CAROLE MONFERDINI - Raised a Southerner
Carole Monferdini plays Julia Dent Grant. Her character was the devoted and much-loved wife to General Grant - in spite of having been raised in a southern family. During Grant's tenure as President, her Father, a resident at the White House, held forth nightly about the greatness of the Confederacy.
“What you've written is exactly what you explained to me then, and I realized that it was true - even in my own family. I did my best to persuade my Southern friends, but they called me a traitor." - Julia Dent Grant speaking to her husband
Where are you from and where do you live now? I’m originally from the little town of Alice, Texas – 110 miles north of the border. Now I live eleven blocks south of Grant’s Tomb.
Did you start out wanting to be in the theater? Yes. I took private acting lessons when I was twelve from a dear friend of my Mother’s. She was an actress and a great raconteur. I had a flare for sewing, too, but I lost interest when things became less structured.
Roughly how many plays will you perform in this year and in how many different locations? A lot of the time, you just don’t know what’s ahead for you. This year, I’ve stayed busy all the time. I’ve been doing lots of staged readings. They seem to have replaced out-of-town try-outs. I read scripts that help develop new plays for writers. I’ve done one other production this year. GRANT & TWAIN will be my second. But, some years I’ll be in the same show for the entire year. That’s happened to me three times.
Cite a couple roles you’ve truly enjoyed and tell me what made them so appealing. The first that comes to mind was playing the fashion icon Diana Vreeland. She was such a character and it was a one-woman show. That’s tricky to pull off because there are only so many devices you can use. Structurally it was difficult, but I found it delicious. Then I acted in another play by the GRANT & TWAIN playwright, Elizabeth Diggs. It was called Goodbye Freddie. I played a homemaker and a mother, a woman who looked at everything as if she were talking to children. For me, someone who was never much of a homemaker, it was playing against type - - and it got lots of laughs.
Have you done, or will you do any research for your character? I am always interested in researching the costumes and how women dress in period pieces. It informs the character.
What films or books have influenced your impression of the Civil War? Certainly Gone with the Wind. I’ve seen it many times. It romanticized everything, but showed the destruction, too. I started Civil War by Ken Burns, but it was so brutal I couldn’t finish it. I think I’ll try to watch it again.
It’s early in the process, but can you give us a little insight into your character? The first thing that strikes me is the nature of her relationship with her husband. They were devoted to each other. Next, she grew up in Missouri on a plantation that owned a small number of slaves. She would have qualified as a southerner – the exact opposite of her husband. And lastly (this is a technical thing), Julia was cross-eyed. It’s hard to find a photo of her that is not in profile. Apparently, she never wanted to look directly at the camera. I’m going to see if I can work with the make-up people and create the illusion of a sight impairment.
You mentioned working with the playwright before. Have you worked with Regge Life, the director? This will be my first time, but I do have something in common with him. He has worked at Shakespeare & Co. and so have I. I played a gentleman in director Tommy Tune’s The Club at the then Lenox Art Center – 1976. All the actors stayed at Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount – before it was open to the public. We had the complete run of the place.
What might the audience take away from the production? I am so impressed by Grant. The nature of this man in the face of such adversity. He seems so stoic. The fact that he was so ill by the time he began to write his memoirs. He did that knowing he was fighting a losing battle. He ultimately could claim victory because he got the book completed.
GRANT & TWAIN will be performed at PS21, Chatham, NY. Performances: Sept. 27, 28, 29 at 8pm. Matinees: Sept. 29, 30 at 2pm.
For tickets go to http://ps21chatham.org/event/grant-twain/.