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Friday, April 13, 2018

A Bucket List Checkoff: Playing a Man Named Beverly in “August Osage County”

It’s the opening night for SRO’s production of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy “August: Osage County” here in Columbus, Ohio.  In just a few hours I will appear in the opening scene and perform a ten minute monologue (interrupted by occasional dialogue with two other characters), and then I will be done.  My part is the patriarch in an Oklahoma family who gives the little talk that is delivered in the Prologue to the three act play.  Then he commits suicide and the rest of the show involves his large family trying to figure out why.  The character is named Beverly Weston (yes, “Beverly” is a man’s name in various parts of the United States and Great Britain), and his character is what Alfred Hitchcock called a “McGuffin”: something in the plot that the characters care about but the audience does not. [See for more; I think it’s interesting that the bars that are in the lobby of some AMC movie houses are named “McGuffin.”]

Beverly's Family at His Funeral Dinner

John Cullum
In 2008 I saw this play performed on Broadway, and the great Broadway actor John Cullum played Beverly.  He has won two Tony Awards and been in numerous TV shows, most notably in Northern Exposure where he played a French trapper in love with a very much younger woman.  When Cullum was in “August: Osage County” Estelle Parsons was playing the leading role of his wife, and they both had star billing.  That was odd because he’s only in the small opening segment while she is in more or less every scene thereafter.  But they are both big names on Broadway, hence the billing.  When I sat down in my third row seat and the show began, John Cullum poured himself a drink (this is called for by the plot: he’s a drunk), and the smell of Jonnie Walker Scotch came wafting down to my seat.  “Goddamn!” I thought.  “He’s actually having a drink right on stage!  And why not?  It’s eight o’clock, he only has to perform a ten minute segment, and then he can go home.  He certainly wasn’t around for the curtain call three hours later when this long play ends.  What a cushy job!  Top billing, ten minutes of work, a free drink, and home in bed shortly thereafter.  John’s an old man these days.  There have to be perks.

John as Beverly Weston

The ten minute part is juicy: Beverly explains life, his travails with his wife, and conducts an interview with a new housekeeper who will take care of his drug-addicted wife when he is gone.  As he lectures her he drinks, and it’s clearly not his first drink of the day.  It’s all a fascinating vignette, and as I listened to it I thought to myself, “I’d love to play this part some day.”  I immediately put it on my bucket list.

Well, that time has come.  When SRO announced auditions for the play, I attended and was very pleased to be awarded the part of Beverly Weston.  What I hadn’t thought through was how difficult a part it is to memorize as this drunk meanders from one thought to another, talking about poetry, his battles with his wife, the reasons he’s hiring the new housekeeper, an explanation of her new duties, and a brief interlude when his drugged-up wife wanders into and out of the scene.  I made multiple mistakes at every rehearsal until very recently, and I doubted it I would ever get it right.  There’s more: Beverly has an Oklahoma accent and it’s a major challenge to make what he’s saying comprehensible and funny/sad/philosophical as the moment requires  I hope I can do all that tonight when the curtain goes up.

After Beverly leaves the stage the terrific cast SRO has assembled takes over, and they are quite wonderful as they work their difficult way through this fascinating play.  Everything is well directed by Will Macke, himself a major talent.

When I took the role I negotiated with Will for the right not to have to participate in the curtain call each performance.  This means I can perform my part in the Prologue and then go home.  I will stick around for the curtain call on opening night (tonight) and on the two occasions where I will have in the audience either my family or my husband, David Vargo (who, by coincidence, is opening in his own show “Chapatti” at Red Herring Productions tonight, running April 12-29).  My absence normally will not be noted at all.  My character is largely forgotten by the end of the three hour show, and the actors taking bows are the magnificent performers who have brought this play to life for the lengthy evening.

Our play will run for this weekend and then T/F/S/Sunday of next, hopefully playing to large houses.  And then I can happily check this fantastic role off in the relevant column on my bucket list and move on to the next item.

[Addendum:  We opened and the play is going very well.  Reviewers have stressed how very good all the acting is.  Come see us.  All cast members have two complimentary tickets to give away, so feel free to ask any of us for them.]


Related Posts:

“Douglas Whaley, Actor,” August 14, 2010;
“On Stage Again: Acting in Edward Albee’s “Seascape,” February 26, 2014;

“Opening in Another Play: The Pulitzer Prize Winning “Proof,” February 17, 2018;

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Supreme Court Crisis: The Momentous Retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

There are rumors that Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire this summer from the United States Supreme Court, where he has served since 1987, as soon at the current term ends in June.  That would be a catastrophe for liberals and a triumph for conservatives, a condition that would likely last for decades.  Donald Trump would certainly appoint a very conservative Justice to replace him, and all future decisions would be right-leaning in the extreme.

