THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE
Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre EILEEN J. MORRIS
THE OLD SETTLER
Written By John Henry Redwood
Directed By Eileen J. Morris
May 8 - June 1, 2014
(L-R) Roc Living as Husband Witherspoon and Detria Ward as Bess Borny star in THE OLD SETTLER. Written by John Henry Redwood and Directed by Eileen J. Morris, THE OLD SETTLER is showing through June 1, 2014 at the Ensemble Theatre located at 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002 USA. Photo by Henry Edwards Jr. For more information, click on www.EnsembleHouston.com
A HUSBAND OF HER OWN
Interviews with Bebe Wilson and Roc Living
Starring in THE OLD SETTLER at the Ensemble Theatre
By Theresa Pisula
May 8, 2014
The Ensemble Theatre presents its revival comedy THE OLD SETTLER by John Henry Redwood and directed by Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris from May 8th through June 1st, 2014. In World War II Harlem, New York, a fifty-five year old spinster (or as they were called in those days - an Old Settler), Elizabeth Borny, rents a room in her apartment to a dashingly handsome young male tenant named Husband Witherspoon.
Husband came from South Carolina to search for his pretentious girlfriend, Lou Bessie Preston, who is eager to shed her country shackles in exchange for the worldly sophistication of the big city, but he finds himself falling for the older woman. Also living with Elizabeth is her feisty fifty-three year old sister Quilly McGrath. She doesn't like Husband living with them in the first place, and surely doesn't approve of their "carrying on," especially since Elizabeth is old enough to be his mother. It is this "carrying on" that strains the ominous tension between the sisters and exposes a thirty-year old wound they must finally address to mend their relationship once and for all. This story celebrates African American women and addresses the question of age, strength and forgiveness during the Harlem Renaissance: the love between an older woman and younger man, a young woman reinventing her life, and sisters reconciling their estranged past.
THE OLD SETTLER was first staged in 1996 and selected by the Russian Theatre Union to be performed in Sheleykovo, Russia and in Moscow, with both an American and Russian cast where Redwood's playwriting was complimented as being very "Chekovian." Houston born actresses Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen produced, directed and appeared in the April 2001 television premiere of the play on PBS Hollywood Presents.
I recently watched the TV movie version of The Old Settler on You Tube. Iíve seen the original play version at the Ensemble Theatre in September 2000. I must say, I am totally in love with this story. That John Henry Redwood III is one master story teller especially when itís about sisterhood rivalry. So when I found out that the Ensemble Theatre is doing a brand spankiní new production in 2014, I couldnít wait to see it.
Brenda ďBebeĒ Wilson who plays Quilly McGrath, has been active throughout the Houston theatre community since moving from her native home of Louisiana. Bebe performed last season at The Ensemble Theatre in The Nacirema Society for her role of Ruby, which won her the 2011-2012 Giorgee Award for Best Leading Actress. This marks Bebeís 32nd season with The Ensemble where a few of her credits include Seven Guitars, The Waiting Room, Liviní Fat, Joe Turnerís Come & Gone to name a few. She has performed at the Jewish Community Center as well as AD Players. Bebe received a Giorgee Award for Best Supporting Actress for Seven Guitars and was nominated by the Houston Chronicle as Best Actress for Gem of the Ocean. Besides being an exceptional actress, she is also an accomplished stage theatre Director.
Theresa: Have you seen the movie version of The Old Settler?
Bebe: No, I havenít seen it.
Theresa: It stars Debbie AllenÖÖ
Bebe: and Phylicia Rashad her sister, I know that much. We discussed it during one of our rehearsal process. Our director Eileen Morris who is also the Artistic Director here at The Ensemble didnít want us to see it.
Theresa: Why not? She didnít want you to be influenced byÖÖ
Bebe: Exactly. She wanted us to bring our own characterization to the part.
Theresa: Your own interpretation of the scriptÖ..
Bebe: Of the piece itself, yes.
Theresa: I first saw this play in 2000 when the Ensemble Theatre did their production.
