Onstage / Frankie, Violet, and Cinderella
Irish Classical Theatre Company
By Shay Linehan, adapted from Maeve Binchy’s novel of the same name
Director: Chris Kelly
Cast: Christian Brandjes, Kristen Tripp Kelley
Fans of Maeve Binchy are in for a treat with Minding Frankie, an adaptation of the late novelist’s book of the same name. “I had met Maeve and Gordon years before when I directed a series of her short stories for the stage—one story set in a sex shop, one in a pharmacy, and one about an affair conducted in a car on the road to Cork city,” says Linehan, who runs a theater company in the town where Binchy was born, and lived with husband Gordon Snell. “Maeve’s reaction was, ‘I’d forgotten how obsessed I am with sex’.”
At the time, Binchy’s novel, Tara Road, was being filmed in Dublin, and Binchy told Linehan that she preferred being in the theater, listening to actors in the moment, rather than on the sterile set of a movie. So, when Linehan approached Snell about adapting Minding Frankie, they both felt, even though a Binchy novel had yet to be adapted for stage, that the author—who died in 2012—would approve.
“I loved the story from the start,” Linehan says. “It is a duel between two opposing forces for possession of a child. What more could you ask for as a playwright? It is also the last novel that she saw published in her lifetime. I see it in a way as a metaphor for writing: who will mind my legacy?”
For those unfamiliar with the story: Noel Lynch is a functioning alcoholic when he gets a call from Stella, a girlfriend with whom he shared a drunken weekend. Stella is having Noel’s child; she is also imminently dying from cancer. Stella wants Noel to raise their daughter, Frankie.
“I wrote a one-man version of Frankie for the 2013 celebration [of Binchy’s life at the Dalkey Book Festival] that left everybody looking for more,” Linehan says. “I then developed an extended version, which is the one running in Buffalo. It’s a story where two forces are at war. I felt it should be done with a cast of two. I looked at how these two could represent a wider community, and it seemed to work better than having a busy stage with folks coming and going. We did an initial run in Ireland last year and into 2017, around sixty-five shows in all. Every performance, without fail, ended with a standing ovation.
“We all took some credit for that—great actors, great producer, even some of the writing wasn’t bad—but we all knew in our hearts that Binchy storytelling was the magic ingredient,” Lineham continues. “It reminds me of my granny who would go to Lourdes back in the day, and bring back a plastic bottle of holy Lourdes water to cure all our ills. I can’t help but feel that all of us ‘creatives’ were merely the plastic bottle that held the miracle of Maeve. [Producer] Peter Sheridan said of the thousands of scripts he has come across in his long career, this is the best by a mile, particularly the ending. The play has audiences laughing from the first line. But it is also quite sad in places. Maeve’s writing has been described as bittersweet, so maybe her spirit is still around influencing things.”
The adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie opens at Irish Classical Theatre November 3 (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).
Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Director: Susan Drozd
Cast: Michele Marie Roberts, Dudney Joseph, Patrick Cameron, Maggie Zindle, Taylor Carlson, Matthew Iwanski, Jeffrey Coyle, Ben Michael Moran, Annette Christian, Ember Tate
Based on Doris Betts’ short story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” Violet “is about a young woman who is accidentally facially and emotionally scarred by her father’s axe as a child,” says Michele Marie Roberts, Artie Award winner for Evita, who plays the title role. “She decides to take a pilgrimage from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see a television preacher who she is convinced will heal her and make her beautiful. It’s a story about finding the beauty in yourself through all of the self-doubt—not just for Violet, but other characters who have their own journeys to self-worth and acceptance.”
Though Violet is horrifically scarred, she has traditionally been played without any makeup or facial distortion, a choice Roberts admires. “When this production was first performed at Playwrights Horizons, the reviewers were divided about the scar’s absence. The composer and playwright—Jeanine Tesori [Tony winner, Fun Home] and Brian Crawley—talked about splitting the role into two parts, one actress to play the beautiful, ideal version of Violet, the other to play the scarred reality. I’m so glad they decided against that concept. The whole point to this show is to see a person, truly see them, not their skin, scar, age, height, weight. Imagine that!”
