QP brings Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady’ home

04May16

Directed by Nancy Curran Willis

my_old_lady3

By MARK SARDELLA

Israel Horovitz’s play “My Old Lady” is set in Paris but in Quannapowitt Players upcoming production there are Wakefield connections galore.

Most obvious is the fact that Horovitz is a Wakefield native who grew up on Elm Street and graduated from Wakefield High School in 1956.

On top of that, the director of the production, Nancy Curran Willis, is also a Wakefield native and WHS grad. (Her son, Lt. Sean Curran is a Wakefield firefighter.)

And while Quannapowitt Players was founded almost 80 years ago by a group of theater buffs from Wakefield and Reading, and its theater is located in Reading, its roots are arguably more in Wakefield. QP took its name from a lake in Wakefield and its earliest performances were in Wakefield. In fact, as a youth, Israel Horovitz acted in a QP play that was performed in the basement of Wakefield’s First Baptist Church under the direction of Gladys Sturtevant – Nancy Curran Wills’ mother and one of QP’s founders.

Willis says that the idea of producing “My Old Lady” at QP came from Horovitz.

“Israel started working on a rewrite of “My Old Lady” after he had done the screenplay for the movie starring Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline,” Willis said. “He got in touch with me and said, ‘I’ve got a rewrite of My Old Lady coming out. I can send the manuscript and I’m wondering if you would like to bring it to Quannapowitt Players.’”

Horovitz and Willis have known each other since the 1990s, when she was managing director at Gloucester Stage, the professional theater company that Horovitz founded.

“I was obviously thrilled that he asked me and even more thrilled that QP wanted to do it,” Willis said. “I think we are the first nonprofessional production of the revised version.”

Willis says that she had seen the movie but had not seen the original play.

“I really liked the movie a lot,” she says. “And I liked the play a lot when I got that.”

The story involves a down and out American man, Mathias, who inherits a Paris apartment from his estranged father. He is sure this means that his luck has changed and he can sell the elegant apartment for a handsome price and solve his own financial problems. However, when he travels to Paris to sell the apartment, he finds an old woman, Mathilde, living there. And she has no plans to move.

It turns out that the apartment is a “viager” — an ancient French system for buying and selling apartments and taking care of elders whereby the buyer does not get possession of the apartment until the current occupant dies. On top of that, under the arrangement Mathias must continue paying Mathilde the life annuity of €2400 a month that his father was paying her.

“It’s a great premise for a play,” Wills says. “It’s also a fascinating study of the differences in generations and different attitudes about French culture and people.”

Curran describes the play as a comedy/drama that starts out as more of a comedy.

“It has so much of Israel’s personality and humor,” Willis says. “I’ve always loved his work – way back to Line and the Wakefield Plays.

She says that the actors she has cast are well-suited to this type of play. David Kimmelman plays Mathias. Liz Robbins is Mathilde and Kim Anton Myatt plays Mathilde’s adult daughter, Chloe.

Kimmelman describes Mathias as a “lost soul” who grew up in his parents’ bad marriage and blames all his troubles on his father, with whom he never had much of a relationship.

Kimmelman says he’s known Willis for a long time but this is the first time he’s worked with her.

“It’s been a real treat,” he says. He said that as a director Wills comes to a play with a clear vision of what she wants, right down to details of the set.

“That’s important for an actor and it’s one of the benefits of working with a director like Nancy,” Kimmelman says. “It has also been a very collaborative effort between us, which is something I enjoy.”

curran-willisWillis has directed both professional and community theater and has won numerous awards. Professionally, she received the Elliot Norton Award (Boston’s equivalent of the Tony) for Outstanding Director in 2008 for Boston Theater Works’ production of Angels in America. She also directed BTW’s Elliot Norton Award-winning production of The Laramie Project. She consistently brings that professional touch to her community theater work.

Willis has done about 15 plays at QP over the years. The last show that she directed at QP was The Diary of Anne Frank four years ago. Some of her recent efforts at other venues have been Bonnie and Clyde and Angels in America at the Umbrella in Concord.

“I love the fact that “My Old Lady” is a small show,” she says. “I’ve been doing big, huge extravaganzas with lots of high tech. This is elegant and fun storytelling and character development.”

Speaking from New York City, Israel Horovitz said he is happy that Willis is directing his play.

horovitz5“I’m delighted that Nancy’s bringing me and my play home to Wakefield and to the Quannapowitt Players,” Horovitz says. “Her mum directed me in a QP play when I was 12 years old. I can’t remember much about the play beyond the fact that it was performed in the basement of the Baptist Church and that I had to play a scene in my underpants. I worked with Nancy at Gloucester Stage back in the late 20th century and definitely list her among my friends.”

And Willis is happy to be directing a play by a fellow Wakefieldian.

“I’m thrilled,” Willis says, “that after not being at QP for four years, what brought me back was a play by a local playwright.”

Performances of My Old Lady will be on May 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 20 and 21 at Quannapowitt Playhouse, 55 Hopkins St., Reading Mass. Friday & Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $19 or $18 for Students and Seniors. Purchase tickets online or call QP Box Office 781-942-2212.

[This story originally appeared in the May 2, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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