Bebe: Oh okay, if you saw it in 2000 then you got an opportunity to see some of my work because I assisted in directing it.
Theresa: You were not onstage?
Bebe: No, I was not in the piece. Another young lady was. I sort of oversaw the project. I was behind the scenes, from a directorís prospective point of view.
The Old Settler 2000 Production
Theresa: Which sister are you playing: The Debbie Allen or the Phylicia Rashad?
Bebe: I am playing the Debbie Allen part whose name is Quilly.
Theresa: I didnít know that Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad are sisters.
Bebe: Yes, they are sisters. They grew up right here in Houston.
Theresa: Wow. Isnít that interesting?
Bebe: Itís very interesting!
Theresa: Tell us about the part that you are playingÖÖ
Bebe: I play Quilly McGrath, the sister to Elizabeth. I am the younger of the two sisters.
Theresa: If I remember correctly, donít you own the house?
Bebe: Well, itís our house, yes. Iíve been away and I have come back to live with my sister. Back during the 1940s a lot of folks to subsidize their income, rented out rooms. So my sister has taken on a roomer. And I am not especially happy about that. My sister has been estranged for awhile and it comes out in the play why. I donít want to tell you because I want you all to be able to see.
So we are trying to mend our relationship, our relationship that has been broken. In the midst of all this happening, a young man comes to room.
Theresa: And it creates all the drama
Bebe: Yes. It brings out all of those hidden wounds that have not healed.
Theresa: Thatís right! It opens it all back up (laughs). How did you become a part of this production?
Bebe: Annually, we have season auditions here at the Ensemble Theatre where we hold auditions for the entire season. I auditioned for this particular piece and got cast.
Theresa: How do you like working with Eileen, the Artistic Director for the Ensemble Theatre?
Bebe: I have known Eileen for many, many years. I mean many, many, many years (laughs).
(Foreground) Bebe Wilson as Quilly McGrath and Detria Ward as Bess Borny (background) star in THE OLD SETTLER. Written by John Henry Redwood and Directed by Eileen J. Morris, THE OLD SETTLER is showing through June 1, 2014 at the Ensemble Theatre located at 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002 USA. Photo by Henry Edwards Jr. For more information, click on www.EnsembleHouston.com
Theresa: How long have you been with the Ensemble Theatre?
Bebe: Iíve been with the Ensemble TheatreÖ..I did my first production with them in December 1981. Iíve been with the Ensemble Theatre a long time. I had the opportunity to work with the founder of Ensemble Theatre George Hawkins.
Theresa: Wow! How was he like?
Bebe: Oh! George was quite remarkable. He had a way with words. He is very sophisticated but on the other hand, very down to earth. There was something about him that you never could quite pin point. George always had an element of surprise, yes. You never knew what George was going to come up with.
Theresa: But itís amazing how he was able to make all this happen.
Bebe: Oh absolutely! When I started with the Ensemble Theatre, we were in a very small building over on Tuam Street that was once a pet shop. Of course, weíve grown from there to where we are now.
Theresa: Was that in the Ď80s? But I think it was in the Ď70s was when he started The Ensemble Theatre.
Bebe: He started it in 1976, if Iím not mistaken, out of the trunk of his car as a touring company.
Theresa: And now in 2014 it has blossomed into a major theatrical organization. Thatís quite amazing. Since youíve been with Ensemble for a long time, I must have seen you in some of the plays here. Were you in Liviní Fat?
Bebe: I was in Liviní Fat. I was the mom.
Theresa: Which one do you like better, doing comedy or do you prefer drama?
Bebe: You know, I really enjoy doing both. And this particular piece that weíre doing tonight, itís a comedy, but some drama is mixed in with it. So I find both of them very challenging.
Theresa: But Livin' Fat was so hilarious! How can you keep from not laughing?
Bebe: We are at an advantage because weíve had the opportunity to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. When we first get started a lot of the rehearsals are as much fun for us as it is for the audience watching it the first time.
