It is so difficult to write a play based on real characters, particularly people who lived in a time different from our own. What were their mores, their culture, their understanding of the world? How did they talk? What did they wear? What did their world look like?
And how do you make the events of long ago feel immediate and new?
Laura Shamas took all that on and wrote Lady-Like, an enchanting musical with all the elements of a really good story – love, jeopardy, suspense, surprises, humor and sadness.
I felt as if I knew the characters, two aristocratic women, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, and their faithful Irish maid, Mary Carryll , who in 1778, ran away from English society and made a home in Wales, where they lived together until they died.
What was thoroughly engaging was the sense of place and time that Laura evoked. She researched the story with a research grant when she was a grad student and traveled to “Kilkenny, Woodstock, Waterford, Oxford, Aberystywyth and Llangollen to retrace the women’s steps, hold their letters, and smell the flowers at Play Newydd” (their home in Wales).
We got to know the women, whose elopement was sensational and who became known as the Ladies of Llangollen, “the two most celebrated virgins in Europe.” (On a modern note, as they became famous, they were visited by other famous or soon to be famous people, like the Duke of Wellington, Josiah Wedgwood, and William Wordsworth. The cult of celebrity is not new!)
Laura first wrote Lady-Like as a play and then turned it into a musical, teaming up with Lisa Donovan Lukas, who wrote the lyrics and music. I was happy to attend the “very first reading” of the show at the Santa Monica Playhouse in June.
Lady-Like has only three characters. Sarah was played by Emma Appleyard, Eleanor by Janna Cardia, and Mary by Jean Kauffman. Each was excellent. A lot of humor was supplied by Jean as Mary, who was a perfect foil for the two. Alex Shamas was the stage director.
The music, which is lovely, had the composer at the piano. You can listen to her music on You Tube and on her website www.lisadonovanlukas.com.
Congratulations to all. I’m hoping that I’ll see a full production soon, perhaps at the Geffen or the Taper.