Today is Josie Weems’ 93rd birthday, yet the event isn’t necessarily a happy one. She has outlived most of her family, including her husband and daughter. The occasion has given her time to ponder how she treated and manipulated that daughter, Laura Lee, going back nearly 40 years to 1923.
“I think living is my greatest punishment,” Josie Weems says in the play. The line of dialogue is a favorite of Jane Squier Bruns who portrays Weems in Quotidian Theatre Company’s (QTC) area premiere production of Horton Foote’s “Night Seasons” through Aug. 13 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. The Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who set his 1978 family drama in the mythical town of Harrison, Texas, is one of QTC’s two “cornerstone playwrights;” the other is Anton Chekhov.
Squier Bruns believes Weems has regrets does, but they don’t consume her. “She’s not sitting saying ‘How terrible I was!’ No, she doesn’t do that,” the actress said, adding that the character does express contrition that Laura Lee had been discouraged from marrying, buying a house and becoming independent of her meddlesome family.
A fan of Foote’s plays, Squier Bruns, who is a QTC acting company member, was honored to be offered the role of the play’s matriarch. She gets to jump time periods portraying Weems from her 50s all the way up to her 90s. “The challenge, of course, is there isn’t time for costume changes or anything like that to physically change, so you really have to do it within yourself as an actor,” she said noting that she uses her voice to sound older. “I think you have to trust that the audience will get used to that rhythm of jumping from one time period to another.”
Josie Weems isn’t the show’s main villain. That title goes to her son Thurman Weems, although David Dubov, the actor portraying him, does not necessarily think so. “As an actor, I don’t see him as a villain, but he definitely comes across to the audience as the bad guy in the piece,” he said. “In my interpretation, he really loves his sister Laura Lee and strings her along for years … Part of this is he is torn between his mother, a very domineering woman, and his sister and trying to balance the two competing demands–what he sees as his duty as a son and as a brother. He is walking that fine line, and by walking the fine line, he is really denying Laura Lee her independence and freedom.”
Dubov, who has been in about 10 QTC productions, said villains are the most fun parts to play. “There is so much energy,” he said, conceding that is it “negative energy, but it is certainly an energy to put out there on the stage.” Taking on the role of a villain is “a way to portray someone completely different from who you are in real life,” Dubov added.”
Carolyn Kashner, who plays Laura Lee in her third QTC production, saw the role as a challenge. “Laura Lee is a surprisingly complex person stuck in a family with not so complex people,” she observed. “They are all very objective-oriented and that objective is money–counting how much money they have, their status in society.”
In contrast, Laura Lee, Kashner said, “has real deep-seated sensitivity. I’d say she is very empathetic toward her fellow man. She cares about people for more than what they are worth to her. She has a feisty streak as well.”
Some of Laura Lee’s scenes are heart-breaking for Kashner’s character. “You can’t help but feel so, so sorry for her,” she said. “If she had a different family, if she had been born in a different time. She was spunky and fiery, and she really wanted that independence.”
“Night Seasons,” in Kashner’s opinion, picks apart an interesting family dynamic, and she is not convinced that Weems and Thurman are villains. “They are sort of evil by cluelessness if that can be a thing,” she said. “…I think Weems does love Thurman, but she has a hard time understanding someone who is so focused on one thing. Thurman doesn’t have room in his life for anything other than money and status.”
Dubov believes Foote’s plays give the audience the sense of being there with these people in the moment they are portraying. “They are such wonderful pieces of work where the audience feels like almost they are looking in the windows of somebody’s house or over the back fence of somebody’s house into their lives,” he said. “It is that slice of life that you see that Quotidian does so well.”
Quotidian Theatre Company presents Horton Foote’s “Night Seasons” through Aug. 13 at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Shows begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday and Saturday, Aug. 12. For tickets–$30, $25 for seniors, $15 for students—call 1-800-838-3006 Ext.1/Specify Quotidian Theatre or visit https://quotidiantheatre.org. For other questions or concerns, call 301-826-1023. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.