 23-27, 1980.  Mary Doveton was the director.  It was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in New York by Shelter West Company, October 27-Nov. 20, 1983 and Jan. 20-Feb. 12, 1984.  Judith Joseph directed.

Sampling of reviews:
“In Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris, we come to understand this unusual and many-faceted man….With Shaw, Wilde and Harris sharing the stage, you’d expect witty dialogue, and it’s there in abundance.” — N.Y. Theater Voice
“Lim has skillfully told the whole story…with humor, pathos and dramatic force.” — Glenn Loney, After Dark
“Well-crafted structure.” — Village Voice
“A highly-literate script….Lim has become the most noteworthy of our regional playwrights.” — The Kansas City Star
“Titillating and provocative…something like witnessing historical figures come to life in a wax museum.” — The Lawrence Journal-World

Short scene from the play: Old Frank is telling Middle Frank and Young Frank about the first woman he married, an older woman who also happens to be a very wealthy widow.  In the flashback that follows, MRS. EMILY CLAYTON emerges from “the memorhy pool,” dressed in a fashionable evening gown of the late 1880s.  MIDDLE FRANK has wandered off by himself at an evening party, and she has followed him to the library. She watches him downing his port.

YOUNG FRANK: (Incredulously.)  I was married to that?  Oh, surely, I could have done better.  Even Mrs. Mayhew in Kansas was better than that!

OLD FRANK: (Laughing.)  That is a widow worth over ninety thousand pounds.  Also, after three decades of marriage to a man 38 years her senior she was plainly ripe for…

EMILY:  Mr. Harris?

MIDDLE FRANK: (Turning around to face her.)  Yes?

EMILY:  I was beginning to think you’d left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.

MIDDLE FRANK: (Pouring himself another glass of port.)  Oh no, Mrs. Clayton.  I wouldn’t do that.  I was just…

EMILY:  Hiding from all the mothers with unmarried daughters?  Ahhhh, Mr. Harris, you must get used to that.  Eligible young bachelors are a rarity in our circle. Tell me, how does it feel to be the most talked-about man in London tonight?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Am I the most talked-about man in London tonight?

EMILY:  Come, come, Mr. Harris.  It’s not everyday a 30-year-old maverick gets appointed editor of the Fortnightly Review!  (Pause.)  And what do you think of our unmarried daughters?  Some of them can be quite charming, I’m told.

MIDDLE FRANK:  I’m afraid I really do not care for young girls.


MIDDLE FRANK:   (Obviously enjoying himself.) Women are, in my opinion, like wine.  Red Bordeaux is like the lawful wife:  an excellent beverage that goes with every meal, always acceptable, but entirely predictable.  If a man accustomed to Red Bordeaux wants something more exhilirating, chances are he’ll turn to champagne.  Champagne is like the woman of the streets:  always within reach, although its price is out of all proportion to its worth.

EMILY:  Please continue with your analogy.  I find the conceit most stimulating.

MIDDLE FRANK:  Moselle is the girl of fourteen to eighteen:  light, quick on the tongue, has little or no body.  The memory of it is fleeting and fragile.  Burgundy I think of as the woman of thirty:  more generous, more body, a perfume which lingers.
(He refills his glass again.  He holds up the decanter of port and smiles.)
And then we come to port, the woman of forty or older:  richer and sweeter than all the others, keeps excellently and ripens with age, but can only be drunk freely by youth.  Yes, if one is young and vigorous, the best wine in the world is crusted port, half a century old.

EMILY:  And you, Mr. Harris, which of all these wines do you prefer?

MIDDLE FRANK: ( A twinkle in his eye.)  It is port I am now drinking.

OLD FRANK: ( To YOUNG FRANK.)  Ahhh, you were in your element then!  Magnificent, just magnificent!EMILY: ( Slowly.)  Mr. Harris, I have at home a very fine bottle of crusted port.  I’ve been saving it since my husband died.  If I give a small party Friday next and promise to let you sample the port, will you come?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Of course.  I will be delighted

EMILY:  Good.  I shall send my carriage to fetch you….Until next Friday, then.  Goodnight, Mr. Harris.

(End of scene.)

Availability:  From Aran Press, and also from the author.