1. Austin, Texas: Tough to Beat.

    Two things I have always been told about The Lone Star State: One, that it has the best barbecue, and two, that Texans are tough. Well, I had the opportunity to do my own research into the matter last week, as LATW’s tour of The Graduate swung through Austin. Sadly, I only had thirty-six hours in which to conduct my research. Less than that, actually. Weather delayed our flights, and we didn’t get in to our hotel until eleven o’clock at night. The next day, I’d have to be at the theatre at five in the afternoon, and then we’d be flying out early the following day on our way to Overland Park, Kansas. So realistically that left me only about eight or so useful hours for investigation into the issue.

    I consulted Jane and Michael Stern’s roadfood.com, and learned that the place to go was called La Barbecue. A check of Google Maps told me it was about a mile and a half from the hotel. Okay, thirty minutes of walking each way. Great. A three mile round trip would help me work off some of the calories. Next, check the weather. Hmmm, Twenty-degrees outside. Not bad. Not bad at all. I grabbed my coat and set off at a leisurely pace, so that I could soak in the town.

    The first thing I noticed is that the streets were close to deserted. And this was not early on a Sunday, but late morning on a weekday. The next thing I noticed as I made my way down bar-studded Sixth Street was that I seemed to be slowly leaving restaurant row behind and heading into an interesting, funky, artsy area.

    Galleries reminding of spots you’d find in Williamsburg, Brooklyn started to pop up, as well as a kind of food court I had never seen before: A hand lettered sign, pointing the way to a collection of food trucks and trailers, clearly not going anywhere, but rather firmly rooted to the spot. I kept on going, passing two or three such conglomerations, and resisting the temptation to stop and try some of them. I kept my resolve, looking for my destination restaurant, La Barbecue. Finally, much to my surprise, there it was. A food truck sitting in what looked for all intents and purposes like a vacant lot, along with some tents and several picnic tables where a lone diner was finishing up a sandwich. So I was going to be eating outside. No matter. I was here for the food.

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    When I stepped up to the window, the fella inside handed me a good sized bite of brisket as he asked what I wanted. The bite quickened the beat of my heart by its revelation of the delight to come. I ordered The Sancho, a sandwich of either chopped brisket, pulled pork, or slices house (or truck) made sausage, on a white bun, topped with red onion slaw. I ordered it Loco, which means a combination of all three meats. As I took it back to one of the picnic tables, my sole companion finished his last bite, got up, and left. So there I sat, alone, on a cold wooden picnic table bench, twenty-eight degrees, sinking my teeth into one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. The chopped brisket, tender and smokey, layered with the velvety earthiness of the pulled pork and the grainy bite of the spicy sliced sausage, hit with the sweet and tart counterpoint of the slaw … a country western song of flavor in my mouth.

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    So to address the initial questions with which I started off the day. Was it the best barbecue? I don’t like to trade in such sobriquets. Food is not like an Olympic sport, where there is a fastest, a highest, a longest. It’s an art, where offerings are more appropriately judged unworthy or worthy,  and then elevated by degrees of greatness. This Sancho I would put on my highest tier. As to the toughness of Texans? Yes, it was twenty-eight degrees out. But the place was empty, and the chill was not too much for this city boy. For someone born and raised in New York, that is. Who went to college in New England and spent three years at a boarding school in Lake Placid. But apparently, twenty-eight degrees is way too cold for a Texan. How could a little nip in the air keep you away from such sublime barbecue? Clearly, these guys were wimps, I thought, as I finished my sandwich and went back to the window to order one perfect pork rib. Didn’t need it, but could not leave without trying it. And I am glad I didn’t. So tender that it fell off the bone when I picked it up by one end. Perfect.

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    As I was about to leave a couple of other hearty, intrepid souls showed up. Must’ve been from back east, like me. Later, someone pointed out to me that only a northerner, easterner, Yankee, tenderfoot, greenhorn, or whatever I’d be called by a Texan, would be silly enough to sit outside to eat barbecue on one of the coldest days in memory when that same barbecue could be enjoyed year round by the locals. So I guess the toughness question is still open. But the barbecue? Right there at the top.

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  2. A TASTY TREK THROUGH TALLAHASSEE.

