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