“The Wisdom of Eve” reimagined for Langley stage

— Created February 15, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Fame can be fleeting. “Friends” can be fickle.

Combine the two and one has the basis for “The Wisdom of Eve,” written by Mary Orr and reimagined and directed by Edward Jordan for Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. The play opens Friday at the Langley theater and will run through Feb. 26.

If the title sounds familiar, it should. Mary Orr wrote a short story titled “The Wisdom of Eve” in 1946. The story was published in “Cosmopolitan” magazine, and it served as the basis for the 1950 Academy Award winning film “All About Eve.” The 1970 Broadway musical, “Applause,” was based on the film.

However, Orr adapted her original short story for the stage, and the theatrical version of “The Wisdom of Eve” was produced in New York in 1979 and is now vibrantly reimagined and reinvigorated at WICA.

“Our reimagining of Eve at WICA incorporates music from several decades – anachronistically but deliciously colliding with the time in which the story is set (1960),” Jordan told Whidbey Weekly via email. “Billy Joel, kd lang, Sondheim, Webber, Annie Lenox and the Eurythmics, Kander and Ebb, Steve Winwood, Kim Carnes, and more – they’re all here helping us tell the timeless story about the dark underbelly of the theater; a story we seldom get to see unless we’re rewatching ‘All About Eve’ on TCM.

 “In our production, you’ll be able to peer into the wings, peek behind curtains, and see the theater laid bare,” he continued. “As Lauren Bacall sang in ‘Applause,’ ‘Welcome to the theater. To the magic. To the fun. Where treachery is sweetly done.’ With an appreciative nod to ‘Applause,’ I’ve included two wonderful songs from the show, but have assigned them to different characters.”

The basic story follows Eve (Kate Watters), a fan who befriends theater legend Margo (Betsy Harvey). As Eve becomes more and more involved in Margo’s life, things begin to shift and Eve slowly makes her way into the spotlight.

“[It’s] a look behind Broadway’s curtains at ambition, ego and betrayal,” summed up John Stewart, who plays David ‘Tally-Ho’ Thompson.

For those who have perhaps seen the classic “All About Eve,” Stewart said the production of “The Wisdom of Eve” is a whole new experience in which to partake.

 “This is a completely different, trimmed down, amped up, immersive experience,” he said. “Edward [Jordan’s] vision is ambitious itself, combining multi-media, dance and music (from the past and present) to create a truly unique, involving, re-telling of this classic.”

“Years ago, in an attempt to rebrand itself for a whole new demographic, Oldsmobile launched a TV and print campaign with the slogan, ‘This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,'” Jordan said. “When describing ‘The Wisdom of Eve’ to young theater goers, I like to say, ‘This is not your great-grandfather’s ‘All About Eve.’  Yes, we’re set in 1960, but the show has a 2022 vibe, musically enhanced by our 24-year-old musical director, Kaj Lund Olsen.He even puts his youthful spin on songs from the 1980s/90s. And what would any modern musical be without a bit of rap?

“‘The Wisdom of Eve’ is our soulful version of the story of Eve Harrington, which pays tribute to the source material – Ms. Orr’s timeless tale,” Jordan concluded.

In addition to good material and a stellar cast, costumes can go a long way toward setting a tone and getting actors to identify more closely with their character. That is certainly the case with this production.

“When an actor creates the outer look of a character in collaboration with the costume designer, it often informs – and ignites – the inner life of a character,” said Jordan. “Our brilliant costume designer, Suzi Dixon, is also an accomplished actor, so she understands costuming on an organic level.”

“The costumes are awesome, thanks to the creativity of Assistant Director Suzi Dixon, who was responsible for selecting costumes for all the cast members,” said Daunne Zinger, the choreographer for the production, who also plays the role of Beverly. “All of us have many costumes throughout the show, some of which require very fast changes.”

“Speaking for myself, relatively inexperienced compared to my cast mates, costumes take me a good part of the way toward immersing myself in character,” Stewart said.

While rehearsals have been conducted with masks, which has sometimes been challenging for the cast, masks are being dropped for the live performances. However, WICA has met the challenges thrown its way due to the pandemic and has played a key role in sorting out safety.

“Deana Duncan, artistic director and Acting executive director of WICA, helped Washington State write its reopening protocols,” Jordan said. “For most of our rehearsal period, we’ve been masked. We will be performing the show unmasked so that audiences can clearly hear the crackling dialogue and wonderful music. For those who have not yet returned to seeing live theater, the main stage auditorium at WICA has been completely redesigned with COVID protocols in mind.”

Not only do cast and crew feel this has been and will continue to be a safe production for audiences to enjoy, those who responded to Whidbey Weekly’s questions said they have enjoyed the process, particularly working with Jordan.

“Edward Jordon is one of the most creative and visionary people with whom I have worked,” said Zinger. “It has been a sheer delight to collaborate with him on all of the various dance/movement numbers within in the show. Even the various set changes are choreographed!”

“For me, working with Edward [has been most rewarding],” said Stewart. “I love watching his ideas and creativity come to life right there in front of me. He cracked me up at least once every single rehearsal.”

“The Wisdom of Eve” opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the WICA main stage in Langley. Performances will continue Thursday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 through Feb. 26. There will be two matinee performances at 2 p.m. Feb. 13 and 20. Tickets and information are available online at wicaonline.org.

“[I think audiences will enjoy] the full-throttle way in which the cast and crew have immersed themselves in the project,” Jordan said. “This has been an ambitious undertaking, mounted under the worst of times. But hopefully, it will bring us all back to the best of times.”