Wednesday, October 26, 2011
NEXT FALL blog 3: Debra K. Stevens (Arlene)
I am one of the G.R.I.T.S.— Girls Raised In The South. I have come to understand how much that status means to me, especially since I moved away from the South several years ago. There are certain characteristics, expectations, and experiences that are particular to Southerners. We say ya’ll, yes ma’m, and yes sir. We all LOVE the pig—fried, smoked, or barbequed preferably. We greet each other with smiles and courtesy whether we know each other or not. We have spontaneous, intimate conversations with total strangers (like the day I opened a door for a woman while entering the mall and she touched my arm and exclaimed “Your sweater is sooooo sweet!” We talked for a good 10 minutes about sweaters and the best places to shop for them.) There is a certain vibe about a Southern man or woman and we can detect it in each other a mile away. It is very comforting to find one so far from home.
I play a southern woman in “Next Fall.” She is not just any southern woman –she is an extreme southern woman. A southern woman on steroids. She is familiar, caretaking, eccentric, beyond verbal, and entertaining. She is also often offensive in her complete oblivion in regard to all things foreign---i.e. New York-ish. She has quite the sense of humor and is often self-deprecating, but I can’t help but worry that she could easily slip into a caricature. “Arlene” walks a fine line between being entertaining and downright offensive. I find myself cringing at some of the things that exit my mouth as I speak her lines. I have spent a good part of my life overcoming the attitudes and prejudices that permeated my upbringing—friends from school, acquaintances, even some family members. I sometimes feel I am betraying all the efforts I have made in my quest for tolerance in one swell foop! Don’t I have a responsibility to my people? Then I think of all the celebrated southern writers—William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Truman Capote (who earns an homage in the show), and The Poet of my People, Tennessee Williams. What would they think of Geoffry Nauffts’ depiction of this character? Then I remember their writings-- their take on southern culture.—the good, the bad, and the ugly. They illuminated what needed to change and they celebrated what was joyful. That word,”joy,” keeps coming up in rehearsal. Matthew is all about finding the “joy.” There is a lot to be joyful about in this play, with this cast, and this challenge. So, I continue on my journey with Arlene and strive to celebrate her with joy. So, let the Magnolias bloom, Child!