POSTED ON JUNE 26, 2013:
A Straight Play about Books
More exciting than it sounds
One doesn't expect a straight play from a director named Rebecca Ungerman. One expects a musical because she's a singer. And well, there's that other thing about a straight play.
"If you had any idea how many jokes I've heard about straight play," she laughed.
At any rate, fresh off her work producing two cabarets in one night (and starring in one of them), Ungerman and her Spinning Plates production company pilot 84 Charing Cross Road into SummerStage, meaning she's yet again doing something new that people weren't really expecting. But that's how she found the show in the first place, so there's that.
"I was 16 in '82, and I went to London on a theater trip with Booker T. And this was on the list of plays we were going to see," she said. "It was the pill I didn't want to take. I didn't know it, it wasn't a musical, and I grudgingly went to see it and had that transformative experience that you should have whenever you go to the theater."
Since then, she's always wanted to direct it, and now she's got her chance. And she's really happy about it.
"It's truly a charming play," Ungerman said. "It's for lovers of books, it's for lovers of words, language, letters, humor."
Set in a London bookstore, the show is told largely through letters being read. That means that there are often actors onstage who are having to act without words, and that's not the easiest thing in the world to do.
"There's lots of stage time for almost all the actors. They do a lot of storytelling without words for them. We had a great talk the other day about characters and how they relate to each other," Ungerman said. "And that's fun, doing that kind of directorial stuff. It feels like scene work back in the day at Booker T."
In addition to her leads, Ungerman -- who is not appearing in the show -- spoke about two actors who each play two different roles in the show and how, while they don't have tons of lines, still do a great deal to move the show forward.
Both of them -- Caitlin Cash and Ashlee Elmore -- worked with Ungerman in this year's edition of the Tulsa Gridiron Show, so they were discoveries she wanted to exploit.
"She is so awesome," Ungerman said of Cash, who did not originally audition for the show. "Everything I've ever seen her in, she's been fantastic. I held auditions, but I still had a couple of roles to fill, so I asked Caitlin to be in the show."
Despite being in rehearsals and performances as Urusla in the recent Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing, Cash jumped on the opportunity.
"I feel grateful to have been part of two great productions," Cash said. "I wouldn't say it's been difficult, but it's been challenging to come in with people who have been there a couple of weeks."
Still, Ungerman knew Cash would be up to the challenge.
"Rebecca approached be about this, and she said she liked working with me in Gridiron," Cash said. "She wanted to work with me more, so she asked me to be a part of her project. She had given me a variety of roles in gridiron and knew that I could give her what she wanted."
Cash and Elmore both play smaller roles, but there's that whole thing about no small parts, only small actors.
"I think one of the beauties of my role is that it's small, but it's crucial to giving the sense of the community of the bookstore," she said. "I can immerse myself in non-verbal acting and making relationships with my coworkers in the bookstore. That's new for me, because I've never really had a role where so much of it was non-verbal. It's fun."
People of Letters. Liz Masters and Paul Henry head up a quiet cast in the bookshop-set 84 Charing Cross Road, opening this week in SummerStage.
Elmore echoed Cash's sentiments.
"In order to keep the show moving and going, the characters are moving around supplying books, ordering books, and running the bookstore," Elmore said. "So there's constant motion so that the audience gets the feeling it's a working book shop. I've been impressed with Caitlin's ability to know and understand the importance of her roles even if they aren't as verbal is others she's played."
There are five other cast members, and Ungerman praised her lead.
"The cast? Liz Masters, Liz Masters, Liz Masters," she said. "She's starring, and like 80 percent of the script comes out of her mouth, and she's wonderful.
There's also American Theatre Company stalwart Justin Tomlinson and Paul Henry in his first leading role in a play.
"He's done a lot of community theater, and he's done Gridiron with me," Ungerman said. In the tabloid section, he and Liz are real-life boyfriend and girlfriend, so this is fun for them. She's finally getting her due, which I think is great. She's always been Ethyl Mertz in this town and never Lucille Ball. And that's changing."
As the show approaches, even in the wake of two Spinning Plates shows and a cast member involved with the Bard, the cast is ready.
"We're getting there. We're just tweaking and perfecting now. Everything feels really natural," Elmore said.
The Tulsa PAC Trust presents 84 Charing Cross Road June 27-29 at 8pm and June 30 at 2pm in the Liddy Doenges Theater. Tickets at 918-596-7111 or myticketoffice.com
"She's like a rock star in Iceland," said Joseph Taylor Buchanan. Man, talk about sentences you never thought you'd ever type.
He was speaking of the late Kristin Eyfells, whose work is on display now at MEME Gallery-Tulsa at 2022 E. 11th St.
Probably best known for her work capturing the eyes of her subjects, Eyfells' portraits focus on celebrities from all walks of life.
"She emotionalizes the eyes," Buchanan said. "Knowing the person and their personality, she emotionalizes the eyes."
And yes, he said she knew the personalities behind all the famous faces.
"She's got 350 paintings of famous people, and she personally knew every one of them," he continued.
That's impressive, considering the subjects of the 20-piece subset of the collection now on display at MEME.
"We've got a mixture of politicians and actors, there's Bill Moyers, Tennessee Williams, Sean Connery, Ronald Reagan, Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill," Buchanan said, audibly excited. "She personalized all of them according to what she felt their personalities evoked. I'm walking through right now getting goosebumps."
While the whole collection travels the world, Buchanan was only able to snag a few pieces, and only one of them may be sold. And the amount of hoops he's had to jump through -- and the fact that he did jump -- is a testament to his devotion to the artist.
"We've got the opportunity to have 20 of them here in Tulsa," he said. "It took an arm and a leg and an act of congress to get this together. We can only sell one of them, and if there's more than one prospective buyer, we have to do a drawing. It's to keep the continuity of the entire show."
Buchanan was fascinated by the paintings even more as he, in his words, "hung the shit out of that show."
"The paintings are hung really low in the back of the canvas very close to where the eyes are on the other side of the canvas," he said. This made him decide to hang them not so that the tops of all the paintings stayed on the same plane, but so all the eyes were at the same height.
"What happened is that all the paintings of women hang higher than the paintings of the men," he said. Whatever statement that might make, it's pretty freaking fascinating.
Famous Faces will remain on display at MEME 11:30am-6pm Tuesday through Saturday until July 20.
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