Thursday, March 23, 2017

INTERVIEW: Adam Bailey and Laura Anne Harris on ideas whose time has come (again)

Laura Anne Harris and Adam Bailey are friends, colleagues and Fringe rock stars. Tonight, they open remounts of their national hit shows, PITCH BLONDE and ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE in a double bill at the TORONTO CENTRE for THE PERFORMING ARTS for two nights this week.

I spoke to both of them last week as they prepared their respective remounts.

Laura Anne is coming up here from Syracuse, N.Y. especially for PITCH BLONDE. Her husband, musician Chris Peterson is completing a graduate degree tin the U.S. and she decided to join him for his final year. It's her 10th year performing the show.

Ten years! Where have you been?

"All across Canada on the national Fringe circuit. Also to FemFest in Winnipeg, to Orlando and Lancaster, P.A. in the U.S.: now that I have a green card I can go EVERYWHERE in the U.S. After touring this show off and on for ten years, going back to do it this time feels like visiting an old friend."

It's certainly a great moment to tell the story of a woman who persisted.

PITCH BLONDE is the story of Judy Holliday, the Academy-Award winning actress with an I.Q. of 170 who made a career of playing dumb blondes.

"The best performance of Holliday's career wasn't her Oscar-winner in BORN YESTERDAY: it was her testimony during the McCarthy trials. She needed acting to get out of the situation she was in. She used her perceived persona to control the interview."

Holliday's situation seems eeirily and sadly current.

" Roy Cohn, one of McCarthy's notorious associates was also one of Donald Trump's lawyers. Holliday was a woman who opposed tyranny. She was Jewish, and McCarthyism had antisemitic overtones. The alt-right is doing the same thing as McCarthy did: looking for bogey-men under the bed. "

She continues: " Holliday's moment of great success ( her Oscar) was followed closely by a moment of great infamy. She triumphed."

I ask Harris what is different for her playing Holliday 10 years later. "It's more grounded. I'm more grounded. " She laughs. "I've changed the script a little bit over time. We meet her husband, David Oppenheim in this version. I wanted to show Holliday's full humanity; to honour her story and to honour her as a person."

Harris has five starred and sold out everywhere with this show. If you've never seen it before, you're in for a treat.

A few days later, I finally manage to catch up with the other half of the bill, Adam Bailey. I ask him how the double-bill came to be.

"They (Toronto Centre for The Performing Arts) asked! And Laura and I have such a great relationship."

Harris directed HENRI, Bailey's play about early 20th C painter Henri Rousseau, which he's bringing to Toronto this summer.

"I am the gay son of an Evangelical Christian minister. I grew up in Belleville where my dad ran the Quinte Christian Fellowship."

That sounds like quite a story.

"It's called ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE because there are people who think I am on fire: that I will be in hell for being a gay man. The play hasn't stopped being relevant. In the States, there's this perception of gay vs. religion. But I live between two worlds in this play: the world of my upbringing and my world as a gay man."

How dis his family take it?

"My family is not a worry: my sense of responsibility is towards the audience. The play is an exploration of me trying to be truthful to who I am, in every sense. It isn't didactic: there is no right answer."

Like Bailey, I had a very religious upbringing that I rebelled against as a young woman. We talk about that and I ask him, how wild was he?

"When Amish kids turn 16, they are no longer Amish by default. They get to decide. They have two years to make a final decision. Some of those kids are pretty wild for two years. I was pretty wild."

I'm Catholic. We can repent for our sins. If you're an evangelical Christian, what do you do, I ask?

"What is sin? Less than perfection. Sin is imperfection. To ask for forgiveness is to admit you're less than perfect. We're all less than perfect."

Bailey is older now and he's married to his husband. I ask him where he got married. "Outside." After a pause, he continues: "One of the hardest things to talk about was respectability politics within the gay community. That stuff was important to what this has meant to me. There are a lot of harsh realities about being in the gay community."

That topic is as taboo as religion.

We are running out of time. I ask Bailey what he wants people to know about the show.

"It's hilarious!" Is that it?

"A friend of mine came up to me after the show at the Fringe last summer and said"You made me laugh so hard and then you made me cry and now I have to hurt you!" Then she gave me a big hug."

I want to give Bailey a big hug but we're on the phone so I just wish him Merde and tell him I'll see him on Friday night.

PITCH BLONDE and ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE are at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre on Thursday March 23 and Friday, March 24th starting at 7:00 PM.  Click  HERE to order tickets.  Please note you must purchase two separate tickets for the double bill.


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