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Gavin's Underground

Pygmalion: Last Lists Of My Mad Mother

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-11-03 -
Pygmalion Theatre Company's last production of 2011 takes a slightly humorous but pointed look at the lives of those living with Alzheimer's. Written out of personal experience by playwright Julie Jensen, Last Lists Of My Mad Mother examines the relationship between a mother and daughter and the hardships endured living with the disease. Today, we chat with director Robin Wilks-Dunn and all three actresses about the production and their thoughts going into tonight's opening performance.

Robin Wilks-Dunn, Jeanette Puhich, Barbara A. Smith and Holly Flowers
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Gavin: Hey, everyone! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Robin: I've been directing in the Salt Lake area for over 20 years. I work at Kingsbury Hall and also do quite a bit of freelance directing as well as other theatre jobs such as reading scripts for the Sundance Theatre Lab and dabbling in playwriting.

Jeanette: I'm originally from the Seattle area. I've lived in Salt Lake City for 17 years and have been involved in the theater here since moving here in 1994.

Barbara: I teach at the University of Utah and Westminster College departments of theater. I love teaching and complement my teaching with acting and directing college productions. I have a passion for acting and have acted for over 40 years. I have worked with numerous theater companies along the Wasatch Front.

Holly: I was born and raised in Utah and then moved to Seattle for many years. I did theater up there and loved it, but then I got tired of the rain. So I moved back here. I love the sunshine, dark chocolate, and my nieces and nephews. Does this sound like a personals ad?

Gavin: How did each of you become involved with theater and how did find your way to PYG?

Jeanette: My first performance was in kindergarten when I played the third fairy in Little Bunny Foo Foo. That led me straight to Pygmalion. Seriously, I've auditioned for Pygmalion a couple of times, but this is my first time working for them. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity.

Holly: I've always wanted to be an actor. Growing up, I did school plays, church plays, living room plays, backyard plays – anything I could find, or make up, to do. As for PYG, I'd seen a few of their plays, loved their productions, and decided I really wanted to work with them. So I started auditioning for their plays. This is my first production with them and I am so pleased to be here!

Barbara: I have known Fran Pruyn for many years and have worked with her in other productions. My first production with PYG was Sordid Lives. I loved working with PYG.

Robin: I started doing theater in high school but I majored in dance, primarily choreography, in college in Texas.The dance and theater departments worked closely together and eventually I found my way to do theater and directing almost exclusively.
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Gavin: Robin, how did you first come across Last Lists Of My Mad Mother, what were your first impressions of the play and what made you decide to take on the directing role for the production at PYG?

Robin: I saw it at Salt Lake Acting Company in the '90s. At that point in my life, my mother had been dead for about 15 years and my father had recently passed away. Though my parents didn't have Alzheimer's, I had a very string visceral reaction to the play and the production that has stuck with me all these years. When Pygmalion said they wanted to do a Julie Jensen script, I suggested they look at Last Lists and proposed that they pick me to direct it!

Gavin: For the actresses, when did you first find out about the play, and what were your thoughts on it after reading it?

Jeanette: I first saw the play when it was produced at SLAC about 15 years ago. I remember the play and the performances so well, sometimes too well. When I read the play this summer, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it. It's just a beautiful and moving piece of writing. It's a story that we get to tell. It's a huge responsibility and also such an honor.

Barbara: I saw the production when Salt Lake Acting Company did it in the 1990s. My dear friend and mentor, Marilyn Holt, played the part of Ma. I was deeply moved by the production. When Robin told me she was directing the play for PYG, I read the play. I was hesitant because my mother currently suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease. I found the play comforting. Julie Jensen has written a beautiful, humorous, and touching play. I decided to audition.

Holly: Last year, Robin mentioned to me how much she liked this play. I'd read the play years ago and remembered liking it. I read it again and fell in love with it. It is such a beautiful play. It is sad and poignant but also funny. I love the way the characters, especially the main character, Dot, use humor to help themselves get through really hard situations.
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Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting the part?

Barbara: The audition was scary. I was shocked when I got the part. There were so many wonderful and accomplished actresses auditioning.

Holly: I was very excited and nervous to audition for this play. I love Julie Jensen's work so much and I really wanted to be a part of this production. I got called back to read again for the part of Sis. I went to the callback and there were lots of actresses there – lots and lots of amazingly talented women. We read multiple times with different combinations of women. After the callback was over, I just tried to let it go. I felt good about my audition, but there were so many really good actresses at the callback that I knew I might not get the part. In fact, I thought I probably would not get it. So, when Robin called a few days later and offered me the role I was surprised and SO happy!

Jeanette: The auditions were a great experience, and, you know, that's not necessarily always the case. They were good because we all got to read with a lot of different people and we got to experiment and receive direction. I always welcome the opportunity to be given direction in an audition.

Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and interacting with each other?

Holly: I have really enjoyed figuring out who my character, Sis, is -- how she speaks and behaves and why. She is the smallest part of the three, but I think she makes her presence known. My character only has scenes with Dot and they just talk over the phone. So I feel a bit separate from the other two, character-wise. I do not feel that way with the actors, though. I love working with Jeanette. We just finished spending the summer together doing Saturday's Voyeur and I am so pleased we get to work together again. I've not ever been in a play with Barb before. I am very glad for the chance to get to know her and watch her work even though we don't have any scenes together. I've been lucky to get to watch Jeanette's and Barb's scenes during rehearsals and they are really good.

Jeanette: It's been great. I feel like we all clicked right away. It's been a very collaborative process. We've all been open to giving and receiving help to and from each other. We've also laughed -- a lot!
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Gavin: What has it been for all of you working together to help bring this play to life?

Barbara: It has been an incredible experience. Robin is an amazing director. I am always challenged, and her insights and attention to detail is astounding. I learn so much working with her. This is my first time working with Jeanette and Holly. They are wonderful, so supportive, creative, and talented. I love the rapport. It has been an ideal working situation.

Robin: I love the collaborative process of theater and I have been fortunate to work on this play with true collaborators that bring their knowledge and experience as artists and humans to the table as we've worked on this production. Everyone has been so willing to share and incorparate each others ideas. It's been fabulous!

Jeanette: It's very exciting. It's so great to be doing a Julie Jensen play. These women in this play are such wonderful, well drawn characters. And like I said before, we've had a lot of fun trying to get to the core of these women and this story. It has also challenged me quite a bit.

Holly: It has been a labor of love to work together to find the best way to tell this story. As I said, I adore Jeanette and Barb. And I couldn't be happier about working with Robin again. She is talented, insightful, funny. We've laughed a lot, and cried some, too, as we've put this play together.

Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night?

Jeanette: EEK!

Holly: I think this play is very moving and so many people will be able to relate to it. I think we have a beautiful story to share with you.

Robin: I hope that people will come and see this play -- it will really move people because of its truthfulness. Julie doesn't set out to "solve" the problem of caregiver children with Alzheimer's patient parents, but gives us a poignant, yet humorous, look at the reality of the situation.
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Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year and going into next?

Jeanette: I have been working with Julie on another play of hers that is in development. I believe we're going to be doing a reading of it next spring. I'll also be working with Mike Dorrell on readings of a couple of his new plays.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Holly: There is so much amazing theater going on right now. Go see a play! Well, come see ours first, then go see another one!

Jeanette: I'll just plug the obvious. I want to encourage people to come and hear us tell this story.


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