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The perils of celebrity

Citizen Staff Writer
Cover story



Audiences aren’t the only people who feel special at a world première theater performance, getting to see something no one has seen before. The actors feel special, too, getting to create characters no one has seen before.

This weekend, Arizona Theatre Company officially opens the world première run of the pop culture comedy “Somebody/Nobody” by Jane Martin. That title refers to being a show biz celebrity – either you have it, or you don’t.

Jon Jory returns to ATC as the director, after his triumph last season directing “The Clean House,” starring Alexandra Tavares. She’s coming back, too, cast in the role of Sheena, the Hollywood actress obsessed by the fear that people are looking at her.

This may be a rare condition, but you can appreciate the potential pain for someone who makes her living as a celebrity. It’s much worse than stage fright. Especially if the people looking at you have cameras, such as those shameless paparazzi.

They will take a picture of you wearing a muumuu with your hair up in curlers, and put it on a grocery store magazine cover. In a sense, Sheena feels perpetually pursued by photographers with very long lenses. That fear is practical, at least.

“I think it’s a theme the playwright has been interested in for a long time. She had already written a draft, I believe,” says the actress.

That theme would be to explore the nature of celebrity, asking why our society is obsessed by it, what being a celebrity is really worth on the open market.

“Sheena is more like a B-list movie star,” Tavares continues. “One of those celebrities who has never done anything. If she’s cast in a horror movie, she’s one who never makes it to the end,” Tavares chuckles, thinks a bit and suggests Nicole Ritchie as an example.

Creating a stage character out of thin air, with nothing to go on but clues in the script, also requires considerable work on a back story. Tavares has given a lot of thought to the life Sheena must have led before the play started, the tensions that created her phobia for being looked at. The actress compares it to agoraphobia – illogical but very real to the person who is afflicted.

“Sheena physically finds it uncomfortable to be seen. She can’t stand to be looked at, which could be the manifestation of a deeper problem.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” Tavares says. “I’m also thinking, when she was little, her mother must have pushed her into being in movies in the first place.”

In the script, Tavares plays opposite Jessica Martin as Loli, a diesel truck mechanic as starry-eyed as any TV addict carried away with the magnetism of those winners on “American Idol.”

Loli is the “Nobody” in that title, lost in Los Angeles anonymity, truly a fate worse than death if you grew up in Flatt, Kan., reading movie magazines and dreaming of what life is like at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

“But Loli wants more than fame. She wants to be acknowledged, to find her own place in life.

“The play really is about the importance of identity. In a way, it is also about self-discovery,” Tavares says with a smile.

But first and foremost, “Somebody/Nobody” is a wacky comedy set among brightly costumed people caught up in the Hollywood hustle. They keep bursting in and out of Loli’s somewhat drab apartment.

That’s where that story starts, at Loli’s front door. Sheena is frantic and on the run in Los Angeles after appearing on one of those endless movie industry awards shows. She picks Loli’s door totally at random and starts pounding away. Sheena is wearing a disheveled gown Tavares describes as being “a bright color in the pink arena. I’m not sure what it would be called.”

When the desperate person who wants to hide out and become nobody meets the lonely person who wants to become somebody, Tavares says, “chaos ensues.”

“Sheena is completely different from any character I’ve ever done before. Usually I’m doing more subtle parts,” the actress continues. “Sheena’s personality is so far out there, so full of eccentric qualities. And she’s a bit of a sensual movie star goddess, too.”

Letting the character grow from the inside out is Tavares’ method. She calls it “a treat” to be working on a world première, “to feel like you have a stamp on something. I haven’t done many world premières.”

Sheena’s personality has grown right along with the script. Jory, Tavares and Jessica Martin all live in the Seattle area. On some of those rainy nights they would be working on lines, trying out ideas.

“Jon would suggest those ideas to the playwright, Jane Martin, and we might get new lines,” Tavares remembers. “I think I came into rehearsal here with more of an understanding of the play than usual. And so much of it is taken straight from today’s pop culture that is all around us.”

Well, maybe not all. Jory has tossed a vampire wannabe into the mix. You don’t see one of those every day.

“It’s more like, there are so many vampire movies these days, and people dressed in black Goth style,” Tavares says.

“We know every movie star has to have a stalker.

“It’s just that this one wants to suck the famous movie star’s blood.”

But the way Tavares describes it, Sheena the B-list celebrity won’t be getting a glamorous A-list vampire stalker. This one isn’t even a vampire, really, he’s just a wannabe.

Whether a somebody or nobody, everyone needs an identity


What: Arizona Theatre Company presents “Somebody/Nobody” by Jane Martin

When: Previews at 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-March 13; opens at 8 p.m. March 14 and continues at various times Tuesdays-Sundays through March 28.

Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Price: $26-$50

Info: 622-2823, www.aztheatreco.org

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