    As we headed to Tallahassee to begin the second leg of our whirlwind and well received national tour of The Graduate, I was dreaming about the menu at Angelette’s Cajun Kitchen, arguing with myself as to whether I was going to get there for breakfast or lunch. And if breakfast, was I going to have the shrimp and grits, or go for the Eggs a la Duane, two pan fried grit cakes with two fried eggs and andouille sausage, topped with a crawfish cream sauce. If lunch, would it be a po’ boy? Or would I go for the file gumbo? Mmmmm, maybe I should have the crawfish étouffée. Then, disaster: Turns out the Angelette’s is not open on Mondays, the only day that I would have time to get there during our brief stay. So I’d miss the only Roadfood.com restaurant in Tallahassee.

    Saddened, but not defeated, I consulted Yelp. We don’t have local transpo on tour, so I limited my search by distance. And because I’m generally a low rent kind of guy when it comes to choosing my food destinations, I also set the filter to a single dollar sign, and then set off on foot to … Voodoo Dog.

    When I arrived, I found a proudly emblazoned funky purple clapboard stand alone building. As I perused the offerings at the counter, they all looked tasty, but most were variations of dogs I had sampled before. So since I hadn’t had breakfast, I decided to venture into new territory and try the Wake-n-Bake dog, which is topped with a fried egg and cheddar cheese.

    When it arrived, it looked incredible, but I wasn’t sure what to put on it. I often use ketchup on my eggs, but rebelled at the thought of putting it on a hot dog, which I view as an act of sacrilege. So I opted for mustard, even though I’ve never had that with my eggs. Then I noticed a bottle of something homemade on the table, what looked like a concoction of vinegar with many different varieties of hot pepper floating in it, so I added that to the mix.

    First bite … heaven — the earthiness of the egg and cheese, the snap of the dog, taking the edge off my hunger after the brisk walk, the tang of the mustard combining with the bite of the spiced vinegar to wake up my tastebuds. But for the life of me, I could not figure out how they got the cheese melted on top of the perfectly cooked over-easy egg without overcooking it. I hope it’s not a trade secret, because I’m going to have to write to them to find out.

    One hotdog, as good as it was, was not enough to fill me up, so before I left, I consulted Yelp again, and kept my search settings the same. The Shell Oyster Bar jumped out at me. How could it not? An oyster bar with rockbottom prices and four star reviews? I’m not going to pass on that.

    When I got close enough to discern my probable destination, I thought I must be in the wrong place. I was looking at a mechanic’s garage. To the side of it, however, was a sign that proclaimed The Shell Oyster Bar, and there, at the back of the drive down the side of the garage, was my Mecca.

    In my experience, the most stripped-to-the-bone, bare essentials eateries often offer not only the best bang for the buck, but also culinary delights that don’t simply rival the fancier places, but frequently surpass them. It is almost as if they make up with taste in your mouth for what they lack in aesthetic. That was the case here. I sat at the bar, and my oyster man tossed a green plastic school cafeteria lunch tray down on the counter in front of me, and then he started shucking, unceremoniously tossing oysters onto the tray.

    I poured the house made cocktail sauce into a paper condiment cup, liberally dosed it with Crystal brand hot sauce, grabbed a tiny plastic fork, and dug in.

    Oysters are not easy to shuck, but the fellow behind the counter was fast, and his pace far outstripped my speed in eating them. And what oysters they were! Large, fresh, with a briny deliciousness followed up with a spank to the tongue from the cocktail sauce. Within five minutes, I had finished my first dozen, and decided to take a break to sample the steamed peel-and-eat shrimp with cajun spices. Fantastic. Wiping my fingers clean after finishing the bowl, I ordered another dozen oysters, and savored them for another five minutes. And then, when all was said and done, I left for the walk back to my hotel, with a belly full of goodness, and a wallet still full of cash.

     

  3. SWINGIN’ THROUGH THE SOUTH WITH MATTHEW ARKIN

    We hit three cities in five days, and the location of our accommodations together with some impingement in our transportation opportunities somewhat impacted my success in my food quest.

    In Wilmington NC, I decided that a long walk would be the perfect way to prepare my appetite for a lunch at Flip’s Barbeque House in Wilmington, NC. It was a beautiful day, and I set out in high anticipation. It wasn’t until more than an hour later, walking down the side of a road that had slowly turned into a highway, that I consulted my phone’s GPS and discovered that I had gone three and a half miles in the wrong direction. It would now be another 7 miles if I wanted to partake, and so I gave up, and had a wonderful Reuben at WhichWich. Oh, well. So Wilmington turned out to be a bit of a bust in the food department, but I was able to drown my sorrows that evening by sampling from the incredible beer menu at the nearby Fox and Hounds, a not-so-authentic Irish Pub.