[Front: Ginsberg, Kennedy, Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, back Kagan, Alito, Sotomayer, Gorsuch] 

I’ve often blogged (see below) about how Justice Anthony Kennedy is the most important judge in the entire world because he sits on the highest court in the most important country, and on that court there are four confirmed liberals (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer) and four confirmed conservatives (Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch).  Kennedy himself is the swing vote in almost all the cases where these two forces will disagree, sometimes siding with the liberals (gay marriage) and sometimes with the conservatives (Hobby Lobby can have religious views even though it is a corporation, and Citizens United, also a corporation, is a person with the first amendment right of free speech, allowing it to flood the country with money for political advertising and have a Godzilla effect on elections).

He is old (and I get to say that since I turn 75 this year and can claim to be old myself).  Old judges retire, and when Kennedy goes, so goes the nation.  Timing is important, as explained below.

Anthony McLeod Kennedy was born on July 23, 1936, making him 82 this summer.  The work on the Court is hard, important, demanding, and there must be days when he longs for calm days stretched out on a hammock, or playing with his grandchildren, or having fun with the woman he’s been married to since 1963.  If you watch an interview with him, or better yet a CNN long discussion, you’ll discover he is a soft-spoken, keenly intelligent man, with a twinkle in his eye, and a delightful sense of humor.  [For a wonderful interview with him at Harvard Law School in 2015, where, damn it, he looks younger than I do, see] 

The Court’s term runs from the first of October until the end of June, and therefore early July is the traditional time when a Justice announces that he/she wants to retire, thus giving the president sufficient time to choose a successor and put this person on the Court by the start of the new term.  There have been rumors for years that Kennedy might retire, but so might two of the liberals: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85) and Steven Breyer (80 this August).  Of course the liberals should have retired during Obama’s terms if they wanted liberals to replace them, but, alas, they didn’t.  Ruth is particularly guilty for letting that opportunity slip away (because she’s had health problems and is the older of the two), though Mitch McConnell and friends might still have held up her replacement for years rather than let Obama fill her slot with another liberal.

Kennedy, with Ginsberg (asleep at State
of the Union Address)

This is a crucial moment for the Court.  If Justice Kennedy elects to retire this summer, President Trump will nominate, and the Senate likely confirm, a Justice who will keep the Court on a completely predictable course, 5 to 4 decision after 5 to 4 decision, that advance a purely conservative result for decades to come. 

But if Kennedy elects to remain on the Court for one more year at least, things are very different.  The 2018 election could well give the Democrats control of the Senate.  In that case Trump could not get approved a Justice whose views were far right, and would have to settle for nominating a moderate.  That would keep the Court politically right where it is now: balanced.

Justice Kennedy has already hired judicial clerks for the coming fall term.  That’s a sign that he’ll stay on, but in the past it has not prevented retirements, with the hired clerks typically then working for the replacement Justice.  One thing in favor of Kennedy’s retirement is that he was appointed by a Republican president (Reagan) and might want to make sure his replacement is chosen by a Republican president.  Of course that assumes he is pleased with the choices that Trump has already announced are on his judicial list, meaning someone who would be yet another Neil Gorsuch (who has consistently voted for the most conservative positions possible since Trump elevated him to the Court).  Kennedy might favor a result that leads to someone more like himself sitting in the chair he vacates.  And if Kennedy retires he gives up one of the most powerful positions on the planet and becomes a footnote in history.  It must be hard to give up power that heady.

Should one of the liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayer) die or leave the Court for any reason during this Republican presidency, chances are good that a very conservative Court would be controlling results for many, many years thereafter.

[Click to englarge]

So, as I said at the start, if you are a conservative things are looking good for a Supreme Court that will be very much to your liking.  If you are a liberal or favor a Court that is more balanced in its approach to the controversial cases that will come before it, then hope that Anthony Kennedy holds off his retirement for at least another year, and watch carefully the health of the liberal members sitting precariously on their side of the bench.


Related Posts:

Obamacare, John Roberts and the Supreme Court.” July 3, 2012;

"Five Judges Have Stopped All Further Progress on Gay Civil Rights Legislation," August 18, 2014;

“Must a Baker Create a Cake for a Gay Wedding?  What Will the Supreme Court Likely Say?” September 28, 2017;