It certainly feels like 2016 has been a never ending parade of losses from Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael, Florence Henderson and so many more. Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, now join that list as well. We were all reeling from Carrie’s death at age 60 on December 27, a day after she suffered a heart attack, when we learned that her mother died after suffering a stroke. It was a stunning turn of events, taking two stars, two Hollywood icons, a mother and a daughter, a day apart.
Debbie, 84, was known for her breakout performance as an ingenue in Singin’ in the Rain, going toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Her marriage to singing star Eddie Fisher, Carrie’s dad, came to an end after his affair with Elizabeth Taylor. He would marry Taylor who would then leave him for Richard Burton.
While Carrie will forever be celebrated for her iconic role as Princess Leia, Fisher’s career was longer and far more diverse than Star Wars. She made her film debut in Shampoo, starring opposite Warren Beatty. She went on to make many more films, including The Man With One Red Shoe, When Harry Met Sally, and the far underrated Soapdish alongside Sally Fields, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Shue, and Robert Downey, Jr. Her greatest talents, though, were put to good use as a writer. Fisher was known as being one of Hollywood’s best “script doctors,” sought after to fix troubled screenplays. She used to say her job was to make the girls smarter, but that the male lead actors were always asking her not to make the women funnier. She didn’t always comply. Fisher’s doctored screenplays included such successful films as Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, Outbreak, and The Wedding Singer. She also worked on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with her old colleague George Lucas.
Carrie Fisher at the Book Signing for “The Princess Diarist” at Barnes and Noble on November 28, 2016 in Los Angeles.
Her debut novel was the semi-autobiographical Postcards From the Edge, which she later wrote the screenplay for as well. (The movie version stars Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, and Dennis Quaid. Don’t miss it!) She would write four additional novels, and they were all to some extent based on her own life. Wishful Drinking was published as a memoir following her one-woman play which she performed on Broadway. It in that work that she would pre-write her famous obituary: “No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by own bra.” Her last book, The Princess Diarist, was published on November 22, and she was busy promoting it, often with her loyal dog, Gary, at her side.
Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder and in the past had been addicted to cocaine and prescription drugs. She spoke honestly and bravely about all these issues, becoming an advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness and the dangers of self-medication. Because of this Harvard University awarded Fisher its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.
Go in peace Carrie and Debbie. Go in moonlight, dancing.
Photos from Bigstock. Top photo: Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds at at the “Debbie Reynolds: The Auction Finale” VIP Reception at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio on May 14, 2014 in North Hollywood, CA.
Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, first premiered on Broadway in 1939, followed by a film in 1941. Tallulah Bankhead played the Hubbard family matriarch, Regina, on stage, with Bette Davis assuming that role on the big screen. The play has been revived on Broadway three times, with Anne Bancroft (1967), Elizabeth Taylor (1981), and Stockard Channing (1997) playing Regina. The Little Foxes will run from September 23 through October 30 at Arena Stage with Marg Helgenberger as Regina.
Since it’s been nearly ten years since the last Broadway revival, why now? “I think what this play has to say about women – powerful women – it’s incredibly timely, especially considering the election cycle that we are in,” said Megan Graves who plays Regina’s daughter, Alexandra, known as Zan. “Certainly, perspectives on women in 1900 [the time period of the play] are different, but in many ways, unfortunately, they are not. I think it’s surprisingly relevant.”
The Little Foxes centers on the very Southern Hubbard family: Regina; her husband, Horace; her two brothers, Benjamin and Oscar; Oscar’s wife, Birdie; and Zan. Hellman apparently based the characters on relatives from her mother’s family. In the early 20th century, only sons were considered legal heirs. Regina wants financial freedom and she will stop at nothing to obtain that independence. “The stakes in this play are very high, and the lengths that the characters will go to achieve their goals are a little scary,” said Megan. “I, for one, see that in D.C. politics, and so these characters, particularly Regina, but also her two brothers, Oscar and Ben, are very recognizable at any time in Washington. There’s a lot of humanity underneath this grasping for power, but at a certain point the emotional depth becomes subverted.”
