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Father, Daughter, Plays -- Part Two: Georgia Lyman

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Apr 27, 2017

Trying to assemble a comprehensive list of Georgia Lyman's contributions to Boston's cultural life would be a task and a half, not only for the number of plays and events she's had a hand, or a role, in, but also the variety of kinds of cultural and artistic endeavors she's undertaken. Georgia has been involved with everything from Boston's Outside the Box summer arts festival to "The Lawn on D," billed as "Boston's most innovative and dynamic outdoor event space," to TedxCambridge, to the founding of her own theater company, Orfeo Group, which enjoyed a five-year run and garnered three Elliot Norton Awards before disbanding in 2012.

Georgia herself won the Elliott Norton Award in 2013 for Outstanding Solo Performance for "Chesapeake," and is a nominee in that same category this year for her work in Ronan Noone's "The Atheist" -- a part originally written for a man but, as Georgia proved, eminently suited for a woman. The year Georgia won for Outstanding Solo Performance, her father Will Lyman took home two Elliot Norton distinctions -- the award for Outstanding Actor and that year's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Like her father -- himself the subject of Part One of this two-part interview series -- Georgia is deeply and passionately embedded in the arts life of Boston while also taking on television and film work. She's appeared in Larry Sanders' "Clear History," enjoyed roles in HBO's "Olive Kitteredge" miniseries and Boston-set films "Infinitely Polar Bear" and "The Town," and, like her father, been on the TV drama "Brotherhood," in a recurring part.

Georgia is about to appear on stage at Stoneham Theatre in the World War II drama "Gabriel," set on Guernsey Island, one of the Channel Islands that the Nazis occupied for five years after Churchill surrendered them without a shot being fired. EDGE had a chance to chat with Georgia about "Gabriel" as well as a few of the other irons she's constantly got in Boston's cultural fire.


EDGE: Congratulations on your Elliot Norton Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance for "The Atheist" this year. I recall you also won for 'Chesapeake' a few seasons back, so I'm wondering whether solo work is kind of your thing?

Georgia Lyman: [Posh accent] Well, I supposed that's up the audience to decide, my dear!

Yeah, I won the Norton for 'Chesapeake,' which was a bit of a surprise... I'm honored to be nominated -- I mean, I'm up against Obehi and Anna Devere Smith -- I mean come on, what company!

Honestly, I think Solo is such a weird and amazing [form of] performance, I just don't think it's done very often. It's less common that full ensemble or musical or whatnot, I think because it is challenging and scary and you're flying literally without a net -- there's nobody to catch you except yourself. I think it's recognized because it's done so rarely, and I'm excited to continue in that company... but, no, I'm terrified of it!

EDGE: The character in "The Atheist" was originally written as a man, and was played here by Campbell Scott eight or ten years ago. So did Ronan Noone come in and rewrite that a little bit when you were cast?

Georgia Lyman: Nope! Everything was exactly the same. I think we changed perhaps a pronoun in reference to myself here and there, and we made -- let's see -- there was only one significant change, which was in the description of the sex act, because physically that act [as written] would not have worked between two women, so we had a very interesting and graphic session that day where I was trying to explain to [Ronan] what an alternative might be, and why that would work. It was like, "Hey, hi! I'm Georgia -- let's get to know each other!"

[Laughter]

But for the most part, really, everything was the same. And we talked a lot about that, whether there should be changes, or would a woman say this? What it came down to, what I was continually in favor of, and what was interesting about it, was in that particular part gender really doesn't matter. It's still the same character. It's still the same ambition; it's still the same motivation, and it's still the same ladder to climb. It's just a different audience perspective, but the character's perspective is still exactly the same, so what was interesting to Ronan and I was to sit back and watch the audience's reaction, and let them decide if this is something that they're comfortable with a woman saying.

Because of course a woman would say that! Especially now days when we're talking and there's such a whirling miasma about gender fluidity and identity and what a nasty woman is and what constitutes locker room talk -- all that sort of innuendo that's going on. What is comes down to is anybody will say anything under the right circumstances, and that's a really basic tenet of drama. Given the right circumstances, any character will do anything. You just have to find that right set of circumstances. We changed very little, and we're both really proud of that and excited by it.

EDGE: I had the pleasure of talking to your father about his role in "Beckett in Brief" over at Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and I just had to remember how not only are you and he both nominees this year, but you both won in 2013. That must make for some great holiday dinner conversation!

Georgia Lyman: Yeah -- it was nice! I won for Best Solo, and he won not only Best Actor but he also got the Lifetime Achievement honor that year. It was a pretty big year. That was my first individual acting award from the Norton Committee -- I'd won for ensemble and Orfeo Group in the past, but that was the first one that was just me. It was a big year.

EDGE: Have you had a chance, ever, to work with your father?

Georgia Lyman: Never. If you know anybody who'd like to hire us, please let them know that we're interested.

EDGE: That would be such an interesting pairing. You see Paula Plum and Richard Snee share the stage, and it's always so fun.

Georgia Lyman: I know and we can't quite understand that! Nobody seems to glom onto the idea. What a press release, you know what I mean?

EDGE: Tell me a little about your part in 'Gabriel.' You play Jean Bequet.

Georgia Lyman: It's about as far away from 'The Atheist' as I could get. I went from Brooklyn hipster lesbian femme to upper class British aristocrat in World War II. She's wonderful! I've been falling in love with Jean over these last two weeks. She's super smart -- she's much smarter than I am, which I think is why I'm exhausted just trying to keep up with her hairpin turns. She's resourceful; she's witty; she's up for any challenge, and she's fiercely loyal and protective of her family. I love her. I'm having a wonderful time with her.

