Larchmont Village resident and playwright Devon O’Brien has organized a virtual reading of her latest work “American Portraits,” this Sunday.
O’Brien, an occasional contributor to the Buzz, told us she’s assembled an international cast for a live stream reading on ZOOM, followed by a brief talkback. Here’s the scoop:
“American Portraits” is set in a contemporary museum, during a tour of an exhibition of portraits by American painter, John Singer Sargent. There’s a mysterious tour guide, and a tour group. When the guide and the group leave the stage, the Sargent portraits come to life and speak monologues written by American playwright, Clyde Fitch.
Actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, stars of the New York stage, like Kate Burton, and stars of LA shows, like James Tupper (Big Little Lies) will come together this Sunday, June 28 at noon in LA, 3 pm in NY and 8 pm in UK.
“American Portraits” includes brief excerpts from two books by Clyde Fitch, Some Correspondence and Six Conversations, and The Smart Set, (published 1896 and 1897). I came across the books — collections of imaginary letters by and between New York, Newport and Boston society people — in a bookshelf in the Adirondacks. I was instantly struck by their humanity and theatricality — and, they are uniquely, hilariously American.
Fitch, (1865-1909), wrote them early in his career, before he became the most successful dramatist of his day. (Brooks Atkinson says in Broadway, “Modern American Theatre began with Clyde Fitch.”) I selected my favorite letters, edited them, and dedicated myself to the process of adapting them for the stage.
“American Portraits” is also based on the life and works of American painter, John Singer Sargent, (1856-1925). In seeking ways to adapt the letters, it occurred to me that Fitch was writing about the very people whom Sargent was painting. I selected about a dozen Sargent portraits and matched them with Fitch monologues. During my research, I made the wonderful discovery that Fitch and Sargent knew one another in London. “I am going to Sargent’s studio at his invitation,” Fitch writes in a letter from London in 1897, “He has some splendid pictures on view this year.” He writes again, later, “Today I dine with Sargent…. Sargent and I get on awfully well. I like him immensely.” The monologues and portraits, I think, “get on awfully well” too. Here, 100 years later, these two great American artists meet again; they collaborate, conspire with me to paint — in words and pictures — “American Portraits”.
What I am about to say makes no sense. It is heavenly working with this company of brilliant actors, but many of them I have never met! Rosy McEwen, is in Sussex, England, yet when she rehearses her role as Madame X (Amelie Gautreau) in a square on ZOOM, it feels like we are in the same room. My friend from college, Kate Burton (Gray’s Anatomy, Kate’s received three Primetime Emmy nominations and three Tony nominations) is in the play, and though she lives nearby, I’ve not been in the room with her! Andrew Elvis Miller (Mozart in the Jungle) is in the reading, and he’s my neighbor in Windsor Square. I see him with his family and we wave to each other from across the street, but in rehearsal he’s only on my screen! James Tupper (Big Little Lies) is a tennis partner and he’s in the play — and yet I’ve not seen James for months!
These are strange and challenging days, for sure. ZOOM theater brings us together in a new way. It’s taking the lemons of the pandemic — and making meringue.
Here’s the link to join: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/american-portraits-tickets-110434093346
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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