Zan becomes the moral core of the play. “Alexandra is 17 and she’s trying to find who she is in the maelstrom of family dysfunction,” Megan said. “She becomes caught between her mother and her father who have opposing ideas about what should happen with the family business and to the family itself. And in the end she makes a choice for her own future that also means rejecting a lot of who she has been up to that point.”
Megan said that she read Hellman’s The Children’s Hour in college, but wasn’t as familiar with The Little Foxes. “I didn’t realize until I auditioned how autobiographical [the play] was,” she said. “We have a great dramaturgical team helping us and the information they are giving us is so incredibly informative. I was able to read interviews that Lillian Hellman gave about the play, what she intended, and what audiences take from the play and how those two things aren’t always in synch. I found that fascinating.”
The mother-daughter relationship is an important theme in the play. “Alexandra really craves her mother’s affection and approval,” Megan said. “The tricky thing is that she also has a very strong sense of right and wrong and at a certain point trying to please her mother and trying to do what’s right aren’t one and the same any more. So there’s a huge conflict for her when she has to choose between what she sees as doing the right thing and doing what her mother asks. That’s what really starts the journey towards growing up.”
Megan was born in Mesa, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. Homeschooled through high school, she received her BFA from the Shenandoah Conservatory, in Winchester, Virginia. After enjoying Shakespeare in high school, Megan thought she would become a writer. That all changed in college when she began doing local theater in northern Virginia.
She has become a familiar presence for theatergoers in the D.C. area, having appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Folger Theatre, Passion Play and Clementine in the Lower 9 at Forum Theatre, and several productions at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, including The BFG, winning a Helen Hayes Award.
Does she have a favorite? “That’s tough,” she said. “I had a great time doing Midsummer NIght’s Dream at Folger this spring. That was just a lovely group of people and a really joyful interpretation of the play that was just so refreshing and wonderful to do every night. I have to say I have a very warm place in my heart for Passion Play which I did at Forum Theater last year. That was probably the production that has changed how I look at theater.”
Megan said she feels lucky to be part of the cast for Arena’s production. “It’s like a master class in the rehearsals every day,” she said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m in the scene; I can’t just watch. It’s so incredible.”
She feels very fortunate to be working with Helgenberger (above), who won an Emmy Award for playing K.C. Koloski in China Beach, which ran on ABC from 1988 to 1991, and is most identified with her long-running role as Catherine Willows on CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Helgenberger’s film credits include Erin Brockovich.
Helgenberger, Maegan said, “is lovely; she’s so giving and kind. We’ve had some good conversations about what the relationship is like [between Regina and Zan] and she’s game to try things. I was amazed at how transformative she is. She’s Regina. She has really taken this role on. The only thing I think about when I watch her work is how thoroughly she has stepped into this piece.”
Stepping into the characters also involves stepping into the dresses that women wore during the play’s time period. “There’s something about being laced into a corset that immediately transports you to the time,” she said. “I can’t slouch anymore; that 20-something slouching girl is gone and I have this incredible posture. It informs the character so much and layer on top of that the beautiful clothes that our designer [Jess Goldstein], unveils, it really helps to make the character come to life. l can’t wait to get all the costumes and get on stage and work with all of that.”
Megan hopes that the play’s themes will resonate with audiences, particularly through her character, Zan. “This play is really about power – who has it, who is trying to get it – manifested through wealth,” she said. “Those who decide in the end to reject that, is a commentary on the choices that people make. In the play there’s a statement about family versus power and choosing one or the other. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of neutral ground at least in this play as far as maintaining that control and also maintaining that family bond. For some it’s simple and for others like Zan, it’s very complicated.”
The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
1101 Sixth Street SW
Marg Helgenberger Photo © Tony Powell