Love, Loss, Laughs :: Paula Plum On Nora Ephron’s Play About Women’s Lives
EDGE catches up with Paula Plum as she's enjoying a respite from the July heat in Maine - where the cell phone signal is not always the most reliable. Between the imminent threat of a dropped call and the fact that the EDGE office is roasting (it's 93 degrees inside and out, because the AC is on the blink), Your Correspondent keeps things short and sweet.
Well, I keep things short. Plum, as gracious as ever, keeps things sweet.
Paula Plum and her husband Richard Snee have long been fixtures... a better word might be royalty... of the Boston theater scene. Plum is not only an actor of some repute, but also an acting coach, writer, and director. Last year, she took on a production of "Romeo and Juliet" for the Happy Medium Theatre Company, one of the Boston area's more prolific -- and influential -- small theater companies. But Plum has also been on stage (as well as behind the scenes) for Boston's major theatrical venues.
Plum's current project is to helm the Hub Theatre Company of Boston's second production, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," a play written by the esteemed screenwriter and film director Nora Ephron and her sister Delia Ephron. (Between its first production, "Lebensraum," and this one, the Hub also produced a series of readings of Shakespeare at the Trident Cafe called "beer + bard.")
"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" centers around one character, Gingy, who describes the events of her life and how items of clothing still in her closet have been part of her personal history. Clothing, like music or aromas, can conjure memories and bring back the past in a vivid way. The theme is echoed by the other four characters: A cancer survivor, a tough girl, a sexpot, and an older woman. They aren't necessarily the only categories into which any example of womankind might easily be slotted, but they do offer a wide cross-section, as well as a broad canvas of experience, for the play to explore.
EDGE: Last time we spoke, you were directing 'Romeo and Juliet,' and you talked about building a bridge between Boston's fringe theater and the larger theater scene. Are you still building that bridge with this production?
Paula Plum: The thing is, one of the things I've realized about fringe is there are so many really talented people who don't really get noticed -- although that's changed since last year. We had a fringe company recognized: Happy Medium was recognized [by both the IRNEs and the Elliot Norton Committee] for "Dog Sees God." And then Kiki Samko won Best Actress [at the Elliot Norton Committee awards ceremonies]. I think that there are bridges that are being built now; I think that people have started to realize that there's a lot of talent out there.
Paula Plum: And I am using all non-union women who are very talented. Some I've known for years; some have been my students; it's kind of exciting to have these women in production that may get a little more notice because I directed it... [laughter] ...or because Lauren's company, the Hub Theatre Company of Boston, has been noticed by the press. We're just trying to make waves where we can.
EDGE: Speaking of the Hub Theater Company, this is only their second production. How did you get hooked up with them to be the director of their second production? That's starting out of the gate pretty much at full tilt.
Paula Plum: Well, Lauren [Elias] is the managing director, and she was Juliet last year. She's been my student for four years now. She is one of the founders of the Hub Theatre Company, so it was a natural development for her to ask me to direct their second production [in which Elias also acts].
EDGE: How’s it going? Are you having lots of fun with it?
Paula Plum: It’s a wonderful piece! I thought, ’Oh, a comedy, ha ha ha.’ Well, it’s not. I mean, it is -- but it isn’t. There’s a lot of depth to the piece; Nora Ephron is a gifted writer. She can really find moments of reality that are very deep and moving even while writing in a comic vein.
EDGE: Ephron was also a director of acclaimed movies like "Julie and Julia" and "Sleepless in Seattle" [she both wrote and directed those films, among others]. Do you ever find yourself thinking, "If I go for this directorial flourish, this Nora Ephron-esque touch, that will be a wonderful tribute to her," or is that something that you as the director can’t entertain?
Paula Plum: Oh, no -- no, no. You can’t even go there! You have to start from where you’re at, and honestly, you can’t think about what another director would do.
EDGE: But it’s certainly available to you to appreciate her as a writer and explore the nuance of her art.
Paula Plum: Yes... she is nuanced. That’s a really good work for how she writes. It’s surprising. Suddenly, you find the reality of the smallest thing.
EDGE: Tell me a bit about your cast for this production.
Paula Plum: Theresa Chaisson and Linda Goetz are longtime members of the community theater scene, and they haven’t really been part of the fringe theater scene. June Kfoury is sort of launching her theater career; she’s an opera singer... well, a money market manager by day, but an opera singer with different groups in Boston for years. So she’s a performer, it’s just that she’s becoming an actor. Her first production was a play I did last year with my husband, "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," the true story of Aaron Fricke, a boy who in 1987 sued his high school in Rhode Island for the right to bring his boyfriend to the prom. June was in that; she played the really mean mother who whipped her son. She had a very hard time doing that scene!
Also, there’s Adobuere Ebiama, she’s a newcomer to the scene for me, and she’s quite lovely. Lauren knew her from somewhere and invited her to come and audition. I thought she was lovely. And Lauren [Elias].
EDGE: There are some quite poignant aspects to the play, which isn’t only about the clothing one wears; there’s one bit about wearing a tattoo. In fact, it’s a tattoo on a woman’s reconstructed breast? Do I have that right?
Paula Plum: She’s had a mastectomy and instead of having a replacement nipple, she has a tattoo put on her breast. It’s another wonderful line here; she says, "When people see that tattoo, they’ll laugh. I don’t know exactly who I mean by these people."
EDGE: You must have a wonderful time exploring those kinds of punch lines.
Paula Plum: There is so much humor in this piece. Ephron has strung together a bunch of what she calls "clothesline scenes," which are group numbers. They are sort of choral pieces. They are fantastic; they are really fun. I don’t know how the hell they did this without rehearsal, frankly; what they would do on Broadway was invite women to come and go in the show, so you’d just show up and read the script. We will be off book.
EDGE: This really is a piece that’s written by women and it’s about women; it talks about women’s lives and experiences, and so of course all five performers are women. Does the cast find there are many resonances to their own lives that they can bring into the production?
Paula Plum: That’s part of the exploration if any text -- to find what your losses are, what your loves are, what your associations are with clothing... I write a piece a couple of years ago called "Wigged Out," on the theme of clothing and memory, when you start going back into all the stuff you’ve worn. Memories are stirred up. That’s part of the sharing; part of the enriching of the text is what this means to us personally.
EDGE: It’s a wonderful thing that the Hub Theatre Company is conscious of the fact that not everyone can access theater; there are financial impediments sometimes, and that’s why all their shows are Pay What You Can. And the Hub also does other forms of charitable work; for example, this production invites audiences to donate gently worn clothing. Was this socially conscious aspect of the company part of the appeal to you when you were invited to direct for them?
Paula Plum: Yes, for three different groups. One is called Free the Girls, and it’s re-purposed foundation garment that are sent to third world countries [where victims of sex trafficking can use them as inventory and] sell them [in their own small businesses]. There’s [Belle of the Ball], which is for girls who can’t afford to buy prom dresses, so you bring gently worn prom dresses [to benefit them]. And there’s another group, [Amirah, a local safe house that benefits women who have been subjected to human trafficking].
That’s the thing about Lauren, frankly; she and her family are very aware of talking care of charitable groups, and I’m very touched and moved by their commitment to that. Of course you want to work with people who have awareness.
"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" will run from July 19 - August 3 at the First Church in Boston, located at 66 Marlborough Street in Boston (easily accessible from Arlington or Copley T stations on the Green Line). The First Church is fully accessible. The play includes mature themes and language and is recommended for ages 12 and up. All performances are Pay What You Can. For more information, please visit the Hub Theatre of Boston’s website.