Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

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Monday, October 18, 2010

You're Never Too Old to Be Read To (or end sentences with prepositions)

This morning, I got a call from Robert Olen Butler. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his collection of Vietnam short stories, Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. When he said, "This is Robert Olen Butler," I almost dropped my martini.

The call wasn't out of the blue. I produce an event, Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE (or VALL for short), and I had asked permission to feature his short story, "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrott." I sent the contract no less than 3 times, and he never sent it back. I had an email saying he granted permission, so I was covered, but it was still pretty cheeky to proceed without his written permission.

He called to ask if I still needed him to send the contract. I admitted I didn't and he said good. Then we hung up. Ta da! My brush with literary fame.

The event, co-produced by James River Writers and Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen (in support of the READ Center), went very well. VALL features Virginia actors reading short stories by Virginia writers, accompanied by Virginia Musicians. I founded the event in 2004, so this was the 7th incarnation. My guest host was Pat Carroll, and she rocked the house with her interpretation of The Happy Memories Club” by Lee Smith. The story is about an elderly woman who is unpopular with her writing group because the memories she writes about aren't happy enough.

Most people know Pat for voicing Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid. She first endeared herself to Richmond audiences in "Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein" at Barksdale Theatre Hanover Tavern, then took two turns playing Mother Superior in the wacky musical, Nunsense.  I was very fortunate to co-star with Pat when Theatre IV produced “Grace and Glorie.” I learned more from being on stage with Pat Carroll than any amount of schooling could have taught me. I watched her get a huge laugh just by raising one eyebrow. And then she got another huge laugh just by putting it back down again. When Tim Kaine was mayor, he presented Pat with a bronze seal of the city, which made her an honorary citizen, and commemorated her many contributions to the art and cultural life of Richmond.

The evening began with Tony Foley reading Olen Butler's story, "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot." The title says it all. Tony was spot on with his parrot-like movements and vocalizations. His comic timing was impeccable. He was so good Pat asked him to take another bow.

Jill Bari Steinberg read "Jonas" by Belle Boggs, about a middle aged woman coming to terms with her husband's decision to get a sex-change operation. The story itself is pitch perfect, but Jill Bari's performance was sensitive and skillfully nuanced.

Pat Carroll read last—for thirty-three glorious minutes her audience was taken by a consummate veteran performer for a ride they will not soon forget.

Accompanying all the performances was Kelly Kennedy on piano, Andy Cleveland on violin, and Rachael Blake on flute.

During the reception afterward, Pat signed CDs of The Best of Virginia Arts & Letters LIVE, which were available for purchase. 

Pat is looking for a play that she and her daughter, actor Tara Karsian could do together. "Not Night Mother!" she quickly added. She also ruled out "Lettuce and Lovage." I suggested "Last Lists of My Mad Mother," but it's only 60 minutes long.  If you have any suggestions, leave me a comment and I'll be sure to pass them along.

If you were at VALL on Friday night, thanks for coming out. If you weren't I hope you'll attend next year. You're never to old to be read to, especially if by talented actors reading richly rewarded stories by Virginia writers,  accompanied by great musicians. 


  1. Pat Carroll, Irene! I was flipping through your blog so that I could read it chronologically, from the bottom up, and saw Pat Carroll go by and thought, "That can't have been Pat Carroll's photo I just saw. Must be a friend of Irene's who looks like Pat Carroll."

    Congratulations on your playwrighting award. Is your next play called "Mice in the Drinks Cupboard"?


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