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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 17,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Amy Irving, a George Street Romp

Talent and beauty come with the territory when your parents are

influential theatrical producer and director Jules Irving and actress

Priscilla Pointer. But Academy Award nominee Amy Irving’s success in

films like "Yentl," "The "Competition," and perhaps most famously in

the cult classic "Carrie," as well as in the theater, has also been

refined and defined by extensive training and a passionate commitment

to her profession. Trained at the American Conservatory Theater and

the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Irving’s current stage

role is the title character "Celadine" in Charles Evered’s new play

premiering at the George Street Playhouse. Irving plays a

playwright/spy in the court of Charles II. "It’s a romp and it’s

therapeutic," she says referring to the play and its ability to

distract her from the current political reality.

Since the play is set during the Restoration, I asked Irving, during a

rehearsal break chat in George Street’s lobby cafe, if she had a

particular affinity for plays set in another era. All you have to do

is watch her on stage to see she was born to inhabit the world of

Ibsen’s "Ghosts," Shaffer’s "Amadeus," Shaw’s "Heartbreak House," and

Chekhov’s "The Three Sisters," all plays that Irving performed in New

York to great acclaim.

"It all seems so natural to me," says Irving. "I was brought up in the

world of theater and literally put on the stage and performing from

the time I was nine months old. My dad was the director and my mom was

the actress, and she didn’t believe in baby sitters. When I wasn’t in

a play I’d fall asleep in the wardrobe department, or mom would put me

in the second row center where she could watch me through the corner

of her eye as she was playing Kate in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’"

Playwright Charles Evered watched Irving from more than just the

corner of his eye when she appeared in his 10-minute play "Adopt a

Sailor," which premiered at New York’s Town Hall as part of the "Brave

New World" presentation marking the first anniversary of 9/11. Taken

with her beauty and her performance, Evered told Irving that he had

fashioned the title role of his new play "Celadine" for her. "I was

flattered to be the inspiration for this dream role," she says. "I

knew he was watching me, but I didn’t know much about the role except

that I was a spy for Charles II."

Evered was so committed to Irving creating the role that he invited

her to participate in the play’s development. As a result, Irving

explains, "the play is enhanced with bits of his and my life. I am not

a writer, but Charles listened to my opinions. It felt great to be a

collaborator. The part is so much more outgoing than I am used to.

‘Celadine’ is freeing me up and allowing me to be bolder and use a

kind of sexuality that I haven’t had the chance to display before."

This is why she says that she feels that working on stage is so much

more satisfying than being in a film. For this she gives credit to

director David Saint, who let her explore her character in different

ways every day. About Saint, she says, "I love working with him. He

laughs even if he’s seen the same scene 20 times. It’s a dream role

for a woman, bawdy and elegant. I am adored and desired by everyone

and very witty," she says, as her intoxicating blue eyes and lovely

delicate features attest to her description.

I ask her if it is the kind of role that she would have done 10 years

ago. The reply: "I have the experience and confidence now for this

kind of role and to accept myself more and more." In addition to the

period plays, she has also appeared to considerable acclaim in such

demanding contemporary plays as Athol Fugard’s "The Road to Mecca,"

Off-Broadway in 1988, for which she won an Obie Award for Best

Actress, and as Sylvia in Arthur Miller’s "Broken Glass" on Broadway

in 1994, a role that earned her nominations from both the Drama Desk

and Outer Critics Circle.

Expanding her career to include being an entrepreneur, the 5′ 4"

California-born New York resident optioned a new play, "A Safe Harbor

for Elizabeth Bishop," based on the life of the American poet and

Vassar alumna. It was produced this past summer at Vassar and New York

Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater with Irving in the title role.

Irving, who discovered the play in Brazil, also gets credit for

translating playwright Marta Goes’ Portuguese text into English. Yes.

Irving speaks Portuguese fluently and she is married to

Oscar-nominated Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Barreto. She says that the

play was a great success and that plans are afoot to produce it

Off-Broadway this spring.

Producing a play is a notoriously difficult undertaking. As Irving

continues to tell me about the dangers of working in the theater, she

recalls another kind of danger. She was injured when a heavy piece of

scenery fell on her head while rehearsing at Vassar. Our chat is ended

as she is summoned back to rehearsal. Considering her experience, I am

hesitant to say "break a leg," but I do. It’s a tradition.

Irving’s exit is the cue for Charles Evered’s entrance. It is also a

reunion of sorts for us as we had talked prior to the premiere of

"Wilderness of Mirrors," his play about the origin of the CIA last

season at George Street. "Celadine" is actually the third and final

installment of his spy-themed trilogy. The middle play, "Clouds Hill,"

in which two college professors at a Midwestern college learn that a

Muslim chemistry student may be developing weapons of mass

destruction, had its premiere in September in San Jose, California’s

City Lights Theater. "Celadine," Evered assures me, "is a fictional

character," and not to be confused with the little known but very real

17th century playwright and spy named Alphrabehn (as some theater

historians have already questioned via E-mail to Evered).

What inspired Evered to choose this setting for his play? "Charles II

was a great supporter of the theater in the mid 1600s and encouraged

writers to write about themselves and the larger world. I wanted to

write about something fanciful and with more humor than I had written

before," he says. Without sounding professorial, Evered, who teaches a

writing workshop at Emerson College in Boston, talks about his

consideration of political conflicts and social conditions that

existed at the time, yet still resonate today. "While I don’t make any

direct parallels to the plague or the great London fire, major

catastrophes that affected London at the time, I suspect audiences

will recognize how people begin to see themselves in a different light

after something really bad has happened."

Referring to himself as "just a guy from Jersey," Evered is not so

presumptuous as to challenge the literature of the renowned

Restoration playwrights. But he does admit that the thought of writing

about something outside his milieu was exciting. "I have attempted to

approximate the language as it was spoken, but I am not trying to be

absolutely accurate. I want modern audiences to get every word." This

Jersey guy currently resides in Madison with his wife, the former

Wendy Rolfe, an actress, and their two children, Margaret and John

O’Hara, ages five and three respectively.

Characterized by Evered as a "comedy with strong emotional overtones,"

"Celadine" is about a woman who becomes a spy as a means to create a

legacy for her daughter, who died years before in an accident. Evered

explains that it’s also about our need to live our lives as more

consequential in difficult times, and how the creation of a legacy can

make our lives more meaningful.

"It’s not a history lesson," says 39 year-old Evered, a graduate of

both Rutgers, where he received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology

Class of ’87, and Yale University, where he earned a master’s degree

in playwriting in 1991. Playwriting would seem to be a departure for

this former officer in the United States Navy (Reserves) and a

graduate of the United States Naval Aviation Schools Command in

Pensacola, Florida and the United States Navy Officer Leadership

Course. However, listening to Evered makes you think of playwriting as

a natural extension for a man who no longer has to be careful what he

says.

The cast of "Celadine" includes Michael Countryman, who is returning

from "Wilderness of Mirrors," playing Rowly an old acquaintance and

paramour of Celadine, who may not be exactly what he seems. Also

returning from the same cast is Leslie Lyles.

Even as Evered offers his appraisal of "Celadine" as a fantastical

modernized version of a Restoration comedy, his enthusiasm peaks

talking about the play’s romantic entanglements and treasonous plots,

especially the sword fight and the many costume changes that help to

make the play, as Evered says (not knowing that Irving had already

used the same word), "a romp." As for therapy, I’m thinking, nothing

beats going to the theater.

Celadine, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick; through Sunday, December 12. Tickets: $28 to $56. Call

732-246-7717.


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