Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lady's Night

It's opening night for
My Time with the Lady, the show that I've directed (and gave a bit of assistance in writing) based on the stories of the writer/performer Ron Richardson.

When Ron and I first started to work with these stories almost a year and a half ago, the Lusty Lady was still in business. We actually made a couple of "field trips" down to the place so he could talk me through what had changed and what had stayed the same since his days as a janitor/cashier/bouncer in the late '80s and early '90s. Actually seeing the narrow hallways and tiny booths that were the setting for Ron's reminiscences was a bit like walking through an archaeological site and trying to reconcile the history you've read about with the actual fact that living people had been involved in creating it.

At that time we were still lacking two vital elements: an ending to the show (which, alas! we got when the Lady closed that summer), and a company to create it. I suggested to Ron that what we really needed was a female perspective. When you're doing a play about a peep show that's narrated by a guy, you've got a pretty good chance at alienating approximately half your potential audience if you're not careful. So when we were still doing table work I asked my friend and past collaborator Mary Cutler to come on board. I've worked with Mary several times in the past, including as a co-director, and I have always appreciated how she's both completely non-judgmental about subject matter (even when certain details make her squirm) and has an acute eye for what makes a script work.

The next person to join the company was our dancer/choreographer Kirsten Lauzon. I say "dancer" because her shadow work will be what most people remember from this show, and yes, Kirsten's an amazing performer. She not only dances but creates 20 different characters during the course of the play, ranging from staff (men and women) to customers. But Kirsten's also been our graphic and web designer, script consultant, and enthusiastic collaborator since joining the project. I can't imagine what the show would look like without her.

The first techie we brought onto the team was Laura Ulmer, our sound designer. I'd heard her work at an "Erotic Shorts," and was impressed by both the nuance and the complexity of her creations. When I approached her she made the reasonable request for a copy of the script. I sent it to her with some concerns--after all, the stories that Ron tells aren't for everybody. But her response was enthusiastic, and she leaped into the creative process immediately, including creating complex atmospheric beds of sounds that perfectly evoke the muffled world of private passion of The Lady.

Also returning from our first production is Jayme Markham as our light operator, a woman who, as Ron recently said, you'd want next to you in a bar fight. There's something bewilderingly tough about Jayme, who combines a personal sweetness with a techie's no-nonsense attitude. And joining the crew this time round is our Stage Manager Eleanor Pawley, who's proven to be an absolute dream of organization, good humor and practical knowledge. She also knows how to drink.

I highlight all of these women because while we also have men supporting this run (virtuoso producer John Ullman, the unfazeable and unstoppably imaginative set/light designer David Baldwin, the dedicated and resolutely cheerful sound op Dave Lydon), it was always the women that I felt were key to the success of this show. Neither Ron nor I are equipped to tell the story of the Lusty Lady from the perspective of the women. And we weren't trying to; that's already been done to critical success, in books like Erika Langley's "The Lusty Lady" and Elizabeth Eaves' "Bare." What we've put up on stage is the story of a young man who fell in love not with a woman but with an entire business, a peep show where the dancers were fairly paid and well-treated, where the Show Managers were women and the attitudes were enlightened. It's the story of a community of powerful women. And as we open the show on this tempestuous April evening, I want to thank all of the smart, critical, beautiful and strong women who helped us bring these stories to the stage.