Though the show won awards when it premiered in 1997, and was Tony nominated in 2014, Roberts had never heard of the show when MusicalFare Artistic Director Randy Kramer first mentioned the possibility to her. I just started listening to Hamilton six months ago, so I’m always late to the party,” she jokes, adding that she was drawn in once she explored it. “Everyone has scars, visible or not, and those scars make us and shape us into the person we are and continue to grow into. Who can’t relate to that?”
And then there was the music. “Oooh it’s hard to pick a favorite song,” she says. “I’ve heard Dudney’s song, ‘Let it Sing,’ and that might send people through the roof—myself included. I’ve heard Jeffrey sing, ‘That’s What I Could Do,’ and that might send people for their Kleenex—myself included. The score is a beautiful mix of country, honky-tonk rock, gospel, and blues, so there is something for everyone.”
MusicalFare opens Violet November 1 (musicalfare.com, 839-8540)
Adapted by Kelli Bocock-Natale
Director: Kelli Bocock-Natale
Cast: Ray Boucher, Eric Rawski, Jamie Nablo, Alejandro Gomez, Caitlin Coleman, Sean Murphy, Michael Wachowiak, Dan Williams
In 1987, New Phoenix artistic director Kelli Bocock-Natale adapted Cinderella for her Binghamton, New York, company, Big Appleseed Players. “When I started this little theater company, I tried to do things the whole family could come to,” explains Bocock-Natale, who now brings this sensibility to New Phoenix for one show a year. “Cinderella is my favorite fairy tale. I love the idea that the have-nots can have dreams come true. As corny as that sounds, that’s why I’ve always liked it.”
Now, thirty years later, Bocock-Natale is dusting off her adaptation, and sprucing it up for Buffalo audiences. For starters, this Cinderella will have music, composed by recent Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts grad Dan Williams. “It’s more a play with music than a musical,” Bocock-Natale explains. “The music will help drive the story, but there’s not a song every five minutes or every scene.”
Bocock-Natale likes to make use of physical theater techniques, having actors do everything from making sounds to creating the carriage to playing multiple characters. The show will be set in present day with some fairy tale flourishes—including the costumes, which she’s designed herself—so expect some modern touches like a biker fairy godmother and the evil stepmother and stepsisters played by men. “That’s not original, but it’s a lot of fun,” she says of the genderbending choice. “I also have an unconventional Prince Charming in Alejandro Gomez, who is handsome and charismatic but not your [traditional] Prince Charming type.”
Kids will generally get a chance to meet characters post-show, and Bocock-Natale plans a couple of talkbacks, so check with the theater for dates. Says the director, “I just want people to come and enjoy.”
Cinderella opens at New Phoenix November 17 (newphoenixtheatre.org, 853-1334)
OPENING THIS MONTH
The Crucible opens at Kavinoky November 3 (kavinokytheatre.com, 829-7668).
Painting Churches begins a limited engagement at O’Connell and Company November 9 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).
Lancaster Opera House presents South Pacific beginning November 10 (lancopera.org, 683-1776).
Road Less Traveled Productions presents It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play, beginning November 30 (roadlesstraveledproductions.org; 629-3069).
ALSO PLAYING (in order of closing)
American Repertory Theater’s Stupid Fucking Bird closes November 11 (artofwny.org, 697-0837).
Visiting Mr. Green closes at Jewish Repertory Theatre November 12 (jewishrepertorytheatre.org; 688-4033).
Glengarry Glenn Ross wraps up at Road Less Traveled Productions November 19 (roadlesstraveledproductions.org; 629-3069).
Playwright Donna Hoke writes about theater for Spree and Forever Young.