Actress, Play Provide Matinee Surprise
At our friend’s house for Easter Sunday, we were enjoying a backyard bar-b-que, beer and conversation under the oak trees. Dogs scampered about, donkeys and Longhorn cattle wandered in the pasture and the sunshine, and conversation and chatter with friends new and old added to the day’s enjoyment.
We made a new friend there — Alexis. She said she was studying as an actress at the University of Texas and was in a play to be staged in about a month. She graduated from Brown University, the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, and was in a three-year graduate program at UT that was basically paying her to go to school. “Sure,” we said, “we’d love to see your play.”
With no expectations whatsoever, Cherie and I drove down to the UT campus on a sunny Saturday afternoon last weekend for the 2 o’clock matinee. It was the fourth and final day of the play. It would close that night with the 8 o’clock performance. In a tiny cubby hole of a theatre, nestled somewhere near the East Mall just north of Memorial Stadium, we joined about 50 others in the 200-capacity playhouse and were astonished. Blown away. In awe.
To begin, the director – a UT drama professor – stood in front of the first row of patrons and explained that the play, “Clybourne Park,” had just two weeks prior won the Pulitzer Prize! He hoped we enjoyed the show, he said casually. The house went dark, the lights came up, and there was our friend Alexis – the lead female in this timely, well-written play about race relations in a Chicago suburb – first in Act I in 1959, and then again in Act II, which takes place in 2009. Two professional actors from the Actors’ Equity Association joined the four student actors in a performance that – honestly – was one of the best plays I have ever seen.
I’ve been to Broadway theatres in New York. “The Secret Garden.” Petula Clark. David Cassidy. “Cats” in San Francisco. I’ve seen “Phantom of the Opera” here in Austin. Not to be outdone,“Clybourne Park” and this troop of actors were astonishing. The cast in Act I is the same as in Act II, but each actor plays a different character in the two acts. What a pleasant surprise.
We waited down front after the play was over. Alexis came from the backstage area toward us. Her face lit up. I kidded her about her downplaying of the production. “A little play?” I asked her. “A small role?” She smiled and hugged us. Pulitzer Prize, great performances, and all tucked away at UT on a sunny Saturday. What a great resource the university is for Austin. Congratulations, Alexis! We’ll see you in your next production!