Echoes of Late Night Theatre at the Unicorn
November 14, 2008
by John Long
Although the burlesque satires of Late Night Theatre are now only wonderful memories, the spirit of the classic camp group lives on through the Unicorn Theatre and the many LNT cast members who now perform there.
One of these, Ron Megee, is returning to the Unicorn after his successful role in last year’s La Cage Aux Folles. This time he plays the lead character in Sister Mary Explains It All For You, written by Christopher Durang and directed by Jeff Church.
I discussed this play, among other topics, with Cynthia Levin, producing artistic director for the Unicorn.
Levin said that she’s looking forward to working with Megee in at least one production a year.
“Jeff Church and I want to keep Ron’s presence in front of people as an actor and also to keep the reminder of Late Night Theatre in that wild humor that they were known for. Ron is just so good at comedy and dark comedy and camp,” she said with a laugh. “We just don’t want him to just go around and be an auctioneer and host events and help not-for-profits raise money and all of those things which he does so well but you know we really want him to be an actor. I love him, he’s a close friend and I want him to have the opportunity to be on stage and to do the kind of theater that he’s really good at and he’s known for and people want to come and see. But also to get him to do stuff like he did in The Laramie Project, which is absolute serious drama, which he also can do. He’s got a great heart. He’s able to do a wide variety, he’s just not known for that.”
Of Sister Mary, she said, “Any time you get into the dogma of the Catholic church, and especially this is 25-year-old dogma, so it’s the old style of Catholicism, where there were even more rules and regulations … it’s really funny. I’ve learned more about Catholicism than I’ve ever known in my entire life.”
Levin said that Megee gets to play the older rules against the new rules, such as being allowed to eat meat on Fridays. “Sister Mary just explains that if you ate meat in the pre-Vatican years, you were still going to go to hell,” she said.
Levin said she was also pleased that two others from Late Night Theatre, former actors Corrie VanAusdal and Gary Campbell, are also cast in this production.
Another Late Night Theatre alum working with the Unicorn is Missy Koonce, who will come back to the theater in 2009.
“She is going to be in our production of Bear in the spring and she is going to direct our production of Speech and Debate at the end of the season. I think it’s going to be fabulous. She belongs on stage. And she’s very excited about getting back into both performing and directing.”
Both Koonce and Megee played prominent roles in roasting Levin on Nov. 2 in a sold-out event with more than 250 people at the Uptown Theater.
“It was equal parts wonderful and fun and exciting and embarrassing as hell,” she said with a laugh. “It was wonderful and it was a great evening, but certainly when two of your roasters are Ron Megee and Missy Koonce, you know you’re in for a wild ride.”
“It was really fun. They’re my closest friends. … One should know better – one should only have complete strangers roast you that know nothing. Oh my God, for the most part, I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in years.”
Levin has many plans for 2009. After the Unicorn met the goals of its Capital Campaign last year and expanded the Unicorn to include the new Jerome Stage, she said, it’s been nonstop with productions running simultaneously at both theaters. Eight productions are scheduled for this season.
She is also very excited about The Women of Brewster Place, a musical that opens Dec. 5 and will run for six weeks.
“At the same time Sister Mary is going on in Jerome, we have this huge musical going on on the main stage the entire month of December. I am truly, truly excited. This is my holiday present for myself and also for the rest of the city, that there’s these two amazing shows that we’re going to be producing that are unlike anything else that plays in this city. They just are. What we do, like it or not, it is different from anything else that goes up on the stages at any of the other theaters.”
Levin said that because they have the two theaters, they run shows longer and alternate between them.
“Then we’re sort of co-producing two or three other shows with other people. Right now we’re running three one-act plays (Liquid Morality) with Ron Simonian for two weeks in between two shows that we have in the Jerome.”
Levin said that after running the single Unicorn theater for years, it can sometimes be a bit crazy now with simultaneous productions.
“Last night at the theater, we have Ron Simonian’s show that’s playing in Jerome, we have Mauritius that’s playing on the main stage, and we were rehearsing, in the rehearsal space, Sister Mary. That was insane, but it’s so exciting because there’s something going on in every nook and cranny of the Unicorn. It’s really cool.”
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You opens Nov. 21 on the Jerome Stage at the Unicorn. Tickets can be purchased at unicorntheatre.org or by calling 816-531-PLAY.