by Steve Peterson
FRAWLEY BECKER is a published book and short story author and a published and three-time prize-winning playwright. A man of many talents, he was a State Department Entertainment Director for military bases outside Paris during the Cold War, founded the first African-American theatre company within the U.S. military in 1959, formed Paris Playhouse in 1963 and was the first to professionally produce Edward Albee plays in France. For the next ten years he worked as a bilingual dialogue coach in films while living in Paris, coaching Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Rex Harrison, Omar Sharif, Jacqueline Bisset, Ann-Margret, Samantha Eggar, Robert Ryan, Gene Wilder and all the Oompa-Loompas of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Back in the U.S., Becker worked as a location manager for features including Jerry Maguire, Steel Magnolias, and the original Footloose, and TV movies for Oprah Winfrey Presents; and was a production executive at The Disney Studios. His award-winning, searing drama “Tiger by the Tail” has its west coast premiere March 6 through April 19 at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood, CA. For more information about the play please visit http://www.thegrouprep.com
How did you first get interested in the theatre and working in the theatre?
I grew up in Philadelphia which, like Boston, was a try-out city for plays before they went to Broadway. I saw everything that opened, started when I was 17. I saw James Dean in the only two plays he did before he went to live television in New York and on to Hollywood. After college and the army I hooked up with a local theatre company and found I loved the work and the atmosphere.
You were hired by the State Dept. as an Entertainment Director for American military bases outside of Paris during the Cold War. How did that job come about?
Shortly after I arrived in Paris I landed a job as an American Express bank teller on a military base outside Paris. It was the top military base over all the others throughout Europe. I soon formed a theatre company and started directing plays after hours. One of the plays was Clare Luce’s The Women with 25 women in the cast, some military, some dependent wives. When the play closed, two generals phoned Washington and said I should be doing this work full time and be paid American dollars instead of French francs.
You founded the first African-American theatre company within the U.S. military in 1959. What drove you to do that and how was the work of the theatre company received by the military administration and the military audience members, at a time when the United States was till embroiled in racial conflict with the African-Americans?
I grew up in a liberal family. When I was 19, I attended a political rally for Henry Wallace who was running for president in 1948 on a third party ticket. Paul Robeson sang and going home the trolley cars were filled with black and white people all singing together. Years later when I was working on the military base outside Paris, I noticed that only white people auditioned for plays but that both white and black people auditioned for the musical shows. So I decided to form an African-American (Negro back then) theatre company. The first play was Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in Elizabethan costumes, complete with tights and ruffs and capes. In the audience on opening night, you could hear jaws dropping down to the floor.
In 1963, while living in Paris, you formed the Paris Playhouse, and were the first to professionally produce plays by Edward Albee in France. Why the plays of Edward Albee?
Albee received the Tony for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1963 and was the hottest American playwright around. I met with him in New York and told him about my forming Paris Playhouse and wanting to produce two of his one-acts, Zoo Story and The Death of Bessie Smith in English. Though the theatre contained 400 seats, Albee asked for only a small royalty payment, as if the theatre were a 99-seater Off-Broadway, thus contributing to the Franco- American cultural affair. Princess Grace of Monaco and the British ambassador to France attended the gala opening.
Tell us a bit about the play.
In 1999 Frank Valdes, a prisoner in a Florida State prison, was brutally beaten to death by guards. The prison tried to cover it up and even a federal investigation was later buried. In such an atmosphere of violence, corruption, and murder, I wondered what it would be like to play a love story against it, and not just any love story but one involving two men, one on the outside and one on the inside. Just as there is violence in many forms, so there is love in many forms and the play takes you through some of them. Also, love is always worth writing about.
"Tiger by the Tail” garnered Best Play in the 2005 Firehouse Theatre Project’s Festival of New American Plays and soon after, a production in New York City. Have there been any major revisions to the play since you first fashioned it, as the world has changed?
The play has barely changed in form or content because it was already ahead of its time in 2005. A love relationship between two men today is much more acceptable than it was ten years ago. Brokeback Mountain was released at the end of 2005, just after I’d received the award in Richmond, and just prior to the play’s mounting in New York. That film was a game-changer. The New York production of the play attracted a completely heterogeneous group of people. Older straight couples were walking out at the end with handkerchiefs to their noses. It’s universal -- everyone is touched by a good love story.
"Tiger by the Tail" plays March 6 - April 19/Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00PM/Sunday Matinees at 2:00PM/Talk-back Sundays after shows March 15th & April 5 th/Mature Material – Nudity – Strong Language/Admission: $25/Seniors/Students: $20/Groups 10+: $15
Buy Tickets/Info: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990