Theresa: Who are your most favorite actors?
Bebe: Iíd have to say Cicely Tyson was one of the biggest influences for me. Along withÖÖthere are so many others that influenced me all through the years.
Theresa: What made you go into acting, into Theatre?
Bebe: I was in a production when I was in elementary school and the bug bit me very early. It was exciting but I really had a love for it, just right off.
Theresa: Was it a musical or a play?
Bebe: Back then, they called them operettas because it was a combination of music and acting.
Theresa: You sang?
Bebe: I do. I donít call myself an accomplished singer but I can hold my own.
Theresa: Have you done many musicals?
Bebe: Not as many as I have done comedy and drama. But I have done some musicals. I did Cinderella here several years ago. I was the fairy godmother and I had to sing.
Theresa: Do you remember the operetta that started it all for you?
Bebe: Oh, I canít even remember what it was. That was like second grade.
Theresa: (Laughs). You donít remember but it was all over for you after thatÖ.
Bebe: I loved it! I love the set and the lightsÖ..
Theresa: You must have loved the attention, people telling you that you did such a good job.
Bebe: Well, you know, we all like to feel appreciated. So I enjoyed that. But just being able to give a sense of enjoyment to others has always been gratifying for me.
Theresa: Thatís a reward in itself. Are you originally from Houston?
Bebe: No, I grew up in North East Louisiana, grew up in Shreveport and moved here in 1979 where I got involved in theatre. Now I was involved with theatre back in Shreveport but I didnít have the opportunity to do it as much as here in Houston working with a professional theatre company.
Theresa: Do you have any kids?
Bebe: I have two boys.
Theresa: How nice! What do they think of mom being onstage?
Bebe: They absolutely love it. Both of my boys are very talented. My oldest son did rap for many years. And my youngest son is also very creative.
Theresa: So theyíre both in the Arts.
Bebe: Yes, both my sons are married, they have families. They are both in the Arts.
Theresa: Who would you like to dedicate this Opening Night performance to?
Bebe: To my husband James Wilson.
Theresa: What would you like the audience to gain from watching this play?
Bebe: Itís a great piece of work. Iíd like to think that by watching this piece they can see someone that theyíre related to, like a mom or a grandma, a brother or sister.
Theresa: What would you like to say to the Houston theatre-going audience?
Bebe: We appreciate all of the support that they have given for the Ensemble Theatre and we ask that they continue to support us. We are in a very challenging time now economically and all the support we can get is so very well appreciated. We want this institution to be around for many, many years.
Roc Living as Husband Witherspoon and Detria Ward as Bess Borny star in THE OLD SETTLER. Written by John Henry Redwood and Directed by Eileen J. Morris, THE OLD SETTLER is showing through June 1, 2014 at the Ensemble Theatre located at 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002 USA. Photo by Henry Edwards Jr. For more information, click on www.EnsembleHouston.com
ROC LIVING who plays Husband Witherspoon in the Old Settler is a native Houstonian. Several years ago, Roc began pursuing acting at the Encore Theater of Houston, where he was later inducted into its Hall of Fame of Actors. He has performed at various theaters in Houston such as the Wortham Theater, Hobby Center, Main Street Theater, Stages Repertory Theater, Express Theater and currently at The Ensemble Theatre. He has also performed in other theaters in surrounding cities and states. Roc has performed in such productions as Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Sparkle and Incarceration to name a few. Currently, Rock can be seen on TV and heard on radio as a Wal-Mart host. Aside from performing on stage and film, Roc is partnered with a filmmaker and serves as the Casting Director for their media production company: Original Seed Entertainment Inc.
Theresa: How long have you been with the Ensemble Theatre?
