In two days we bid farewell to our 15th Annual Ibsen production, Pillars of Society. Catherine Glynn made her Commonweal Theatre debut in the production and offers her thoughts as she says goodbye to Lona Hessel.
The other day Katie Berger who plays Dina Dorf in Pillars of Society asked me what my favorite role I have ever played was, and with no hesitation whatsoever I replied that it is Lona Hessel. She is to me on par with Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing (also a much beloved role for me), Hermione from the Winter’s Tale, and Haley from the one woman show Bad Dates. Lona combines all of the characteristics of my favorite parts and rolls them into one amazing and, as one critic said, “juicy” role.
Early on in rehearsals Hal would serenade me with Barry Manilow’s line from “Copa Cabana” singing “Lola, she was a show girl with yellow feathers in hair….” You can hear the song now can’t you? It certainly struck a chord with me. Lona is like Lola, she has a showgirl quality to her but she also has a strong moral compass that she sticks to and that sees her through her life. In fact, I see it as her driving force. That inner desire to see Karsten come clean and return to being the man he once was–the hero of her young heart.
The backstory of Lona having gone to America to find her beloved younger brother Johan and then seeing him through the hard times also became something very real to me as I played Lona. I could easily envision Lona singing in saloons, working odd jobs, and then when she finally mastered the English language from her native Norwegian, setting herself to the task of the writing of the book that she and Johan laughed so much over.
But the character alone is not what has me so beholden to Lona & Pillars of Society. Jeffrey Hatcher’s smooth and concise dialog which motivates the action so clearly; Hal’s keen and insightful direction that guides us so easily across the stage (and allowed me to throw my first glass of ‘aquavit’ into another’s actors face!); the gorgeous lights and setting that Jason and Kit designed to create the world we live in; Carolyn’s spot on stage management and of course my fellow cast members honest and riveting work all make leaving Lona a bittersweet prospect.
Lona Hessel is not necessarily among Ibsen’s great heroines, but I believe with Jeffrey’s latest adaptation she certainly should be. And above all, Lona is my homage to the women of Lanesboro–so many of whom have come to me and said, “all of my friends say that I am just like Lona.” And indeed many of them are, and it is with pleasure and pride that she has been my first role here at the Commonweal. I can think of no finer way to have begun my career here.