Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
2017 is the ninth year that we have featured outstanding women on our website. We continue to be excited about telling the stories of women who are making a difference in so many disciplines. Once again, the women we spotlight are different ages, come from various areas of the country, and represent many different ethnic groups. While some work in traditional businesses, others have followed a dream and launched their own company. We are inspired by all of them and feel honored to tell their stories.
Click on a name in the tags that follow to be able to read an individual story.
In a few short days, we begin a new year, a new chance to spotlight even more women who inspire us all. Do you know someone who should be on our radar? Let us know!
Meagen Fay was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois, studied classical theatre abroad, and served her apprenticeship in the theatre in Dublin, Ireland. When Meagen returned to the US in the late 1970s, she became a part of Chicago’s burgeoning ‘Off Loop’ Theatre scene. There she won several Joseph Jefferson Awards for her work, as well as being named ‘Best New Actress’ by The Chicago Sun Times for her performance in Hide and Seek at the Body Politic Theatre.
Meagen was invited into the resident company of The Second City by famed producer Bernard Sahlins and was again awarded a Joseph Jefferson Award for her work in the review entitled, Orwell That Ends Well which she also performed in New York at The Village Gate Theatre. In New York, Meagen went on to star with F. Murray Abraham and Peter MacNicol in The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park, as well as appearing in Broadway and Off-Broadway Productions.
She began her television career in earnest as a regular on Carol & Company (1990) starring Carol Burnett, with later recurring roles on several shows including Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle, and Two and a Half Men. More recent work in television includes roles in Shrink, Transparent,Agent Carter, and Big Bang Theory (as Bernadette’s mom).
In addition to her stage and television work, Meagan has appeared in 25 films. She recently played Mia’s (Emma Stone) mother in La La Land.
Meagen’s directorial debut of Jeffrey Sweet’s play, Kunstler, has won rave reviews. Kunstler is now at 59East 59 Theaters, and runs through March 12. This summer, play will be also presented at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires from May 18 through June 10.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Having spent my entire adult life immersed in my career as an actress, I was surprised by several – seemingly out-of-the-blue offers to direct. In the interest of expanding my understanding and experience of the theater I accepted – and had a blast. The most engaging offer I received was to direct KUNSTLER for the NY Fringe Festival in 2014. Because of my personal connection to the material I was “all in” from the moment I read the script and knew without a doubt exactly what tone and texture I would bring to the show. To be able to realize it fully now at 59E59 Theaters – with sound, and light, and set is the realization of 3-year-dream.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I have always loved acting and have been so fortunate to be a working actress in Television and film but my first, and always, love is theater. It is where I began and where I always come home to. Being able to create in it is a full experience.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
As an actress I have always noted the directors who were of the most help to me and to a production – either because of or despite their various temperaments! So my training has been experiential.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
So far people have been very encouraging!
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I guess some people are surprised by my directing – but it has not precluded my acting – so I don’t think of it as a career change.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I realized I would have an acting career when I was in NY on Broadway. Everything after achieving that seemed a natural progression. As for Directing? I’m still waiting …
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Yes, I had to overcome my innate shyness as a person to be able to direct. You cannot have strong emotions and opinions about a set, a sound, an acting choice, a light cue, a piece of wardrobe and not voice them with full-throated conviction. It’s easier to be a shy actress and lose yourself in a role than it is to be a shy director – so I had to not be shy.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Acting! Sometimes I ACT like I’m a DIRECTOR! LOL!
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am always most proud that I have guided an entire team of designers, actors, and producers, and writers into my vision of a show — And seeing the show succeed for them all — I am extremely proud of that.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
If a project comes along that calls to you – trust your instincts. Honor the knowledge and talent of your team of designers, producers, writers, and actors – but never stop pushing for perfection and unification of expression – because that’s the job.