Roc: The first time I performed at the Ensemble Theatre was in 2006 in the musical Sparkle. I played the character of Levi Brown. Since then, Iíve had a couple of understudy roles and Iíve also worked as crew in a few productions. The next time I hit the name stage was in 2010, the first year they actually showcased Cinderella. I came in to fill in for the guy they originally cast in Cinderella. They wanted to replace him less than two weeks before preview. So they called me up and fortunately, it wasnít a huge challenge despite the fact that I donít sing. But we were able to make that particular song into a spoken word session. So it turned out very well. Since then, Iíve had a couple of minor roles such as understudy or crew. Now, here it is 2014, Iím back on main stage and I am excited.
Theresa: I am excited for you! This is the lead male role in the entire cast. You are the male lead on the show!
Roc: I am the male lead and the only male! (Laughs) I am in the presence of beautiful women. I love it! I love it!
Theresa: (Laughs) including the director Eileen Morris.
Roc: Exactly! What man would not love this situation? I get all the attention!!
Theresa: How did you get the part?
Roc: The Ensemble Theatre has an audition processÖ..at the end of June.
Theresa: In the summer time, they already picked the parts for the plays upcoming season.
Roc: And when I was notified that I was selected. Shortly after I received the pending scheduleÖ.
Theresa: (Laughs) as your head was reelingÖ.
Roc: I said, ďOkay, I have to make sure I block off these two monthsĒ so I donít have any conflicts.
Theresa: But as an understudy, donít you still do all the work?
Roc: Well, youíre required to attend some rehearsals because you never know. You never know when you have to go up. You still have to learn the lines and schedule the blocking. Previous productions Iíve been involved in with the Ensemble, I had the responsibility. Still, itís nothing like having that role. This time around, I say ďThis is my role, the only male lead cast in the play.Ē
Roc Living as Husband Witherspoon and Detria Ward as Bess Borny in THE OLD SETTLER. Written by John Henry Redwood and Directed by Eileen J. Morris, THE OLD SETTLER is showing through June 1, 2014 at the Ensemble Theatre located at 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002 USA. Photo by Henry Edwards Jr. For more information, click on www.EnsembleHouston.com
Theresa: Can I be honest with you?
Theresa: I donít like Husband
Roc: Thatís fine.
Theresa: (Laughs) Iíve seen the show in 2000, Ensemble had a production of the same play and Iíve also seen the movie because I liked the show so much. Have you seen the movie?
Roc: I have not.
Theresa: Well Iíve seen the play stage version and the full length movie, two-hours on You Tube. I can honestly tell you that Husband is not very nice. Heís the guy I loved to hate.
Roc: I wouldnít say that. (Smiles) you have to chalk it up to naÔvetť. Heís like the greenest person you would ever meet. Heís so naÔve and blind to city life. I mean, heís a country boy. Heís a mommaís boy country bumpkin. Those are the two best descriptions I can give to him: country bumpkin mommaís boy. You know, being in the time that it takes place in, in 1943. Things were a lot different then than they are now. Even though thereís a difference between being city-wise and country-wise. I wouldnít say that he was the guy you love to hate! Heís just an innocent victim.
Theresa: Oh no, you didnít just say that (laughs)
Theresa: Once the audience sees it, weíll let them decide that Iím right and youíre wrong. Okay? (Laughs) What made you decide to become an actor onstage?
Roc: I first got interested in acting around junior year in College. Some of my colleagues asked me if I was interested in it. I said no. I took theatre classes in high school prior to that but I hadnít really thought about it as far as a career until I got involved in the film industry. A guy approached me on campus asking if I was interested in Acting because they were looking to replace someone and I fit the description. They needed to film that weekend. Fortunately, I was available. After which, everybody said they didnít believe I didnít have any experience. And that made me think, ďOkay, well maybe there is something to this.Ē So I got involved in community theatre since then. And that happened over fifteen years ago.
Theresa: Recently, havenít you done some local commercials?
Roc: As of July of last year Iíve been the Houston host for the Wal-Mart campaign.
Theresa: Who inspires you? Who are your most favorite actors?
Roc: To take it back, I would have to say James Earl Jones, Ozzie Davis, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, of course Denzel Washington. There are so many Iíd like to pull from that the list is on going, definitely.