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    Unless you count as traditional Irish fair the Play Action Platter, featuring wings, pretzel stix, onion rings and wedges of fried cheese, all served with celery, ranch, bleu cheese, jalapeno jelly, and beer-cheese dip. It was heart-stoppingly good, literally — and I use literally in the figurative sense.

    There wasn’t much time or opportunity at our next stop in Fairfax, VA, but in Hampton, VA, I had more success. We arrived there early enough for me to take a walk through this quaint town, with its many historic churches and graveyards, and the sun slowly retiring over the lovely harbor.  Wandering down East Queens Way I happened upon Venture Kitchen and Bar. The menu was tantalizing, so I stopped in and ordered from the tapas menu, choosing the meatballs and the port wine fondue.

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    The three braised meatballs that arrived were tender and juicy, in a sweet Thai sauce and garnished with fresh basil and the crunchy counterpoint of crispy fried onions. The fondue was rich, with flavor complimented by smoky slices of fresh bread perfectly charred.

    There was a great beer list at Venture as well, a bevy of signature cocktails and more tantalizing tapas to try, so I returned after the show later that night, and we had the chance to chow down on the delicious bread sticks with spiced olive oil for dipping, the house made tater tots with a spicy mayo on the side, as well as the crispy pork belly with fried apples. If I am ever within two hours of Hampton again, I’ll make the drive just for this menu.

     

  4. In the Big Apple with Matthew Arkin: Torilleria Nixtamal and Mama’s of Corona

    Wonderful to be back in my old stomping grounds in New York, and performing at the beautiful Queens Theater in bucolic Flushing Meadow Park.  Fun to spend breaks in the shadow of the Unisphere, around which I used to ride my bike when I lived in Astoria. And although no one would ever call the Holiday Inn LaGuardia Airport a tourist destination, still it was the best and most convenient option for our company, since time was tight during our five-show weekend in the Big Apple. I was not deterred, however, in my quest for delicious food, because I know from living in the city for most of my life that every neighborhood has its gems. You just have to be willing to look for them. And this weekend, I have my son Sam with me, who has inherited my predilection for food adventures, and is an intrepid companion as we walk through the sometimes sketchy neighborhoods between the hotel and Tortilleria Nixtamal, the unlikely and gorgeous Mexican restaurant tucked away in Corona. On the way, a storefront catches my eye: Leo’s Latticini Mama’s. Sam and I stop in, and the welcoming aromas of homemade mozzarella, the salty, earthy smell of freshly shaved prosciutto Di Parma, the spicy nostril pinch of Italian dry sausage immediately surround us. We pick up a “Mama’s Special” for Sam to have backstage during the performance that night — an enticing handful of a sandwich, with prosciuttini, salami, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms and peppers. We have it wrapped to go, and continue on our way, but they only let us go because we agree to return to see the bakery down the street the next day.

    When we arrive at Torilleria Nixtamal, the restaurant is a vibrant splash of color popping out of the greys, browns and blacks of the city blocks surrounding it.

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    Sam in front of Tortilleri Nixtamal.

    When we enter, the festival of hues continues inside, and on the menu there is so much that looks good that I order way too much. I know, hard to believe.

    The first thing to arrive is the house made guacamole, served with homemade salsa and chips. Perfect! Next up are Sam’s two steak tacos, which he declared fantastic, and my platter with a tamale verde and three tacos,  pastor, carnitas, and one with a chile relleno, served in a way I’ve never had before — a simply roasted jalapeno stuffed with cheese and served as a street taco.

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    My wonderful street tacos and tamale.

    All was simple and delicious, with a squeeze of fresh lime,  and as jalapeno was as hot as it needed to be. We left planning on telling the rest of the cast that this was a “must visit” for them during our stay.

    The next morning Sam and I headed out with fellow cast member Diane Adair and our stage manager, Caitlin Barbieri. It was a perfect fall day, and when we arrived at the latticini, we continued on down the block to Mama’s of Corona, the bakery owned by the same family. We had been to their other establishment only once the day before, and yet we were greeted like old friends by Marie and Irene, who proudly showed off the back courtyard which is open in the warmer months.

