Amelia Ryan and her daughter, Alice Ryan, have never really acted together before. Which is a surprise because Amelia is a local theater veteran and Alice studied acting at Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.
Now they’ll get the chance in a special benefit play reading, for one night only, of Kathleen Tolan’s “Memory House.” Proceeds from the performance, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at the 2nd Space Theatre, will go toward Leslie and Jeff Martin’s efforts to adopt a girl from Ukraine, a cause that has been taken up by the local performing arts community.
I caught up with Amelia Ryan – whom I will forever remember as a standout Margaret Johnson in StageWorks Fresno’s “The Light in the Piazza” – via email to talk about the Tuesday show.
Q: Tell us about the play.
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A: It's a beautiful two-character comedy-drama about a mother and her adopted daughter. The daughter's college application essay is due at midnight, and they are both pretending not to be freaking out about the daughter leaving home. The ordinary mother-daughter stuff is complicated by issues arising out of the adoption from Russia and memories stirred up by the essay.
Q: What drew you to this title?
A: When Alice was an acting student at PCPA, I was looking for new monologues for her, and I came across one from this play. I was intrigued, so I ordered a copy of the script and fell in love with it. For years I was hoping we would have a chance to perform it together. Alice looked 18 for a long time. She doesn't anymore – almost, but not quite – but she's such a good actress, and this is a reading and not a full production, so I don't think anyone will mind.
Q: You're raising money for Leslie and Jeff Martin's efforts to adopt Samantha, an orphan from Ukraine. Give us an update on that project.
A: It's a difficult process with a lot of obstacles, but Leslie and Jeff are plugging away. They are writing grant proposals, and they want to have the money raised before Samantha turns 16 in February. They had been hosting orphans from Ukraine during the summer for years, but Samantha was special. She's artistic and they had a lot in common, and they just fell in love with her. After she went back to Ukraine, she realized how much she wanted a family and that she wanted them to be that family.
Q: Tell us about what Alice is up to these days.
A: When she lived in Fresno, Alice performed with Children’s Musical Theaterworks during Joel Abels' tenure but also with Central California Ballet and McTeggart Irish Dancers. After PCPA, she moved to L.A., where she was an extra in movies and TV and acted on stage with a few different companies. She also kept up her Irish dancing and started earning a reputation as a singer of traditional Irish songs. When she sang with renowned Irish musician Mick Moloney, he encouraged her to move to New York City, which she did two years ago. There's a great Irish trad scene there, and she's had a lot of opportunities to perform. Last year she won a singing contest and flew to Ireland to compete in the annual traditional music competition there, representing the Eastern U.S. She also got married to a terrific guy and has definitely settled in to her life in New York.
Q: When is the last time the two of you acted together on stage? What do you think this experience will be like?
A: Alice and I have never really acted together before! When she was six and we lived in Germany, she was on stage with me in a production of “I Pagliacci,” and when Central California Ballet put on A Midsummer Night's Dream, Alice was a fairy and I sang a couple of songs, but that's it. A lot of local actors have played my children over the years, including Taylor Abels, but not Alice! There are some Irish songs we like to sing in harmony, so we do that when I visit New York or she visits Fresno. (There will be some Irish musicians playing in the lobby before and after the reading, so maybe we can get Alice to sing a song.) I think acting with her in this play is going to be a really memorable experience for both of us. We'll probably slide right back into the relationship we had when she was in high school – yikes!
Q: You have an anecdote about Kathleen Tolan, the author of “Memory House.” Tell us about her.
A: She was an actress, and we shared a dressing room when we were in a production of “A Christmas Carol” at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, in the early '80s. A lot of us in the cast liked to go out for drinks after the show. I invited her to join us, but she always declined. She said she was writing a play and that she had to go back to her hotel room and write before going to sleep. She said she had to protect her writing time, or something like that. The play she was writing was A Weekend Near Madison, which was a big hit at Actors Theatre of Louisville the next spring and then played Off-Broadway and kind of put her on the map as a playwright. There's a cautionary tale in there for aspiring writers: Instead of going out to drink after the show, go home and write. I should have taken that to heart.
Q: Anything else you'd like to say?
A: If you've never been to a play reading, it's a little like a radio play, but you can see the actors' expressions and body language. Even though we will have scripts on music stands in front of us, we are very familiar with our lines, and we will definitely be acting the roles, just without props or much moving around. Alice's brother Mark will read the necessary stage directions aloud, and we might have a few music cues. It's a wonderful play, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun but also poignant and thought-provoking. It's about an hour long, and we'll have refreshments afterwards.