Theresa: How do you like working with the director Eileen Morris? Isnít she awesome?
Roc: Working with Eileen is phenomenal. I love the fact that she gives us that room of creativity. Sheíll give us some staples to follow but then she wants us to figure it out. And to have that creative freedom is beautiful. As opposed to, youíve learned it this way and this is the only way you can do it and thatís it. That is so not her. Itís the complete opposite of her. So, working with her is a phenomenal experience.
Theresa: What would you like to say to the Houston-theatre going audience?
Roc: For anyone who has a passion for Acting, you definitely want to get started in Theatre. Thatís my preference. I say that because when youíre onstage, itís such an overwhelming feeling that you have to learn how to control the energy. You have to learn to control your nervousness. Even to this day, Iíve been onstage since 1999 and I still get nervous. I still get queasy where I get butterflies in the stomach or however you want to phrase it. But over the years, you learn how to control that and divert that energy into your character and deliver it to your audience. For anyone who is interested in Acting, you definitely want to get involved in Theatre, have that as your background. Because if you think about it now, even a lot of the A-list actors are still going back to doing Broadway Theatre or Off-Broadway Theatre. If itís a passion of yours, you definitely want to get involved in theatre, more particularly The Ensemble is well established. They have an awesome staff, an awesome list of directors they work with. They put on phenomenal shows. The sets are immaculate! The crew is so cool to work with, you know.
Theresa: And itís a family environment.
Roc: Yes indeed, very family oriented.
Theresa: Who would you like to dedicate this performance to?
Roc: (Laughs) I would definitely dedicate this performance to my mother. Her name is Sheri Walker. Sheíll be here in a couple of weeks to see the performance. She canít make it this coming weekend for Motherís Day but she will be here the weekend after that.
Theresa: Are you and her from Houston originally?
Roc: Iím from Houston and sheís from Jasper, Texas. She now lives here in Houston in Missouri City.
Theresa: What would you like the audience to gain from watching this play?
Roc: For this particular production, I would like for the audience to have a sense of knowing where you come from. And to understand who you are, to understand where you want to go and what you want to do in life.
THE OLD SETTLER
Time: Spring 1943
Place: Harlem, New York
Husband WitherspoonÖÖ..Roc Living
Elizabeth (Bess) BornyÖÖDetria Ward
Lou Bessie PrestonÖÖÖÖÖ....Samantha West
Quilly McGrathÖÖÖÖBebe Wilson
(R-L) Bebe Wilson as Quilly, Samantha West as Lou Bessie and Detria Ward as Elizabeth in THE OLD SETTLER. Written by John Henry Redwood and Directed by Eileen J. Morris, THE OLD SETTLER is showing through June 1, 2014 at the Ensemble Theatre located at 3535 Main Street, Houston Texas 77002 USA. Photo by Henry Edwards Jr. For more information, click on www.EnsembleHouston.com
The Ensemble Theatre Presents THE OLD SETTLER
Who/What: The Ensemble Theatre presents THE OLD SETTLER, written by John Henry Redwood.
Show Run: May 8 - June 1, 2014
Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.
Fridays: 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sundays: 3:00 p.m.
Where: The Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main St.
Houston, TX 77002
The Ensemble Theatre's 2013-2014 Season is sponsored in part by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and to enlighten, entertain, and enrich a diverse community. Thirty-six years later, the theatre has evolved from a touring company operating from the trunk of Mr. Hawkins' car to being one of Houston's finest historical cultural institutions. The Ensemble is one of a few professional theatres in the region dedicated to the production of works portraying the African American experience. The oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it holds the distinction of being one of the nation's largest African American theatres owning and operating its facility and producing in-house. Board President Emeritus Audrey Lawson led the capital campaign for The Ensemble's $4.5 million building renovations that concluded in 1997. The Ensemble Theatre has fulfilled and surpassed the vision of its founder and continues to expand and create innovative programs to bring African American theatre to myriad audiences.