Out director again teams with longtime friend in Houston premiere.
By Donalevan Maines
Frightened women and a forlorn man seek shelter at a bed and breakfast run by a single mother in the Houston premiere of When We Were Young and Unafraid, which plays May 27–June 17 at Theatre Southwest.
Sarah Treem’s 2014 feminist drama is set in the early 1970s, which is 20 years before the play’s out director, Bob Maddox, met the show’s leading lady, Lisa Schofield, in 1991. The stage partnership they launched that year is still going strong.
“We became instant friends, like we had known each other all our lives,” says Schofield, who’s married and lives in Willis. “Bob and I have directed each other many, many times, and onstage, we’ve been married, divorced, brother and sister, friends, lovers, and everything in between.”
Most recently, the pair squared off as Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn in Doubt, A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, with Maddox portraying a middle-aged priest whom the nun accuses of sexual misconduct with an altar boy.
Audience members are left to decide for themselves whether the nun’s allegation is true. At the first rehearsal, Maddox says, “I told everyone, ‘I’m not going to tell anyone what I think until the play closes.’”
In contrast, upon being cast as Agnes in When We Were Young and Unafraid, Schofield allowed that she thinks her character is a lesbian, although the author never spells it out. “The story takes place in the ’70s, and I suspect she doesn’t know she’s a lesbian—or it would not have occurred to her,” says Schofield.
The small cast’s only out character is Hannah, a lesbian who is militantly misandrous (meaning the opposite of misogynystic). When Hannah arrives at the bed and breakfast, she tells Agnes this is merely a stop on her way to a commune where she’ll enjoy bare-breasted rituals with fellow man-haters. “My character finds that pretty funny. It is not something she would ever do,” says Schofield.
Among other guests, Mary Anne is fleeing her abusive husband, while Paul’s wife has kicked him out. “She thought he was boring,” explains Maddox. “Well, he is kind of boring.”
Agnes’ teenage daughter, Penny, soaks in how the adults around her react as the drumbeat of America’s feminist revolution grows louder. Outside her tiny world, women and their supporters mobilize states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and U.S. Supreme Court justices weigh arguments over the issue of abortion in Roe v. Wade. The Violence Against Women Act won’t become federal law until 1994.
“The play deals with how all the people we encounter in life influence us to some extent,” says Maddox. “Some people will call it a women’s play. I think of it more as a people’s play.”
In addition to Schofield and Miriam Okafor as Hannah, the cast includes Jenna Morris as Mary Anne, Austin Heps as Paul, and Rachel Watkins as Penny.
Maddox grew up in Ohio, where he started acting in high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and theater at Kent State University. He also studied acting at Florida State University.
A position at The Gap brought Maddox to Houston 34 years ago. “I’ve lived all over town,” he says.
The past 17 years, Maddox has taught theater at Alief Taylor High School, where he’ll retire at the end of this semester. “Hopefully, I will be doing more theater, and I will get around more,” he says.
A resident of west Houston, Maddox says he’s mainly stayed close to home, directing and acting “an average of one thing a year” both at Theatre Southwest and Country Playhouse, now called Queensbury Theatre.
He’s played Vanya in Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, Yvan in Art, and Barney in Last of the Red Hot Lovers, as well as George in both Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Same Time, Next Year (opposite Schofield in each).
Of those, he said, Vanya is a favorite character. “He was very ‘out,’” Maddox says, recalling the role that out Tony Award-winner David Hyde Pierce created in 2012 and performed on Broadway in 2013.
The show’s denouement featured an impassioned monologue by Vanya. “That was wonderful,” Maddox says. “Everything he talked about, I know all those things. The biggest thing was that life’s gotten too complicated.”
Maddox’s directing credits include Master Class, A Streetcar Named Desire, Equus, Bent, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Hurlyburly, The Philadelphia Story, and the musicals Mame and Curtains.
Donalevan Maines played Tom Wingfield opposite Lisa Schofield as his mother in a 2013 production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.