To paraphrase L.P. Hartley, the 1970's are a foreign country. They do things differently there. Judi Ann Mason's Livin' Fat, which opens this weekend at TheatreWorks, is a snapshot of a time when hair was bigger, pants were wider, and 8-track tapes were the emerging technology. And Mason, a prolific writer for stage, film, and television, helped to define the era with her work on situation comedies like Good Times. It's directed by Karen Moore, who's uncommonly familiar with the playwright and her work.
Intermission Impossible:Why don't you start by telling me a little bit about the play, and your connection to the work.
Karen Moore: Well, it was written in 1970s by dear friend of mine, Judi Ann Mason. I met her in 1975. I was going to Hendrix College and my college represented Arkansas at the American College Theater Festival. Her play represented Louisiana. And it won. It won the Norman Lear comedy award and, as a result, Judi was hired to work for Norman Lear on Good Times. She wrote plays and movies. The last major thing she wrote was Sister Act 2. It was a wonderful career and she's known as the youngest TV sitcom writer in the history of television. She passed away in 2009 and I was blessed to asked to sing at her memorial. Her children call me auntie Karen. We were really close.
And you have history with the play.
It's a laugh out loud comedy. It's so good but I didn't know if it would still be funny taking it out of the context the 70s. I directed it here in Memphis 38 years ago here in Memphis for Beale Street Repertory Company. It ran for 19 performances and they had extra performances it was such a popular piece. A lot of things happened with that show with me with that show. I met my husband there, through the theater company. I went to LA to assistant direct the play with Judi. From there I want to Chicago and I directed there.
You said you worried about the script being dated. Did you update it?
Do you think, in addition to still being funny, that it still resonates? Did it travel through time well?
It's about a poor black family, the Carter family. They're poor but able to put their son to college. It's his first summer home after graduation and the only job he is able to get is as the janitor in a bank. And one day, while he's dusting and cleaning the bank is robbed. The two robbers drop some of the money on their way out and he covers it up. He takes it home and start buying gifts and things for the family. At one point the son says, "I started to say something, but when I thought about how society is about us black folks — especially as black men — I kept that information to myself." How does that not come full circle to 2015?
Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company presents A Karen Moore, Inc. Production Livin' Fat by Judi Ann Mason
Directed by Karen Moore
May 22 - 31 Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:00, & Sunday, May 31 @ 2:00