    They also made sure we knew that Mama’s special, the sandwich that Sam and I had devoured the night before backstage, is a favorite at nearby Citi Field, and that their late mother was such a fixture in the neighborhood that the nearby corner of 104th Street and 46th Avenue.

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    Mama’s corner.

    We had delicious pastries from the case, and Sam and I each had a breakfast sandwich with fresh mozzarella and ham pressed on a perfect croissant. We were able to leave only with solemn promises to come back when we’re in the neighborhood. But if you’re going to New York, don’t wait until you’re in the neighborhood. You probably won’t be. So make a special trip. These are both places worth going out of your way for.

     

  5. The Farmhouse Tap and Grill in Burlington, Vermont

    When I’m on the road, I spin down a particular line of fantasy with each new town I hit, probably a result of the actor and writer in me exploring alternative realities to the life I live. What would my day be like in this town? What would I do for a living? Where would I be hanging out, and with whom? Sometimes the answers to these questions are not very enticing, depending on the locale. In Burlington, Vermont, however, I was just about ready to hop off of The Graduate tour bus and run into one of the University of Vermont administration buildings to beg for an associate professor position in the drama department.  This may also have been in part because I was riding through the campus on the way to town with Julie Berens, my favorite teacher from my high school days, who was ultimately responsible for my choice of Wesleyan University for my own studies. I have always felt at home with academic institutional life and the attendant college town atmosphere, particularly of the New England variety.

    Julie and I were heading, together with her old and my new friend Janet Bruno, to The Farmhouse Tap and Grill, a farm-to-table gastro pub with locally sourced menu items and a terrific beer list. Alas, it’s a show day, so I won’t be having a beer (until later, when our booking agent, Marc Baylin, will be taking us all out after this evening’s performance).

    Since there were three of us, we consulted over the menu, choosing a number of items that we could share, maximizing our sampling experience. First to arrive at our table were a bowl of the organic tomato soup with tarragon cream and croutons and the Vermont cheddar ale soup with garlic croutons, accompanied by a salad of Pitchfork Farm Beets and chevre and a bowl of the house pickled veggies, tart and sour, and maintaining their beautiful colors and a pleasing crunch. Julie took her first taste of the tomato soup and said, “Wow, that’s really good. And of course, you’ll have me saying something much more eloquent than that when you write about this.” Sorry, Julie. You taught me better than that. In writing, honesty is all. Then I started in on the cheddar ale soup and it was amazing, rivaling the cauliflower, beer and gruyere soup from featured in Brew Food, published by my friend Bruce Glassman, and available from Georgian Bay Books. Sampling the beets with chevre, the beats were toothsome, with a deep nutty flavor wonderfully balanced by the fresh, rich creamy cheese.

    Next up were the Vermont Heritage Grazers Pork burger, topped with Cabot cheddar, a sunny side up farm egg and a crisp, vibrant coleslaw; the 20-Hour Beef Shoulder Sandwich with Spring Brook Farm raclette, deep and rich, with arugula, grilled onions, and a horseradish aioli on house made roll; and the house made bratwurst made with Heritage Grazers pork, topped with Arethusa Farm sauerkraut and a whole grain mustard aioli on house made roll. These were accompanied by a quartet of housemaid condiments — mustard, ketchup, aioli and hot sauce. The mustard was grainy with a kick, and perfect on the brats. The hot sauce was amazing on the pork burger, as was the aioli. The only one that didn’t quite work was the ketchup. It would have been perfect on a regular burger instead of the beef shoulder. But I only used enough for one bite, then went back to aioli. When all was said and done, I was as pleased by this meal as any I’ve had for a long time, ready for a nice stroll through the quaint downtown, before heading back to the lovely Green Mountain Suites for a pre-show nap.

     —Matthew Arkinimage

     

     

     
  6. First local craft beer of the tour in Germantown, Tennessee at the Commissary

     

  7. A FINGER LICKIN’ KICK OFF - Germantown Commissary

    It was a long road to barbecue at the Germantown Commissary in Memphis, Tennessee., and it was worth every minute and mile. The day started at 6:00 AM in Los Angeles, rising early to meet the rest of the company of LATW’s The Graduate at nine o’clock at LAX for the first leg of our tour. As my cab pulled up at seven thirty, I received a flight status alert telling me that our 11:00 AM flight would be departing at 6:45 PM. Hmmmm. Call Diane, our company manager. “We’re still meeting at Delta. We’ll figure out what to do when we all get there.”

