One Career at a Time
At 85, Rita Moreno could easily look back at an extraordinary career and just cuddle with her Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards, as well as her Kennedy Center Honor and the National Arts Medal.
But the multi-talented performer is just too busy, especially with her new Netflix series produced by New Haven-born Norman Lear (also ever-active with issue-oriented entertainment at the age of 94), a reboot of his ’70s hit TV series, One Day at a Time. This go-round the show centers on a Cuban-American family in which Moreno plays the grandmother.
“It’s going to set a new standard for shows about people from other nationalities,” Moreno tells me in a recent telephone chat from her Berkeley, California, home. “It’s done with such style and grace, and it’s hilarious, though there are some tears along the way, too.”
Moreno will take a break from the series to bring her autobiographical show — think of it as a theatrical memoir covering her 70-plus-year career — to the Ridgefield Playhouse Feb. 18.
“It’s a personal kind of show because it speaks a lot about my life,” she says. “There’s some Broadway songs, I do some songs in Spanish and I tell lots of wonderful anecdotes about my life and career, which I’m astonished at myself because it’s a very tough business.”
But when things weren’t going well in the movies, she says, she got a gig on TV, “and when I was out of a job there, there was work on stage. I always kept working.”
The gigs the actress-singer-dancer talks about in the show include playing Anita in the film West Side Story, a long run in the ’70s on TV’s The Electric Company, playing Sister Pete on HBO’s Oz, starring as Googie Gomez in Broadway’s The Ritz, and scores of others roles in all mediums. And then there were her relationships with Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Anthony Quinn.
She doesn’t look back, but whenever she passes her awards — “it looks like a heavy-metal collection,” she jokes — she says she is astonished by the journey of the former Rosa Dolores Alverío, the little girl from Juncos, Puerto Rico, who made good in the U.S. “I’m just amazed by it all.”
Jeffrey Sweet learned a lot about playwrights in compiling What Playwrights Talk About When They Talk About Playwriting, his new Yale University Press book of theater interviews, out this month.
Sweet, who also wrote the terrific coffee table book, The O’Neill, about Waterford’s O’Neill Theatre Center, interviewed more than a dozen theater figures, including New Haven’s Donald Margulies and Roxbury’s A.R. Gurney, for this insider’s peek into the writer’s world.
“If there was something most had in common, it would be the desire to move from their solitary pursuit to be in the same room with actors and to be involved in the pleasures of rehearsals,” Sweet said from his Manhattan home where he was working on his upcoming play, Kunstler.
There’s plenty of practical advice to young playwrights as well as some delicious details and behind-the-scenes stories: Arthur Miller’s rift with Margulies; why Edward Albee loved Seinfeld; Christopher Durang talking about his absurdist parody of The Glass Menagerie, called For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls.
Sweet says a common thread among the writers is the feeling of being an outsider: “On one hand it’s painful,” says Sweet, “but on the other it sure spurs creativity.”
A Bear Market
In the world premiere of Imogen Says Nothing, now playing through Feb. 11 at Yale Repertory Theatre, playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil (Long Wharf’s Agnes Under the Big Top) creates an Elizabethan world where Shakespearean plays are presented across the street from “bear baiting” entertainment. (Think WWE matches with grizzlies and hounds.)
Enter a young woman determined to make a place for herself on stage and off, played by Ashlie Atkinson (Long Wharf’s January Joiner, off-Broadway’s Fat Pig).
“She’s a character who has no time or inclination to do any sort of stereotypical, gendered behavior,” Atkinson says between rehearsals.
It’s a role model of sorts for the actor, who describes herself as “a pleaser” but describes her character as “a gladiator.” But there’s an aspect in her own life she can perhaps draw upon: She plays on a roller derby team in New York City.
In the play, which she describes as “funny, challenging, upsetting and moving,” Shakespeare “is the least important character on stage.”
In the Bard’s day, women weren’t allowed to perform on stage, while fair-looking young men took on distaff roles.
“The show is a way to look at what voices were removed and what that erasure does to people and the culture at large.”
Did You Know…?
...Ghostlight Records recorded the cast album of the Broadway production of Holiday Inn, which began at Goodspeed Opera House in 2014. Look for a spring release of music from the Roundabout show that ended last month and starred Bryce Pinkham.
...Hartt School alumni working in New York include the Tony-nominated Marin Ireland in the off-Broadway On the Exhale. It’s a solo work by Narcos writer Martin Zimmerman looking at gun violence through the eyes of a liberal college professor pushed to violence. Also part of a pack of young women who make up a soccer team in the off-Broadway hit The Wolves is Hartt’s Lizzy Jutila.
...the Oscar-buzzed indie film Moonlight was based on a semi-autobiographical work by Tarell Alvin McCraney, 2007 playwriting grad at the Yale School of Drama. In July he will be the new chairman of that department.
...when Eric Ulloa was an actor at Goodspeed Opera House’s The Most Happy Fella four years ago, he began working on a play about the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. That work developed into 26 Pebbles, which will receive its regional theater premiere at Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio. Look for other productions in the coming year, too.
...Fairfield’s Justin Paul is hotter than hot with his composing partner Benj Pasek. They wrote the score to the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, wrote the lyrics to the film musical La La Land, are writing the score for the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman (about Bridgeport’s P.T. Barnum, to be released Christmas 2017), and are just starting to work on new music to Disney’s upcoming live-action version of Snow White. Hi-ho.
Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter@ShowRiz.