Two generations of actors are uniting for a reading of a play about three generations of a family—Lee Blessing's Eleemosynary, which will be performed at Rye Country Day School's Dunn Performing Arts Center on Friday, August 27.
The reading will benefit the Cary Fuller Drama Fund, an organization founded by Cary Fuller, the school's head of drama who retired this year.
Paul Carlin, a New Rochelle resident and RCDS alumnus, will direct Eleemosynary. His sister, Sarah Carlin Beckwith, a teacher, actor and fellow RCDS alumna, will read Artie, the mother in the play. Their mother, Frances Sternhagen, will read Dorothea, the grandmother. Sternhagen is a two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway actress who has also done a wide range of film and television work. She has appeared in Julie & Julia, The Mist, Cheers, ER, The Closer and Sex and the City.
Micole Himelfarb, a 2010 RCDS graduate who will study acting at Northwestern University in the fall, will read Echo, Dorothea's granddaughter.
Though Himelfarb is not related to the rest of the cast, she does share a connection with one of them. Director Paul Carlin was a member of Cary Fuller's first Rye Country Day drama class in 1969, while Micole was a member of Fuller's last class in 2010.
Fuller has taught English and Drama at Rye Country Day since 1967, and headed the drama department in recent years. His drama fund will develop the theater department and present special events like this reading at Rye Country Day School.
Fuller is eagerly anticipating the theater legacy his fund will create at the school.
"It is hard to believe that it is over, but I feel it is the right time," Fuller says of his more than 40-year career at RCDS. "I am very excited about [the fund] and about this special event to kick it off."
Fuller directed Micole Himelfarb in Alice in Wonderland and also supervised her independent theatre study in her senior year. Himelfarb recalls the freedom Fuller gave his student-actors. For example, he allowed Himelfarb to interpret Alice's fall down the rabbit hole in her own way.
"He basically let me do what I thought was right," Himelfarb says. "Although he didn't give me complete control—I don't want that!"
Himelfarb also said Fuller was an approachable presence at RCDS.
"He's always been someone who I can go into his office and just talk," she says.
Frances Sternhagen got to know Cary Fuller while five of her six children attended RCDS. Fuller not only taught her children, but also attended "just about every performance I did in New York," Sternhagen says. "[Cary] has so much interest in theatre and the arts, it sort of overflows to the students."
Sternhagen's own interest in acting certainly overflowed as well. Other than her son Peter, an entrepreneur, all of her children work in the arts. Paul is a director; Mandy Carlin-Sanders, Sarah Carlin Beckwith and Tony Carlin are actors (Tony is currently an understudy for Broadway's "Lend Me a Tenor") and John Carlin is a musician.
"Where we grew up in a small corner of New Rochelle on the Sound, there was a large contingent of artists living nearby—writers, photographers, musicians. We were the actors on the block," Paul Carlin recalls. "Our parents, and all the rest of these adults, pursuing an actual living in the arts, gave us an idea that not only could it be done, but that it could even be rather normal."
Sternhagen believes her children gravitated naturally to the theatre because she and her husband Thomas Carlin, an actor and teacher who died in 1991, "enjoyed it so much it seemed interesting."
In Eleemosynary, it is not love of acting, but love of words that is passed from Sternhagen's character Dorothea to her daughter Artie and her granddaughter, Echo. The title of the play is the word that Echo spells to win a spelling bee. Himelfarb notes the irony of the title, which means "charitable," because her character, Echo, is not kind at all, but rather "vicious" in her attempt to beat out competitors in the spelling bee.
"The spelling bee is a critical moment in the play," Himelfarb says.
Sternhagen calls her character, Dorothea, "very bright, domineering, and eccentric. She expects a lot of her daughter."
These expectations weighed heavily on Dorothea's daughter Artie, of whom Sarah Carlin Beckwith says: "She felt really suffocated by her mother. She decided to get some freedom and took off. But her mother was always sort of hovering, and they were still connected."
Carlin Beckwith's connection with her mother is far less complicated. She calls working with Sternhagen "nothing but positive."
"She's an incredibly gifted actor, so experienced," Carlin- Beckwith says. "I get the chance to really learn from her, mostly by watching, but by interacting with her as well."
Paul Carlin believes his mother's talent will be a big draw for the reading.
"Frances Sternhagen is virtually an American theatre icon, and there are not really too many of them left, from the days of live TV and 200 plays running on Broadway," Carlin says.
"If I were not directing the play (or her son!) I'd jump at the opportunity to see her perform, even if it is just a reading."
Carlin invites the community to come and see the reading and "help support Cary Fuller's fledgling foundation, and start a tradition making the kind of theatre he's spent a lifetime teaching and promoting."
The reading will take place at the Dunn Performing Arts Center at Rye Country Day School on Friday August 27 at 8 pm. Tickets are $30. Please call ahead to reserve tickets: 914-235-2658.