Sunday, August 16, 2009


We gathered last night for a big send-off. DC actress, masseuse, disease simulator, and party girl Kathleen Coons is heading west.

I saw Kathleen long before I ever met her. At least a decade ago, I attended my first Washington Stage Guild production, Major Barbara, which included in the cast my grad school buddy Steve Carpenter. Steve was doubling as upper-class snit Stephen Undershaft and, in Act Two, one of the bums in Barbara's Salvation Army shelter. He was a hoot as both.

Kathleen also doubled in the show, playing earnest worker Jenny in Act Two, who gets the crap beat out of her by one of the lowlifes. I have to confess I don't remember that role. But I surely DO remember her first appearance onstage, in Act One, in which she played Sarah Undershaft as a girl bored to the point of lethargy. It is not a huge part, as written, but Kathleen made the most of her moments, employing slow-motion movement which reflected the character's trance-like, uneventful life. She got funnier and funnier, crossing the stage in a smooth, serpentine walk that was an absolute scream.

This was not Kathleen's first appearance with WSG. That would be in a play called Ill Met By Moonlight. She tells a funny story of being cast through her friend Tricia, who was also in the cast, and meeting her director at the first read-through, still not knowing which role she was to play. Since then, she has been a regular player with the Stage Guild. Last night, she filled me in on a bit of her stage history here in town. Her first professional gig coincided with Steve's; they both appeared in the Source Theatre Festival, and actually met the night of the final honors. They became fast and good friends, and have worked together many times since. Kathleen has appeared on most of the stages around town: she played in a sandbox at Signature, restored some comedy at Olney, and mothered a girl in a goldfish bowl at Metrostage. She understands Sapphic souls well, having played for the all-girls' team at Source and Studio SecondStage.

It was backstage at Theatre Alliance that I finally met her. Steve was directing a well-received production of Thief River (for which he earned a Helen Hayes nomination), and Kathleen was often backstage during rehearsal and performances, helping out. She appeared on that stage several times over the years; I wish I had seen her there in Two Rooms, one of my favorite Lee Blessing plays. I recall her stunning work in Alice's Wedding in 2004 with particular awe. It's a two-hander, and she shared the stage with Aubrey Deeker; together, well, it was pretty magical. He was a soldier, and she was his bride; one of them was a ghost, or a memory, or both of them were, or something. My memory is pretty shoddy about those specifics, it was five years ago, give me a break, but I was blown away by two young actors at the top of their game:

Kathleen won a Helen Hayes nomination for her work.

I felt extremely lucky to finally share the stage with Kathleen a few years ago, in the Stage Guild's Opus. We were only onstage twice together, once in the big climactic group scene, and another earlier moment which became my favorite scene of the play. Kathleen is an actress who excels in the give-and-take we all hope for from an acting partner; it was a delicate little scene with many subtle nuances. Often, when two actors approach such a scene, there is a lot of discussion in rehearsal, breaking down the moments of the scene so they can be emotionally choreographed. Kathleen and I didn't do any of that. It may be that, subconsciously, we both felt too much discussion might break the fragility of the work going on. But I know I trusted Kathleen, and she trusted me, so we just stepped off the cliff, and played.

Our director (Steve Carpenter again) trusted the both of us, and we did not over-rehearse it. I had a pretty proud moment after our Designer Run, which was the first time the full play was seen by WSG's artistic director John MacDonald. He motioned me over to him after the rehearsal, and gave me a lovely compliment on that particular scene.

How did this get to be about me? Bad habit. Anyway, I loved working with Kathleen, and hoped to do so again. Other than a few staged readings, we haven't had the chance. I still have hopes, but it will be more difficult now that she's returning to Denver, to be closer to her family. The Mile-High theatre community is lucky to have her, but she'll be missed around here. She's a charming goof in civilian life, but when she comes to work, she Brings It.

Godspeed, Kathleen. Come back to us soon.

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