SF: Don, first off, it's a great pleasure to talk to you once more. Thaaaaaaank you. What I'm most excited about is the current production is being produced in Lowell, MA where Bette Davis was born! WOW!
The genesis of the comedy was born shortly after I had co-written, directed and starred in "Divanalysis: the mechanics of camp" (with Scott Wilkerson) in which I played: Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Karen Carpenter and Judy Garland. My entire frame of work back then was campy divas from the past. One day the image of Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Judy Garland sitting around a card table playing bridge thundered into my brain along with the title "Legends and Bridge." Now, I had played Judy Garland in "Divanalysis" and assumed I would play her in this as well. I had done extensive research into her life, career and knew her inside and out. I knew nothing of Joan Crawford or Bette Davis so I went to the library to do research and found they were mortal enemies! Great Material! So, I began to write the play on a vintage 1930's Underwood typewriter. The first draft of the play took place in the 1940s when they were all still under contract at studios and playing a social game. It was very much in the vein of "If Men Played Cards as Women Do" by George S.Kaufman. Very snappy, witty and stylish. I always imagined the play to be a drag show!
As my research evolved, I set the play in 1965 after Crawford and Davis worked together on "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and after Judy was fired from her CBS show. Tragic! They were all old, washed up and down and out, but still hopeful. Still wanting the limelight, wanting fame and attention.
Around this time, through some fluke, I was in a play called "It Started With a Lie" where I played an old battle-axe and all the reviews compared me to Bette Davis and so I switched gears to play her! I learned how to BE Bette Davis!
I had formed a theatre company Off Hollywood where we did 2 scenes from the show (which is all I had written) and the other 2 roles were played by women, and we had a smashing success. I ran off to complete the play and shopped it around the local theaters in Hollywood and it got selected by The Group Repertory Theatre (directed by the great Stan Mazin) as part of their season. We added Tennessee Williams and Madison (the love interest) and bing, bang, boom a play was born!
The show was well-received, but has never been done fully by men in drag! I found out the play does just fine with women playing these legends. Many have said that the show is more than just camp, it's a show about survival. Women surviving Hollywood. I never thought of it as "deep" in anyway, but I guess it strikes a chord. The theme of the 3 legends being cooped up together might have significance with everything we've all been through with Covid. It might now resonate in a more profound way.
Don G: Do you feel that you have earnestly kept the characters' personalities in tact? When I saw it in 2002 you played Bette to great comic achievement. What made you decide to let an actress play her this time around?
SF: These characters have lives of their own. Their personalities leap out at the audience. I wrote the play after many years of research and writing. The main issue with comedy is to keep true to the subject you are writing about and not try to cram in jokes just to be "funny." Being an actor in the show helped me because I could tell when something worked or didn't work!
I'm extremely impressed with director Paul Gymziak and the entire gang at Dramatically Incorrect who are doing amazing hybrid theatre shows due to Covid. The cast delivers new elements and surprises to the text.
Paul Gymziak is the owner of DITGDC. He is an actor, singer, dancer and director. Past work includes: “Noises Off,” “Clue,” & "The Green Room.” He won the Olympic Mr. King award for dance.
PG: I think that the biggest obstacle for me was casting. DITGDC is an up and coming theater and dance company. We have gained a lot of amazing talent over the past 3 years. Legends and Bridge calls for something more than just talent, it calls for a strong team of players that have a bond that can't be broken. I honestly didn't have auditions for the roles. My fiance and I reached out to a selected few actors. We then sent them all sides from the script to read. We asked them to make sure that they take this character and turn it into the real thing. As I watched the videos, I tell you the talent was on point with everyone but there were three ladies that stood out; Val, Jen and Debbie. These ladies did their homework and have really put their full game face on throughout the entire process.
Don G: Paul, this is a comedy, but the drama seeps through consistently. Tell us any secrets in trying to keep the actors on track.
PG: Diving into characters immediately so we can really sit with them. We can play around as the characters to get the feeling. You build in time to the process to allow for so much fun. Doing this allows you to be able to really work on the drama and comedy to make sure they mesh and read well on stage. Legends and Bridge was written by a smart man. Stephen Foster really knows how to engage an audience with his amazing writing talents and is pure genius in knowing these legends so well.
Jen Knight (Bette Davis) has been involved in north central Massachusetts theater for 30 years. Her favorite roles include “Hold Me, Touch Me” in “The Producers”, John Colton Sumner in “Men On Boats” and Marina Piskolovka-Parker in “Seven.”
JK: It is a wonderful challenge. My exposure to Bette Davis previous was her legendary longevity, her acting record, the song from my young adulthood, and Johnny Carson visits late in her life. I preferred light-hearted comedies and musicals, so my heroines from her era were Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland and the like. Taking on the role has opened my eyes to her actual personality and drive. And she was a Pip! I admire her strength and drive. She was an Actress first and Star as a result.
One of the biggest challenges is not copying the playwright's interpretation of her. Stephen did such a wonderful job bringing her to life. I have to remember I am doing my own interpretation of the character from Paul's point of view. Not an imitation of him imitating her....I hope I make them all -SF, Paul and Bette- proud.
A line in Stephen's script says it perfectly: "I'd bottle myself and sell it door to door if it could help me get ahead."
I first researched online for videos, candid interviews, Pepsi commercials, her official Pepsi duties like plant openings, or an insight into the person she really was. She didn't give interviews on the popular talk shows like Bette Davis, or have at tv show like Judy Garland did. When you look at those snippets, you realize she was very thoughtful and studied with her interviews. Occasionally a hard edge to her voice, a look for a question she didn't like. I wanted to find what might be under that facade: after all we all have our public face and our private lives . I tried to imagine the stress of maintaining that image all the time..
This part has been such a challenge, since everyone has an image of who she was, to bring her essence, good, bad, and sometimes extreme .
Debbie Moylan (Judy Garland) is a long-time character actress, director of the critically acclaimed "Seven," and producer/director at City on a Hill Arts.
DM: I’ve always loved Judy Garland - I watched just about everything she ever made even when I was a young girl. In order to prepare for this role, I began to watch and listen to a vast array of her work, from when she was young to when she was much older, and even some obscure recordings of her later years. I admire her passionate love of her children, even though she struggled in so many ways to be a mom. I also admire her ability to laugh through her struggles.