Pleasures of Life Dept.
Landing a Zinger
By Jim Moriarty
Butterflies of a particularly glamorous variety usher in an early spring when the Judson Theatre Company presents Morgan Fairchild headlining Leonard Gershe’s play Butterflies Are Free at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium. There will be five performances beginning Thursday, March 7, and concluding with a Sunday matinee on March 10.
Fairchild’s credits in film and television in a career stretching from the 1960s to today are far too numerous to list here. Her resume includes nominations for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. She starred last year in the Lifetime holiday movie Ladies of the 80s: A Diva Christmas. She is known for her work as Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) mom on Friends and as the character Jordan Roberts on Falcon Crest in the ’80s. She played the “cougar” stalking Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) on Two and a Half Men. Her film career began in 1967 at the age of 16 when she was asked if she wanted to be in a movie and found herself doubling for Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, a film classic nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
“I wasn’t exactly a stunt double or body double. Whenever they needed a long shot of Faye where you couldn’t be sure it was her, they put in a double. I ended up doing a lot of the driving scenes,” says Fairchild. “They drove us out to the middle of nowhere Texas. I have no idea what I’m doing. I said to somebody, ‘What do we do?’ And they said, ‘Why don’t you take a look at the set.’ So I start walking down this dirt road and I’m not seeing anything that looks like a set. I’m in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of open fields. I see this guy in silhouette coming toward me in the dawn, kind of hunched over and I said, ‘Excuse me, do you know where the set is?’ And he looks up and he smiles. It was Warren Beatty. And Warren Beatty at 28 with the sun coming up behind him is the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen. Anyway, that was my introduction to movies. It was a great learning experience for a kid. It made me fall in love with movies.”
As well-known as Fairchild is for her work on television and in film, she has managed to make room for live theater. “I started in the theater when I was 10, so I grew up in the theater before I got into any kind of television or film,” she says. “There’s just something about the feedback of a live audience — you’re out there and you’re all in it together.” In 2004-5 she did a national tour playing Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. And last fall she played the role of Monette in Always a Bridesmaid at the New Theatre in Kansas City.
“Morgan Fairchild is the ultimate pro as Monette,” wrote BroadwayWorld.com of her appearance. “It is a pleasure to see her.”
In Butterflies Are Free, Fairchild plays the role of the over-protective mother Mrs. Baker. “Of course Morgan is so glamorous, which is one of the things that really suits her well to Mrs. Baker,” says Morgan Sills, Judson Theatre Company’s executive director, who will be directing the play, a first for him at Judson though far from a career first. Previously, he directed shows at Millbrook Playhouse and the Shawnee Playhouse, both in Pennsylvania, and at the Artistree Music Theater Festival in Vermont. “The role of Mrs. Baker has always attracted these larger-than-life star ladies who can really, really act. Gloria Swanson. Ann Sothern. Eve Arden. So many different women have played this role. I can’t wait to see what Morgan brings to it because she knows how to land a zinger, but she also has the warmth and the heart and the technique as a stage actor to do it justice.”
Judson’s artistic director, Daniel Haley, typically directs the company’s productions. This one is different because Sills knew the playwright, Leonard Gershe. While Butterflies Are Free is easily Gershe’s most successful play, enjoying a three-year run on Broadway (he also adapted it for the screen in the 1972 movie of the same name starring Goldie Hawn), his extraordinary career included bringing Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings to the screen, writing the second book for Destry Rides Again on Broadway and, along with his writing partner, Roger Edens, writing the screenplay for Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. “He was an excellent problem-solver,” says Sills. “He knew how to look at something and take it from where it was to where it needed to be.”
It was Sills’ work on a show of his own about Edens that brought him and Gershe together. “Part of my primary research was to write everybody at MGM who was still alive to see if they would talk to me. I saw Leonard’s email address in the AOL member directory, and so I wrote him,” says Sills. “We started emailing and talking on the phone. I visited his home in Beverly Hills. We went to Roger’s grave. Then he agreed to edit the script of the show I was writing. It was all of Roger’s songs, including the ones he and Leonard wrote for Funny Face.”
Butterflies Are Free opens with a revelation and closes with the three primary characters arriving at their own personal revelations. Along the way it’s a witty, coming of age rom-com. “The play straddles two eras of playwriting,” says Sills. “There is sort of the old school, well-made play and these late ’60s newer ideas. The play is like Leonard’s still alive because so many of his values are in it. His sense of humor is very much in it. His warmth is in it. So, this is a full circle moment for me.”
The performance schedule opens on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. There is a Friday, March 8, evening performance at 8 p.m. On March 9, Saturday’s 2 p.m. matinee includes a post-show talk-back session with the actors. There is a second Saturday performance at 8 p.m. The run concludes with a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Tickets can be purchased at judsontheatre.com or through ticketmesandhills.com. PS
Jim Moriarty is the Editor of PineStraw and can be reached at