Theater is visual.
While it cannot exist without the leverage of the spoken word, the script in itself is enriched and interpreted through costuming, sets, lighting, and sound, all choreographed through the imaginative eye of the director.
Whether acting as a producer or director for Bath House sponsored productions, Marty Van Kleeck steeps these works in a profusion of carefully researched details.
The recent one-woman play revealing an intimate look into the lives of First Ladies Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, and Lady Bird Johnson, Tea for Three, is an ideal example of how much rigor is devoted to bring authenticity to the stage.
For this play, Marty first enlisted the assistance of Rand McLeroy who served in the White House during the Clinton Administration. With Mr. McLeroy’s knowledge of the presidential residence, Marty was confident that the sets expressed each woman’s historical milieu, from flower arrangements through decorative colors.
Marty and team researched each era’s artwork so that replicas of the paintings were changed on stage to coincide with each First Lady’s performance. These prints were over-painted with a clear texturing, rendering a near-likeness of authentic brushwork.
Old photographs of the women’s families were sourced, framed, and set out on the stage. A particularly serendipitous find was a photograph of Lady Bird and her two daughters. This was placed on the table beneath the Mary Cassatt painting, Young Mother and Two Children, which Mrs. Johnson had purchased for the White House.
Publications casually displayed on tables bore scanned magazine faces from each era, glued to the faces of current periodicals. Wedding rings slipped on and off Marty’s finger with each act. A silver coffee service set was spirited from a resale shop to rest front and center on a coffee table. Food required a degree of craftsmanship: baked potatoes were modeled from painted Styrofoam and faux greenery tossed into a realistic salad.
An ingenious touch to handling mundane set changes was mastered by two gentlemen dressed in the manservant formalwear of each era. These actors set about replacing and moving props while the audience observed the transition. What a wonderful way to segue patrons into each act!
With Coy Cunningham’s creative wigs matched to each woman’s hairstyle and vintage outfits based on news articles about them, Mary Van Kleeck magically and effortlessly slipped into each First Lady’s persona. Marty’s performance was critically acclaimed throughout the city.
Marty Van Kleeck is the Manager Director of the Bath House Cultural Center and producer of One Thirty Productions and the Library Series. Marty has directed and designed numerous shows for these productions, notably acting in all of the Library Series’ shows. Prior to her role with the Bath House, Marty spent 30 years as an actress, costume designer and director at the Granbury Opera House as well as nine years as Managing Director for the historic Texas theater.