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Sally Edmundson takes on Mame at Stages

David Heaton as Patrick Dennis and Sally Edmundson as Mame Dennis
David Heaton as Patrick Dennis and Sally Edmundson as Mame Dennis
Mark Lipczynski

Houston actress Sally Edmundson is about to take on Mame in Auntie Mame - the first time the actor-heavy play (38 roles) has been performed in 25 years she says - and she guarantees a timelessness to the story that makes it relevant today (think recession.)

In 2002, Edmundson portrayed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland in Full Gallop at Stages and once she'd finished it, friends and colleagues told her she was going to have to do Mame next.

It took her eight years to figure out a way to do that.

First hurdle: Stages Repertory Theatre is known for edgy works. How was Edmundson going to sell doing a story that originated with a novel written in 1955, was adapted for the stage and retold in a 1958 movie with Rosalind Russell (in the clip above), then turned into a musical in 1966 with Angela Landsbury and Bea Arthur and then retold again in a 1974 movie with Lucille Ball and somehow argue that it was fresh?

"I thought, isn't there some way we could do this and put our stamp on it? It's so timeless. the soul of it, the spirit of it is extremely current down to the recession," she said.

Second, there was the sheer size of the cast. "It's cost prohibitive; you just can't" she said explaining why other theater companies haven't tackled it. "It's so iconic; you can't cut any characters."

What happened was that Stages Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin "re-imagined" the story. 14 actors share the 38 roles. "I'm always Mame and little Patrick is always little Patrick, but other than that, everybody's playing three to four roles," Edmundson said, adding that there's a lot of costume changes going on backstage.

 

She says the Stages version is a play that still "captures the essence and the spirit of this piece which is to look beyond the boundaries that are imposed in our lives and break patterns that may not be getting you anywhere. And experience life. Don't stop yourself."

Edmundson, who says "there's a lot of Mame in me," admires her character because she despises pretension and snobbery and takes such joy in life. At the same time, she says she recognizes that "Mame is selfish, self absorbed."

And as for Mame's parenting skills in regards to the 10-year-old orphaned Patrick Dennis sent to live with her, Edmundson says: "There are some of her decisions ... by today's standards they might be calling CPS."

Still, she says, this is balanced "with marvelous exuberent generosity and loyalty and the sheer joy of living."

Go the play, Edmundson says, because it's madcap and funny and because it's unexpectedly touching. And to admire "an indomitable spirit."

Auntie Mame runs September 15 through October 10 in Stages' Yeager Theater. For tickets call 713-527-0123 or buy them online at www.stagestheatre.com.


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