Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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A Truly Vineyard Theatrical Tribute

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

At the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse Tuesday night, every seat in the lobby café was filled as playhouse literary manager Jenny Allen hosted the first of her off-season Jenny’s Drama Salons.

More than 40 people turned out for Ms. Allen’s tribute to playwright, director and screenwriter Garson Kanin, which featured a reading from one of his classic comedies and reminiscences by actress and Edgartown resident Diana Muldaur Dozier, as well as others in the audience who had known Mr. Kanin and his wife Ruth Gordon during their summers in Edgartown.

Although Ms. Muldaur Dozier and the Kanins both had longstanding Martha’s Vineyard connections, they never met here, she told the audience.

“I was working seven days a week in the African Rift Valley or some kind of place, making a living,” said the actress, who has been nominated for three Emmy awards: once for her starring role in Born Free in the 1970s and twice for her villainous attorney Rosalind Shays in L.A. Law (1989-1991).

But in her last Broadway play before moving to Hollywood, Ms. Muldaur Dozier appeared in a 1965 comedy by Ms. Gordon that was directed by Mr. Kanin, whose brother Michael had directed her in an earlier role.

Titled A Very Rich Woman, Ms. Gordon’s play was later made into a film called Rosie, starring Rosalind Russell. Ms. Muldaur Dozier said the Broadway production ran only three weeks, the minimum necessary to sell the movie rights.

“It was the biggest bomb ever,” Ms. Muldaur Dozier said. “This was all for her. He directed it and he loved her.”

She enjoyed working with the couple, especially Mr. Kanin.

“He was fabulous. He’d say, ‘Show me what you’d like to do,’” she recalled.

“Then Ruth Gordon would say, ‘You’re going to let her do that?’”

Ms. Muldaur Dozier also shared a memory that resonated with Islanders in the audience who recalled the Kanins as an inseparable couple, always seen together and usually hand in hand.

“When we took a lunch break, they would go to the automat. That was their favorite restaurant,” she said. “I loved them for that.”

The playhouse event, which began with coffee, cider, pears with blue cheese and a home-baked apple cake Ms. Allen had prepared with freshly whipped cream, included a reading from Mr. Kanin’s play Born Yesterday by actors Chelsea McCarthy and Paul Munafo.

Ms. McCarthy played Billie Dawn, (Judy Holliday in the 1950 film), a role her mother Taffy McCarthy—who was in the audience Tuesday—had performed at the playhouse in 1984.

“It was so delicious to me to play a part that my mom had played that I remembered seeing her do when I was younger,” Ms. McCarthy said, as her mother smiled.

The evening also included a salute to Ms. Gordon by Mona Hennessy, who spoke about the actress-writer’s life and shared some of her memorable sayings and writings.

“She had more determination than anybody,” Ms. Hennessy said. “She decided when she was 14 that she was going to be an actress,” and by 16 was appearing on Broadway.

Former neighbors exchanged anecdotes about the friendly Hollywood couple. Edgartown shopkeeper Carol Fligor recalled waiting on the Kanins and receiving a handwritten note of thanks from Ms. Gordon for helping choose clothes for the actress’s young son.

After the evening ended, Ms. Allen expressed pleasure that the audience had felt so free to participate.

“It’s not supposed to be a show, really, it’s more convivial,” she said. “There should be a little but of a party feel.”

Ms. Allen said her next drama salon at the playhouse will be in January, with a topic yet to be determined.

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