Two Women’s Stories from United Solo

Hold On Tight – A Love Story

“They will wait for you/On the other side/On a distant bridge…” (“I Will Wait With You”) Popular cabaret artist (and beauty brand representative) Meg Flather became an AIDS volunteer at St. Vincent’s Hospital after seeing so many of her friends die. “You’re not just here for a client,” she was told. “Down the line, someone in your family will need caregiving.” It was hard to imagine at the time. Ten years later, Meg found herself taking her father to chemotherapy, helping him stretch, keeping him hydrated. She assumed the mantle.  “I lived a lifetime in nine months.” Intimacy compressed. “Everywhere I see you there…” (“I’ll See You”) she sings. He got to hear his song.

The artist’s midwife mother, Becky, packed up all traces of cancer care and volunteered for more hospital shifts. On her days off, she and Meg would see a movie or go to theater. “Meggie,” she eventually said, “you need to find me a boyfriend.” A “gentleman caller” appeared on Match.com. Neither the family nor, it seems, Becky knew anything about the man making inroads to her mom’s life, now pocketing a key to the apartment. A private investigator was hired. Results were not reassuring.

Becky and Meg

As if that weren’t sufficiently worrisome, Meg’s sister Julie began to see signs that Becky’s mind was- becoming fuzzy. The diagnosis: early stage frontal lobe dementia with vascular component. Once again Meg stepped up. Becky would only agree to move into her daughter’s building if she swore NO NURSING HOME. “In a role reversal with no rehearsal…” (“On the Second Floor”) Meg sings. The gentleman caller began to stay five nights a week. Becky gave him money. Meg hired a caregiver, told the caller the situation, and stressed he could only visit. They never saw the man again.

It was cinematic. “If any of you know Tina Fey, I think she should play me,” Meg quips. This piece about devotion, intimacy, love, and sacrifice (though I’m sure Meg would never use the word), is filled with humor. Eloquently expressed, sympathetically acted and beautifully sung (original songs), it’s peppered with realistic moments of absurdity and laughter.

Enter Bonnie, caregiver from Heaven, head of a diverse team that treated Becky as if she were their own. (Dealing with a series of caregivers for my own mother – without dementia, but a centenarian – I’m astonished at their luck and/or celestial aid.)  “Wearing wings and halos on the subway/My Heaven’s there…” (“My Heaven”) Meg sings.

Photos by Jeff Harnar

Bonnie was attentive, kind, caring, and wily. She “tricked” Becky into making changes in the best possible way. (There are lessons here.) Meg acts out scenes between them making us feel like we’re there. “I wasn’t sad because she wasn’t sad…” The performer shares her own adjustments and realizations through Becky’s illness and peaceful death – at which her daughter was gratefully present. No nursing home, no drama. “Hold On Tight to the Moment,” she sings/advises. “It never ends, we never end…just have to work a little harder to find each other. “You Feel Just Like Sunday,” (“On a Sunday”) she sings.

This is an utterly lovely piece to which its creators have done justice.

Tracy Stark provides not only back-up vocal and piano, but rich arrangements that buoy Meg’s sincere, poetic lyrics.

Director Lennie Watts watches over a production of utter grace, finesse and truth.

Hold On Tight- a Love Story
Written and performed by Meg Flather
There’s a book of Hold on Tight on Amazon Directed by Lennie Watts
MD/piano – Tracy Stark

Opening Photo by Lennie Watts

The worthy piece will be repeated at The Theater Latea 107 Suffolk St. October 27, 29, and 30

https://newyorktheaterfestival.com/

Photo courtesy of Gontran Durocher

La Divina-The Last Interview with Maria Callas

“I am a woman and a serious artist. I am Maria Callas and this is my story.” Ostensibly an interview, with a Mr. Wallace, though rarely indicating any exchange, Shelley Cooper’s narrative tells us little we don’t know from surface newspaper reading.  (In fact, Mike Wallace interviewed Callas for 60 Minutes, Paris 1973. The diva is evasive but fascinating. YouTube). It’s unclear whether any of the monologue includes quotes by the diva, but despite a wealth of articles, tape and film, the only personality traits that emerge are evasiveness and perfectionism, the latter stated by her. Lack of detail makes the monologue far less interesting than it might be.

We learn a smidgen about Callas’ childhood and repeatedly about work ethic with no sign of entitlement or pride, characteristics for which she was famous. References to an inadequate husband and an apparently tempestuous (by all reports) affair with Aristotle Onassis are shared without flare or passion. (She does acknowledge, without objection, being a trophy mistress and notes his practice of humiliating her.) Like Katharine Hepburn, Callas was submissive in romance, fiercely independent outside.

Photo by Maryam Thompson

Wallace doesn’t here ask about tantrums, walk-outs, firing, affairs, and only once about Jackie Kennedy. Neither accurate nor likely. Cooper bookends her piece with “Only when I sing do I feel loved”, yet nothing she says indicates any insecurity. The show needs shaping and better direction.

On the plus side, the performer is a helluva vocalist. We hear Libiamo from Verdi’s La Traviata; Habanera: Carmen, Georges Bizet; Una Voce Poco Fa: Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia; Vissi d’Arte: Puccini’s Tosca…I was surprised to learn she’s not a member of an opera company.

Shelley Cooper is currently the Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.

La Divina-The Last Interview with Maria Callas
Written and performed by Shelley Cooper
Directed by Mariangella
Accompaniment by Saul Nache

United Solo Festival
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About Alix Cohen (1395 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.