EDGE: How did you come to be cast in this production?

Georgia Lyman: I auditioned!

[Laughter]

The usual manner. Weylin called me up for this. We have been trying to collaborate on a few projects, and the timing has never been right. Last year he wanted to bring me up for something and I was too overwhelmed with Outside the Box. So this time I was able to come up and audition and it worked out delightfully.

EDGE: How do you feel the play's material speaks to you personally, and to our times now?

Georgia Lyman: That's an interesting question... I didn't know so much about this particular situation when I got the job, and so I started doing research. The Nazi occupation of the Guernsey Isles is a bit of history that the England likes to gloss over, and they're just now getting to re-tell the story. Because, you know, what basically happened was Hitler came in and bombed St. Peter Port [on the Island of Guernsey], and Churchill just kind of said, "Okay, here you go." He withdrew everybody and he gave it up without a fight, but that was his line in the sand. Nobody really likes to talk about that, because Churchill is supposed to be the defender of the British Isles - and he was, quite frankly, but this was just a little, like, "Well, except for those, so let's not talk about it."

The play doesn't deal with government politics so much as it deals with personal politics, by which I mean your faith and your trust in the people in your life and the judgment that you reserve to make your own choices that will have resounding impact on those people in your immediate circle. We've been sort of gearing away from too many overt discussions of the politics because, you know, everybody knows what happens in a Holocaust play. We all know how it ends.

So we've been trying to focus on the story of these people and how it can be looked at as a microcosm of the fear and the tenacity, the clinging to life that one has to have in extreme circumstances when you never know what the next moment will hold. There's this kind of tension and anticipation for the absolute worst that lead to the kind of quick thinking that Jean has and the ultimate on-the-spot decision making, and where those decisions have to stem from. For Jean, it's love and protection of her family. That's it; that's where everything springs from, the fact that she will do quite literally anything to make sure that they survive, and that they survive relatively unscathed.

EDGE: This is such an interesting and exciting cast. Anything with Thomas Derrah in it is going to be electrifying.

Georgia Lyman: I think so too. That was my first question when they offered me the job - 'Who's playing the Nazi?' They said, 'Tommy Derrah.' I said, 'I'm in!' I hadn't even finished reading the whole script, but I didn't care!

EDGE: You mentioned a moment ago having been the producer for Boston's summer arts festival Outside the Box. Philanthropist and arts patron Ted Cutler founded the festival, and his recent loss has been devastating to the entire Boston theater community. Did Ted Cutler personally bring you in to produce the last couple years of Outside the Box?

Georgia Lyman: My official title was Artistic Director, and yes, he did. I worked initially on the 2013 festival as the Associate Curator under Sherrie Johnson, who was the original artistic director. It's no secret that both she and I quit that same year before the festival went up because of management differences, to put it lightly.

Ted invited me to come back in the winter of 2015 for the 2016 festival as artistic director, with a whole new team. I was only too happy to rejoin under -- again, different circumstances; it was a life lesson as well as a drama lesson -- because it's such an important event. There's nothing else that has been able to promote the local arts at that level, at that quality for free. I have ultimate faith and belief in that dream, and I have from the very beginning. His loss is a great blow to the philanthropic side of arts and culture in Boston. He did it at a level that was pretty remarkable.

EDGE: Will you be back for Outside the Box? Assuming, that is, that the Box will be back!

Georgia Lyman: As long as Outside the Box is around, I would love to be a part of that.

EDGE: After "Gabriel," what are your upcoming future projects?

Georgia Lyman: Actually, I've recently settled in with Whitesnake Projects, which is formerly The Friends of Madame Whitesnake. They put on that amazing opera trilogy, "The Ourobouros Trilogy," that was at ArtsEmerson last fall -- it was an opera marathon, three operas all day long. The librettist is a local woman named Cerise Lim Jacobs. She is dedicated to creating and producing contemporary opera. I signed on with her as a producer for the next two operas of hers. One is called "Rev 23," as in "Revelations 23," and it's the untold, and as-yet unheard, last chapter of Revelations. But it's funny! It's a hellishly comic opera, as it were.

The next one is called 'PermaDeath' and it will be the world's first video game opera. We're going to be premiering it during PAX, the video game convention, next year. It's very exciting, and it's a thrill for me because while I love performing and my heart is always in the artistic side of things, to come on as a producer of something of this size is just very exciting for me. I started producing on a much smaller level with Orfeo Group, my own theater company, and discovered that, actually -- don't tell anybody -- but I really like doing it!

To have this kind of opportunity at this level... I mean, just the artistic quality and production values are unparalleled. They're on par with some of the top companies in Boston, and I'm really excited to be a part of it. In addition, I'm curating a series of events for The Lawn on D, which is now powered by Citizens Bank, which is excellent news. I'm putting together one free day-long event every month at the The Lawn on D. It's going to be everything from performances to kids' activities to interactive stuff to sporting days to celebrating holidays -- I've got a day of dance programs in August; a cultural event called "World on the Lawn" in June; our opening day is May 13. That's been really exciting; I've been able to keep my curator hat on as well, which I am desperately in love with.

EDGE: You certainly do cast a wide creative net!

Georgia Lyman: I do what I can. I believe whole-heartedly in the creative capital of Boston. In the last five years it become my mission to promote it and celebrate it as much as possible because all of my friends are artist and I want to give them all jobs!


"Gabriel" plays at Stoneham Theater April 27 - May 14. For tickets and more information please go to https://www.stonehamtheatre.org/gabriel.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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