Season Three of Casa de Beverley starts a week from Saturday! To celebrate, we’re interviewing the first of three featured playwrights! Here, Karin Diann Williams discusses her play Portrait of Mabel.
Interview by Natalie Osborne
How did you hear about One Acts and Snacks?
I heard about OAS from Kendra Augustin, who I worked with on the 365WomenAYear Project.
Can you tell me more about your play? What was your inspiration? Why did you select this piece for the reading?
I chose Portrait of Mabel for the reading because I just finished it this summer, and I haven’t had a chance to hear it or show it to anyone. I hope I made the right choice! Mabel is part of the 365WomenAYear playwriting project, a series of plays about about women in history.
It’s based on the memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan, an early twentieth century patron of the arts who hosted a famous Greenwich Village salon, and helped organize the 1913 Armory Show. Gertrude Stein wrote a modernist streamofconsciousness essay about her: Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia.
Mabel was all about bringing artists and activists together to exchange ideas. I can’t think of a more perfect setting for this play than Casa de Beverly an intimate salon just like the one Mabel hosted!
When did you first hear about Mabel Dodge Luhan? What about her story inspired you to write about her?
I grew up in New Mexico, where Mabel Dodge Luhan is basically a household name. The Mabel Dodge Luhan house in Taos is still very active as an arts center, artists’ retreat and inn. On New Year’s Day I was in Albuquerque visiting my parents when the 365womenayear project opened up for 2016, and I decided to claim a historic woman from NM. I was really surprised when I checked the database and found out no one had written about Mabel yet.
Can you walk me through the process of researching Luhan and adapting her life for the stage?
Mabel made things easy for me by writing a fourvolume memoir of her life and times, collectively entitled Intimate Memories. The memoir follows Mabel from her early years in Buffalo through a series of youthful lesbian romances, becoming a mother and then a widow at 23, her life in Florence, her move to New York City in 1913 where she started a famous bohemian salon, her journeys to Provincetown and Croton in search of spiritual fulfillment, and finally her discovery of Taos where she founded an arts colony with her Native American husband, Tony. The real challenge was distilling a oneact play from such an eventful life.
Can you tell me more about the relationship between Stein’s poem and your own piece?
Gertrude Stein’s Portrait of Mabel Dodge inspired the structure of my play, which is a series of five tenminute plays for four actors, designed to be performed in any order or combination. Stein wrote in a streamofconsciousness style, inspired by cubist art. I tried to put diverse moments from Mabel’s life together in a similar way, with haphazard juxtapositions that might reveal deeper psychological and social truths.
What other sources did you draw inspiration from while you were working on this piece?
Besides learning more about Mabel, I researched some of the people who were important to her, including her second husband Edwin Dodge, her anarchist friend Hutchins Hapgood, and her socialist lover Jack Reed, who got Mabel to help him stage a pageant for striking workers in Madison Square Garden. There was also her third husband, painter and sculptor Maurice Sterne, her friend Elizabeth Duncan (Isadora’s sister) who had an avantgarde dance school in Croton, and her fourth husband, Tony, who risked his reputation as a tribal leader in Taos Pueblo to begin an affair with her. As often as possible, I tried to use the character’s actual dialog (at least, as Mabel remembered it) to recreate moments in her life.
What are your goals for the reading?
My number one goal is to entertain the audience. I’d also like to hear the dialog, get feedback for a rewrite, and find out if my gender neutral casting idea is going to work.
What are you most looking forward to? What are you most nervous about?
I am most looking forward to the rehearsal, and possibly doing some last minutedialog changes during the rehearsal. I’m most nervous about the timing, and making cuts if the piece runs longer than expected.
What advice would you give to playwrights who might be interested in joining One Acts and Snacks?
Come out and hear a few of the readings this season, meet the producers and get an idea of the kind of work they are looking for!
Portrait of Mabel will premiere as part of One Acts and Snacks debut show of Season Three, September 17th at 6pm in Ditmis Park. Purchase tickets here.