How it’s New York: Love Therapy, a play by Wendy Beckett, opened at the DR2 Theatre in NYC on April 29 and runs through Saturday, May 25..
How it’s Irish: Alison Fraser, whose family roots are firmly planted in Ireland, plays Madge, an Irish waitress in the play.
As a reviewer, I watch plays for future audiences. It’s my job to meet the characters as developed by the playwright, and review the production. But sometimes, if I’m very lucky, I get to meet a living human being and find out who s/he is.
On Saturday night, I got very lucky indeed: I interviewed Alison Fraser on the set of a new play by Wendy Beckett: Love Therapy. Fraser plays a down-on-her-luck, big-hearted Irish waitress – a possible stereotype that, with Fraser’s deft handling, was anything but.
Fraser’s character of “Madge” seemed to have been written for her. A singer and actress of amazing depth and range, as recognized by the Tony committee for nominating Fraser twice for theater’s highest honor, her previous roles have run the gamut from Martha in the adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, to Arsinoë in David Ives’ The School for Lies, to creating the role of The Matron in Tennessee Williams’ last play In Masks Outrageous and Austere.
Sitting down with this vibrant, gracious actor, I realized a number of things instantly: she always had benign command of a conversation, she possessed both an enormous intelligence and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she has tremendous passion and razor-sharp focus – and she had more energy than all the lights on Broadway! And the most authentic accents rolled effortlessly from her tongue.
During the course of our conversation, I found out that she also teaches a musical theater class at Fordham University – that bastion of the Jesuit-powered intelligence and learning – and was very excited about a cd coming out of her performance in Tennessee Williams’ Songbird.
“Madge was the real shrink in the room.”
But then we got down to discussing her current role. Of Madge, Fraser said that she was “the real shrink in the room” because of her intelligence mixed with empathy and pragmatism. That those virtues were honed by Madge’s immigration to the US during the ’70s, a tough time exemplified by drugs in the parks and Madge’s own need to survive economically. In fact, Fraser thought that Madge would eventually lose her waitress job because there were always so few people in the coffee shop – but that she’d land on her feet because she was an Irish survivor.
Fraser allowed that her own philosophy about therapy paralleled Madge’s: that our private lives are private, and our family, friends, and community are usually the only support we need. But then she very generously tempered her statement by revealing an example from her own life, when therapy indeed came as a true comfort to her late husband, Benjamin Rush “Rusty” Mcgee, an accomplished comedian, actor, humanitarian, and composer/lyricist for theatre, television, film and commercials who died from colon cancer.
And Fraser’s take on love?
“Love is what you do.”
We love the people who are regularly in our lives, and glom onto the positive people. This no-frills, down-to-earth view is not only in synch with what Madge would probably say, but dovetails nicely with the family, friends, and community who are there for support.
Indeed, Fraser (whose name, as she pointed out, is French for “strawberry” – part of France having been Celtic, too, of course) was the most
passionate about all things Irish. She is very proud of her family’s Irish heritage (Antrim, Cork and Westmeath) and wrote a thesis, No Irish Need Apply, exploring her distant relation to Irish actor-manager Lawrence Barrett. We spoke of many chapters in Irish history, from the inhumane treatment they experienced at the hands of the British through their resiliency in the face of famine. When I asked her what she’d like people to know about the Irish, however, she spoke about the anti-Irish bias in America during their great immigration, and how the Irish prevailed and thrived despite it because of their passion and determination to survive.
When I asked if she’d ever consider working in Ireland, she didn’t waste a moment but exclaimed that she’d kill to go there for a show. And it sounds as though she might get her wish: she has been in the cast of Tennessee Williams’ Songbird, and there are plans to bring the production to St. Petersburg, Russia – so why not Ireland, Scotland, and England. And I’ve no doubt that it will happen. The luck of the Irish will prevail for Alison Fraser: she’ll be sure it does!
The playing schedule for LOVE THERAPY is as follows: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM, with matinees on Saturday at 2PM and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are $45 and are available by visiting telecharge.com or calling (212) 239-6200