    As it turned out, our flight was delayed only three hours, which left me plenty of time for feverish calculations of whether we’d arrive in time to get to the hotel, unload the bags, and still get to the Commissary by the 9:00 PM closing time. As I showed the online menu to other cast members, several said they would join me on that evening’s foray.

    As we spoke to people on our flight, differing opinions began to filter back to me: “Someone said Restaurant X was a better place.” I checked it out online. It was an Italian restaurant. Sorry. I cut my teeth on Italian food on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and I am not going to Memphis for Italian food. “Joint Y has better barbecue.” But it was a chain. No go. I stuck to my guns. My exhaustive research said Germantown Commissary, and I was not to be deterred. As soon as our flight landed, we packed up our 16 bags (8 personal, 8 filled with show gear), raced to the hotel, checked in, dropped them off, and grabbed the courtesy van to The Commissary.

    When we arrived, the heavenly aroma inside the front door got set our mouths awaterin’, but we were told there was a 45 minute wait. We were famished, so I ordered us some fries, onion rings and 8 deviled eggs to tide us over, and we enjoyed them as we waited outside in the balmy evening air. The fries and eggs were fine, but the onion rings were as good as I have ever had — a light, thin, extra crispy coating, and not at all too greasy.

    When we were seated after a mere 15 minutes, I ordered up a plate of ribs (dry rub) and pulled pork, with sides of baked beans, cole slaw, Brunswick stew, and Pig Chips, their signature housemaid barbecue potato chips. The ribs were terrific, smoky, spiced to perfection, and falling off the bone. I love the dry rub, with some of their house sauce on the side. The pulled pork was tender and delicious, and when I added the extra spicy house barbecue sauce and then tempered it with some of the cole slaw, I was in heaven. The Brunswick stew rivaled my own, which is the highest complement I can give. I include okra in mine, their had potatoes. I might have to try that addition sometime.

    We disappeared our food in record time, both hungry from our travels, and looking forward to a well deserved rest before the work to come the next day: Teching the show into our first venue, opening at the Germantown Performing Arts Center.

    - Matthew Arkin

     
  8. On the Road with MATTHEW ARKIN

    Playing Mr. Robinson in L.A. Theatre Works’ National Tour of THE GRADUATE

    Almost 20 years ago, I was incredibly excited to go on my first national tour with a Broadway show. You might think that it was the opportunity, the audiences, and the beautiful theaters we were to be play that fueled my excitement. But it was also fed by dreams of the food and the local eateries we would be sampling along the way. Early in rehearsal, Lew Stadlen, my friend, and a veteran of many tours, began waxing rhapsodic about Carl’s Chop House in Detroit, the first stop for our caravan. Carl’s is now closed, but when we got there, it was everything he promised it would be, from the classic, simple, old-fashioned American “relish tray” set down on the table at the beginning of our meal, to the perfectly cooked steaks. As the tour continued, Lew continued to point us in the right direction for local favorites, town after town. 

    Now, as I prepare to go on the road with LA Theatre Works’ production of The Graduate, I am missing Lew’s guidance, and so I am spending more time on Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood.com website than I am learning my lines. (Don’t worry. If you come to see the show, I’ll know them all.) Getting paid to travel around the country, doing what I love for a living, and also indulging my passion for food — who could pass that up? So bring it on. First stop is going to be a tough call, and it will depend on the availability of transportation when we get to Germantown, Tennessee. There are so many great places listed on Roadfood for nearby Memphis, but The Germantown Commissary gets high marks, and it’s walking distance from our theater. So bring on the ribs, pulled pork, and the famous lemon icebox pie, and I’ll be checking back in with a full report. Stay tuned.

    www.matthewarkin.com

     

     

  9. THE DIVINE SISTER cast bios

    THE DIVINE SISTER had its premiere in 2010 at Theater for the New City, prior to transferring to an extended 253-performance Off-Broadway run at the Soho Playhouse. Our production reunites original director Carl Andress with Off-Broadway cast members Busch as Mother Superior, Fraser as Sister Walburga and Halston as Sister Acacius. The cast will also include Emily Bergl as Agnes, Maxwell Caulfield as Brother Venerius, and Juliet Mills as Mrs. Levinson.

    CHARLES BUSCH: Playwright, Mother Superior

    Charles Busch was born in Hartsdale, New York. He later attended Northwestern University, graduating with a B.A. in Drama. Busch is the author and star of such plays as THE LADY IN QUESTION, RED SCARE ON SUNSET, YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY, TIMES SQUARE ANGEL, QUEEN AMARANTHA, and SHANGHAI MOON. His play VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM ran 5 years and is one of the longest running plays in Off-Broadway history.