“My function is not to represent the darlings of society, but to represent the damned.” Willliam Kunstler
William Kunstler (1919-1995) was a radically liberal lawyer with politically unpopular clients. Once a Westchester “parlor liberal,” he began by helping a local black family in a housing discrimination case, got involved with the ACLU, and found himself in Jackson, Mississippi representing 400 Freedom Riders. It was here, blatant bigotry and injustice lit a fire under the practitioner.
“In the 1960s, there were two major causes, the Vietnam War and the 1968 election.” When the Berrigan brothers protested against the former, Kunstler acted as defense. When demonstration leaders were arrested at Chicago’s Democratic Convention, Kunstler was called to the front. It was his representation (with Leonard Weinglass) of the infamous Chicago Seven that brought the advocate to national prominence. There were initially eight, but having vociferously demanded to represent himself, Bobby Seale was literally gagged and shackled in court. Kunstler, finding it “impossible to continue with a black man in chains,” saw to it The Black Panther’s trial was separate.
The Catonsville Nine, Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground Organization, Attica Prison rioters, and the American Indian Movement kept him in public view. Less favorable publicity dogged clients including, in part, the daughter of Malcom X-accused of plotting an assassination, the head of the Egyptian-based terrorist group responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and members of The Gambino crime family. The play doesn’t address these.
It’s 1995. William Kunstler (Jeff McCarthy) has been invited to speak to law students at an unnamed college. We hear protesters outside. A dummy has been hung in effigy. The guest’s ambivalent student handler, Kerry (Nambi E. Kelley), anxiously tries to get rid of it. She needn’t worry. Kunstler has a sense of stoic humor about the world’s reactions to his unswerving principles. Acknowledging awareness of objections while advising attendees to read the incendiary flyers and make up their own minds, he starts with several lawyer jokes: “What do you call a lawyer gone bad? A senator.”
Playwright Jeffrey Sweet’s portrait of Kunstler is as entertaining as it is riveting. The civil rights crusader was whip smart, passionate, caustic, and very much a showman, avowedly in the service of clients. His reputation for handling the press, shouting matches and humor in court is ably depicted by monologue that reflects these characteristics. Various cases/trials are related in the first person with illuminating details and personal observations. All are comprehensible. If you lived through these times, recognition is swift. If unfamiliar, situations are chronicled in such a way it’s difficult to imagine being unaffected.
This Kunstler rants, sings, quotes, enacts, and conscripts Kerry into playing the Chicago judge “who looked like Elmer Fudd” in excerpts of court transcript. His legal approach indicates “I don’t believe in putting process above people” might have been the defender’s motto. Kelly’s presence is unnecessary, though she offers another voice and later foil/questioning reaction.
Jeff McCarthy lopes down the aisle, white mane in permanent flight. Inhabiting Kunstler like second skin, the actor delivers tirades as credibly as ba-dump-dump jokes. He addresses the audience with focus and provocation, visibly thinks, and occasionally (purposefully) loses track swept up in recollection. McCarthy is all over the stage without a false move. We attend, laugh, and cringe.
Nambi E. Kelley does a yeoman like job showing curious passivity when listening to the controversial presentation. She fares better when playing the judge.
Director Meagen Fay gives us a living breathing man, humanity and idiosyncrasies intact. Stage business is subtle, pacing is pitch perfect.
I found the use of Original Music & Sound Design by Will Severin intrusive and distracting except for outside protestors.
Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp Opening: Kunstler’s image of Roy Cohn
Jeff McCarthy in Kunstler Written by Jeffrey Sweet Directed by Meagen Fay 59East 59 Theaters 58 East 59th Street Through March 12, 2017
February 28 – Ronald L. Kuby, Esq., former intern and informal partner in William Kunstler’s Firm.
March 2 – Elizabeth McAlister Berrigan, wife of the late Philip Berrigan. She and the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip were incarcerated for their actions of peaceful protest against the Vietnam War at Catonsville and Harrisburg.
March 7 – Sarah and Emily Kunstler, daughters of William Kunstler and co-founders of Off Center Media, a production company that produces documentaries exposing injustice in the criminal justice system.
March 9 – Vincent Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights.