In part five of a series of interviews with the cast of Avant Bard’s production of TAME., meet Karen Lange.
Joel: Where have local audiences seen you perform recently on stage?
Karen: Most recently, I was singing bluegrass murder ballads in Pinky Swear Productions’ Capital Fringe Festival show Over Her Dead Body: A Bluegrass Benediction. I’m proud to say it won audience awards for best musical and best overall show. We toured it to Shakespeare Theatre’s Happenings at Harman and were featured on Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of TAME.?
I’m a feminist and run a feminist theatre company. I’m always eager to champion women playwrights and other artists in the theatre world. I was privileged to do the Scripts in Play reading at AvantBard last spring. As soon as I read it, I knew it was an important script. TAME. is a story about characters who are real and flawed—a classic dysfunctional family in a time when that could be dangerous, especially for women and LGBTQ people. The themes of fitting in, with not just your family but society at large, ring very true in the 1960 setting. I’m sad to say that some of the more rigid thinking of that time still holds true today. It can be very depressing, but that’s why we make art, isn’t it? Instead of moaning, we channel that energy into good art, which, at its best, creates a channel for communication that simply arguing does not.
Who do you play in the show? How do you relate to her?
I play Mama (Meredith). Part of her character is a manipulator who cajoles people into getting the things she wants, sometimes by making them think it’s their idea. I did this frequently in the business world when I was working for men. As a woman who runs a theatre company, I’ve occasionally employed some back-channel work to sway people into doing what I want. I’m not proud of that, and definitely have evolved into a direct approach that works better. People in the theatre community now know I just say what I mean.
What’s the show about from the point of view of your character?
In some ways, Mama is a classic, early 1960s housewife. She cooks, cleans, publicly shows a certain deference to her husband, gossips at church, and wants her daughters married off so she can brag about them. In other ways, she’s an operator who back-channels making things go her way. She sets some major things in motion by manipulating Daddy (John Stange) and choreographing the revelation of some significant plot elements. She likes things to be harmonious and is at a loss when she can’t get Cat (Jill Tighe) to conform to her vision of the world. When presented with some “easy” fixes, she wants to cut right to the chase. But she’s sold a false bill of goods—like so many in that time period.
Playwright Jonelle Walker wrote TAME. in response to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. For you as a performer, what do you especially like about her play and your role in it?
This play is complex and surprising for the audience. It challenges assumptions on how people connect, especially since some characters do so in a very weird way.
It’s easy to see Mama as a bad person, but she’s more complex than that. She’s a product of her time when society had very different opinions on people who didn’t conform to the norms. She’s trying to do what she thinks is right and have what she envisions as a good life. She has not had it easy—Cat’s character is not nice to her and hasn’t been easy to handle since childhood. She has to raise the girls alone for at least half the time. I have a lot of empathy for what she went through. To play Mama, you have to have that empathy. You can’t play her and judge her. I’ve played a role like this before and I had to make sure I could see why they would have the point of view she does about wanting her daughters to blend in with society and have what was considered a “nice” life. We know better now, but Mama just didn’t know that then.
I also really wish there was family therapy back then. :)
TAME. is set in the 1960s—a time before the sexual revolution, the Women’s Movement, Stonewall, and other dramatic social changes. What does the play have to say to audiences today?
Women in the mid-twentieth century had very few options for directly asking for what they need or taking control of a family. Mama was in a position of power while Daddy was gone to war, then has to kowtow to his authority when he’s back. If I was in that position, I’d definitely have used whatever means necessary to get what I thought was needed and right.
Before this year’s election, I think women thought that way of life was progressing rapidly behind us. Now it’s more important than ever that women make their voices heard, that LGBT people continue to fight for their rights, that we stand up for people of color and civil rights, that we all champion religious freedom, and we do not roll back everything we’ve achieved as a nation and a culture. This play, sadly, shows us that we have not come far enough.
What is your favorite line or lines that your character says, and what is your favorite line that someone else says in the show?
I am fond of my fight with Daddy, where Mama just lays into him and says what she means. “You’re just peeved off because he was man enough to whip that girl into shape and you’re not” is a shockingly direct and honest thing she says to Daddy. It doesn’t help her, but it’s a moment where she’s just tired and saying her truth. It’s an electric moment.
I also always chuckle when Bea (Madeline Burrows) says, “All I’m saying is that … hm … bookish types … I think you might feel like you have to be nasty to show people what’s what.” “Bookish types” is such a funny phrase and Madeline delivers it so well.
What are you doing next on the stage?
In January, you’ll see me playing Bridget in LIZZIE: The Musical. It’s a rock opera about Lizzie Borden and it’s amazing. My company sought the rights since 2009 and we are delirious with joy that we get to bring this story to life. Also, my character “might be a banshee” according to the character descriptions in the libretto.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing TAME.?
I’d like them to think about how LGBT people were ostracized and completely misunderstood and vilified in the 20th century—and how that still happens to them today by a decent percentage of the population. I want audiences to consider what they might be able to do to help. I also want them to see that pain can make you an asshole, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy of being loved. I’d also like them to think about how we treated depression and mental illness in the 1960s and how much damage that did. Some ways of “treating” it were barbaric. Not enough time was spent with families talking to each other or individuals having some therapy to work things out. It’s better but not perfect today.
TAME. plays through December 11, 2016, at Avant Bard performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘TAME.’ Part 1: John Strange by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘TAME.’ Part 2: Brendan Edward Kennedy by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘TAME.’ Part 3: Jill Tighe by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘TAME.’ Part 4: Madeline Burrows by Joel Markowitz.
Dangereuse: She Will Rock You: ‘TAME.’ at WSC Avant Bard by Sophia Howes.
Review: ‘TAME.’ at Avant Bard by David Siegel.