    In 2000 Busch’s play THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE opened in New York and was nominated for a Drama Desk for Best Play. For this play, Busch won the Outer Critic’s Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting. Busch made his Broadway debut with this play, which reopened and ran for 777 performances, eventually receiving a Tony nomination for Best Play.

    In 2003 he was nominated for a Lucille Lortel award and a Drama League Award for his play SHANGHAI MOON. He is the coauthor of the Off-Broadway musical SWINGTIME CANTEEN and author of the novel “Whores of Lost Atlantis.”

    Busch also wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, the latter of which won him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2003, Busch received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright. Busch made his directorial debut with the film A Very Serious Person, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won an honorable mention. He is also the subject of the documentary film The Lady In Question is Charles Busch. He has also appeared in Addams Family Values, It Could Happen to You, Trouble on the Corner and for two seasons he also appeared as Nat Ginzburg on the HBO series Oz.

    We are so pleased to be working with Charles Busch again this year. In 2007 he directed our recording of THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE starring JoBeth Williams, Richard Kind, and Amy Aquino. Two years later, Busch played Lady Bracknell in our production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.

    JULIE HALSTON: Sister Acacius

    Julie Halston was born in Suffolk County, New York. Halston’s rise to fame came with her appearances on stage in the comedies of playwright Charles Busch. These plays included VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM and THE LADY IN QUESTION. She also appeared in the Broadway productions of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, THE WOMEN, and ANYTHING GOES.

    Halston later appeared in the Tony Award-winning productions HAIRSPRAY and GYPSY. Halston earned Drama Desk Award nominations for her roles in the plays WHITE CHOCOLATE and RED SCARE ON SUNSET. Halston has also won four Mac Awards for her solo comedy performances and Characterization/Monologue.

    It was not until the 1990’s that she began branching out into television and film roles. Her film credits include appearances in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks, A Very Serious Person, The Juror, Addams Family Values, Joe Gould’s Secret, Drunks, and Celebrity. Her television credits include roles in Law and Order, My So-Called Life, Sex and the City, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

    ALISON FRASER: Sister Walburga

    Alison Fraser was born in Natick, Massachusetts and is a nationally acclaimed performer having appeared in concert at such venues as The White House, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, The Tisch Center for the Arts, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The Greater Trenton Symphony, and The Wilma.

    Fraser’s Broadway credits include THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and  TARTUFFE: BORN AGAIN, THE SECRET GARDEN, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award, and ROMANCE/ROMANCE, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award and won a Carbonell Award. Fraser is also the first ever recipient of Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for Best Actress for her performance as The Blonde in the film noir musical Gunmetal Blues.

    Off Broadway she originated the role of Jessie opposite Nathan Lane and Marion Seldes in DEDICATION OR THE STUFF OF DREAMS. Fraser had the honor of originating the role of Matron opposite Shirley Knight in the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’s last full length play IN MASKS OUTRAGEOUS AND AUSTERE. She also originated the roles of Arsinoë in David Ives‘s version of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” THE SCHOOL FOR LIES, and Sister Walburga in Charles Busch’s critically acclaimed play THE DIVINE SISTER. She also originated the role of Sarah in the world premiere of Mr. Laurent’s COME BACK, COME BACK, WHEREVER YOU ARE. Fraser also created the title character in world premiere of Christopher McGovern’s musical LIZZIE BORDEN, and she appeared with cabaret great Andrea Marcovicci in Ted Sperling’s highly praised production of LADY IN THE DARK at The Prince Theatre in Philadelphia. 

    Fraser received a Best Supporting Actress Award for playing Chloe in LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART at the George Street Playhouse. For her role in TOGETHER AGAIN: THE SONGS OF RUSTY MAGEE, Fraser, along with co-star Mary Testa, received the Bistro Award for “Outstanding Duo Performance.”

    Fraser also appeared in GYPSY, MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS, IN TROUSERS, UP AGAINST IT, and BEEHIVE among many other productions. She performed in Charles Busch and Rusty Magee’s THE GREEN HEART as well as in Busch’s SWINGTIME CANTEEN. In addition, Fraser was a member of the revolving cast of Daryl Roth’s Off Broadway hit, LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE and originated the role of Faith in Wendy Beckett’s A CHARITY CASE.

    Ms. Fraser stars in the one-woman show ONLY A PAPER MOON: A TENNESSEE WILLIAMS SONGBOOK conceived and directed by David Kaplan with musical direction by Allison Leyton-Brown.

    EMILY BERGL: Agnes

    Emily Bergl was born in Milton Keynes, England to a British father and Irish mother. The family moved to the States when she was six, eventually settling in Chicago. After she graduated from Grinnell College, Emily moved to New York. After only a few months, she was chosen from a nationwide casting call to play the lead in “The Rage: Carrie 2,” her first job on camera. She then went on to accept roles in independent films such as “Happy Campers,” “Chasing Sleep,” and “Fur.”

    Bergl also has an extensive list of television credits, which include appearances in Steven Spielberg’s “Taken,” “ER,” “NYPD Blue”, “CSI:Miami,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Providence,” “Medium,” “Southland” and two seasons  on ABC series “Men in Trees.”

    While maintaining a career in film and television, Bergl also has had a broad presence in the world of theatre. Bergl starred on Broadway in “The Lion in Winter” opposite Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing, for which she won the FANY award for Best Broadway Debut. She also starred in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet” opposite Gabriel Byrne, and in “The Rivals” at Lincoln Center. Off Broadway, Bergl has appeared in the premiere of Wendy Wasserstein’s Old Money at Lincoln Center and Where Do We Live at Vineyard Theatre. She has worked throughout the country at regional theatres such as the Williamstown Theatre Festival, South Coast Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse, and The Globe Theatres, in plays such as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Proof,” “Our Town,” “The Country,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “The School For Wives,” and “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

    We are so excited to have Emily Bergl in our cast for THE DIVINE SISTER because our personal history with her is quite extensive as well. She has had roles in our recordings of OUR LADY OF 121st STREET, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE ROSE TATTOO, BECKY SHAW, THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK, AWAKE AND SING!, and I’D RATHER EAT PANTS. 

    MAXWELL CAULFIELD: Brother Venerius

    Maxwell Caulfield was born in Derbyshire, UK and has more than 70 film, stage, and television credits. Caulfield made his stage debut Off Broadway in “Class Enemy” for which he received a Theatre World Award. His screen debut came in Paramount Pictures sequel to “Grease”

    Caulfield was cast opposite Juliet Mills, his wife of these many years, in the title role of “The Elephant Man”. 

    He has appeared on Broadway in “An Inspector Calls” and “Chicago” and appeared regionally in “A Little Night Music” and “Never the Sinner” among others. Caulfield was part of a national tour of “Sleuth” starring opposite Stacy Keach.  At MTC  ”Our Leading Lady” Charles Busch’s tragicomic account of the hapless acting troupe before Lincoln at Ford’s Theater and more recently “Cactus Flower” at the Westside Theatre. Notable New York productions include “Salonika” at The Public with Jessica Tandy and “Paradise Lost” with Geraldine Page and Juliet Mills and two turns playing homicidal characters in “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and “Tryst”. 

    In 2007, Caulfielf performed in OUR LEADING LADY, a Charles Busch play, and made his West End stage debut in the London production of CHICAGO.

    Locally in addition to numerous smaller venues around town he has played leading roles at the Geffen, Ahmanson, as well as the Mark Taper Forum and last summer portrayed Menelaos at the Getty Villa in “Helen”. 

    Caulfield’s television credits include “Gettysburg,” “The Colbys,” “Til We Meet Again” “NCIS” and “Modern Family.” “The Real Blonde”, “Empire Records” and “The Boys Next Door” are but a few of his multiple film credits.

    Caulfield has also narrated several Audiobooks, such as Anonymous Rex, Clarke, Mimus, Spud, and The Lion of Cormarre and Other Stories: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.

    LA Theatre Works has worked with Maxwell Caulfield in the past on our production of PHOTOGRAPH 51.

    JULIET MILLS: Mrs. Levinson

    Juliet Mills was born in London England and began her career as a child actress. At the age of 17, Mills received a Tony nomination for her work in Peter Shaffer’s play FIVE FINGER EXERCISE.

    She went on to work in film and television, landing the leading role in the TV sitcom Nanny and the Professor, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Mills won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special” for her performance in the TV miniseries QB VII and was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for her long-standing role in the daytime drama series Passions.

