Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Woman of A Thousand Faces



Anyone who regularly attends Desert Star Playhouse recognizes Mary Parker Williams.  Mary, who’s currently starring in Goldilocks Capone and the 3 Amigos, is an audience favorite.  She has been lighting up the Desert Star stage with her hilarious facial expressions and outrageous physical comedy for many years. Her current turn as a maniacal and mischievous villain with a split personality, is bringing laughter to both young and old. 
We asked Mary, who is also the assistant director at Desert Star, to reflect on her all- time favorite characters she’s played on our stage, and what makes them memorable.  
Here are Mary’s top five favorite roles from the past:

Kit in Gunsmokin’ (2003)
••• Kit was fun to play because she was the heroine. She was a woman who dressed up and pretended to be a tough gunslinger to frighten off the villain.  So I got to pretend to be a guy. Scott Holman (the director) gave me the direction to play it like Clint Eastwood. If you notice, Clint always talks in a tough-guy whisper.  He never raises his voice.  That was back before we had microphones at Desert Star, but because my voice had to be so quiet, I was the only one miked for the show. I had a lot of fun with that character. I love western movies, so it’s a no-brainer that a western would be my favorite Desert Star show!
Betty in My Big Fat Utah Wedding (2004-05, 2010)
••• I loved playing Betty, the mother of the bride. I gave her a scatterbrained and flighty personality. Betty was a homemaker, so I just tried to think of all the examples in my life of great housewives. My mother had nine sisters, so I drew on my memories of them, and it gave me a lot of inspiration.  
There was a funny bit of physical comedy I added to the character.  I thought back to my childhood days in Primary, and how the chorister would use her hands to physically cue us when the notes of the song were going up or down.  So I added snippets of familiar LDS songs to my dialogue, and I’d do that with my hands while I sang.  The audience really got a kick out of it. 

Mrs. Huffington in My Valley Fair Lady (2008)
•••For the physical shtick, I really enjoyed playing Mrs. Huffington. Ben Millet wrote this character to be overly-injected with botox. She was a rich snob with an addiction to plastic surgery.  Ben actually wrote into the script for the character to wear a clear plastic mask to simulate the botox, but I wanted the challenge of seeing how stiff I could hold my face, while still being understood. I thought it made the character a lot of fun.
The other thing I loved about that part was the way it evolved over time. In the play, the character gets shocked. So the botox goes all the way down to her feet. The challenge was to keep my whole body rigid--as if it had been subjected to botox--while they laid me down on the floor. Later, they’d pick me up and put me on the couch.  Then, a few weeks into the show, I had another idea.  I wondered if I had the strength to keep my body stiff, so I’d look like a plank spanning from one arm of the couch to the other. I was there for quite a while during the scene, but I did it!  It's a fun place in my memory because I was able to add a bit of physical comedy for my own enjoyment.  
Frau Knockwurst in The Phantom of the Grand Ole’ Opry (2007)
••• I’ve played a lot of old women at Desert Star, but I felt my biggest success with Frau Knockwurst. She was really fun because of the challenge of an accent.  She was kind of patterned after Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein.  It takes me a while to get accents, so the idea of her being German didn’t sound too exciting in the beginning. But, through the rehearsal process, I was finally able to accomplish it without morphing into other accents. I also gave her a real sourpuss mouth.  I get a kick out of coming up with signature facial expressions for a character.  
I also like to put accents in my costume for the audience to notice.  Frau Knockwurst was the costume mistress for the opera house, so I put a pin cushion on her hat, and worked a lot of other funny bits into the costume.  For me, that adds a lot of fun to the character.  
Julia in Jekyll & Hyde (2003)
•••This was the first time I got padded for a role. I had to wear a fat suit, which made me look and feel like I had substance–a full figure gal! I also loved this role because of the sound effects.  I love sound effects, so I asked Scott Holman if I could do all of them for the show. He just rolled his eyes and said, “Whatever, Mary.” I got this apron where I kept a horn, slide whistle, and bird whistles. For most of the sound effects, I was doing them into a microphone from off stage. However, when one character got hit over the head, I came onstage with the bird whistle to help the audience imagine a cartoon with birds flying around his head.  That whistle, however, needed water to make the trilling sound. I had a lot of funny mishaps with the water spilling in my apron, making it look like I’d accidentally peed my pants.    





Mary summed it all up this way, “I love sound effects and I love costumes. Once I’m in a costume it really helps to flesh out a character. Other theaters spend a lot of money on visual effects, but I think sometimes those things can get in the way. An actor can be overwhelmed by costumes and scenery. So much emphasis can be placed on those things that we forget there’s a story and great characters–and those are what I love about theater!”
Goldilocks Capone and The Three Amigos ends this Saturday, August 6.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see this funny comedienne in one of her zaniest roles!  Click here for tickets.

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