    In London she appeared in many West End productions including “She Stoops To Conquer” with Tom Courtenay and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for The Royal Shakespeare Company. She has made several British films including “Nurse on Wheels”, “Oh What A Lovely War” and “Carry On Jack.

    Her American screen debut was in “The Rare Breed” with James Stewart and Maureen O Hara. And she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance opposite Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s film “Avanti.”

    In 1980, she returned to the stage, starring in THE ELEPHANT MAN with Maxwell Caulfield, who she later married.

    Juliet Mills has worked with us before in Moliere’s  THE SCHOOL FOR HUSBANDS and we’re ecstatic to have her recording with us again this year.

    CARL ANDRESS: Director

    Carl Andress, the director of our production of THE DIVINE SISTER, has a lengthy credit list that is closely tied to Charles Busch. The two have worked together many times over the years on various productions. In 1997, Andress and Busch directed the Off-Broadway production of QUEEN AMARANTHA. Andress later directed the Off-Broadway productions of Busch’s SHANGHAI MOON in 2003, DIE MOMMIE DIE! in 2007, and THE DIVINE SISTER in 2010. In 2005 Andress directed the Broadway concert version of A WONDERFUL LIFE at the Shubert Theatre for the benefit of the Actors’ Fund of America. The following year, Andress directed the Off-Off Broadway production of J.A.P. CHRONICLES and co-wrote the drama film A VERY SERIOUS PERSON with Busch. Andress’ directing credits also include the Off-Broadway production of THE THIRD STORY in 2009.

     

     

     

  10. Notes on THE DIVINE SISTER by Charles Busch

    Every eight years or so I feel a great need to get back to my beginnings and just put on a show. I mean that in the simplest way: putting on a show with no future agenda or some mistaken notion of greater respectability. I have always loved doing a play on a shoestring budget with a group of friends. Don’t get me wrong. I also love having a healthy budget and seeing my name on a Broadway marquee. Every time I pass by the Barrymore Theatre, I wish The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife was still up there. However, I get a real kick out of figuring out ways to get something very special on the stage with the least amount of cash and pretension.

     

    I was born Jewish, but without any kind of religious training at all. Still, I grew up loving movies such as The Song of BernadetteThe Trouble with Angels and Come to the Stable.  Hollywood religiosity is fascinating because the studios didn’t really have a vocabulary for spirituality. They tried very hard to be reverent, but at the same time resort to their tried and true formulas, which is where it can get very campy. Julie Halston, who’s been my muse and collaborator for so many years, has always shared this love with me, so it seemed inevitable that someday we’d do a play where we’d play loveable and very glamorous nuns.

     

    The Divine Sister takes place in Pittsburgh in 1966 and is a map of Hollywood religious movies from the ‘40s through today; from The Bells of St. Marys to The DaVinci Code. When I finished the play, I showed it to Carl Andress, who has directed many of my plays for the last decade, and he wanted to do it right away. Carl is the type of fellow who takes on any kind of problem and won’t quit till he figures it out.  I spend most of my time stretched out on my sofa. I get lots of ideas, maybe two a day, and I have the discipline to write ‘em and finish ‘em, but other people have always taken the initiative and brought them to the stage. I’m kind of the blast of wind under everybody else’s wings and it works out just fine. We did the play at Theater for the New City on the lower East Side in their small 70 seat Cino Theatre. It was a perfect experience—working with people I adore and experiencing a true joy in performing and entertaining the most enthusiastic of audiences. Daryl Roth, a fantastic lady, with a great commitment to keeping Off-Broadway alive, and who’s produced just about everything I’ve done for the past decade, immediately decided to bring the show back in the fall for a commercial run. The show received excellent reviews and ran at the Soho Playhouse for nearly a year.

     

    It’s always fun walking the tightrope between sincerity and style. There are so many different types of theatrical parody, and my little stretch of territory is the genre parody that is so close to its source that it can also be enjoyed as an example of the genre. That sounds  rawther grand, but I think you get my gist. When you do comedy, especially one with religious subject matter, there’s bound to be some in the audience who think you’ve gone too far.  The play gets pretty bawdy, very bawdy at times, and I have received a ticked off letter or two, but really I just have so much affection for these films and the mad innocence Hollywood had in telling these stories. Come to think of it, mad innocence is a good way of describing our joy in doing The Divine Sister. Or perhaps Mad Innocence is a good title for my next play!

     

    -Charles