ARCHIVE: Everybody Must Get Lorraine’d

Lorraine-StoneBy TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit January 27, 2009)

You sure do meet a lot of new people working this here arts and entertainment beat. An actor-playwright here, a singer-songwriter there — plus bartender-artists, teacher-comedians, restaurateur-raconteurs and other more volatile hyphenates. But when you come to the realization that ten of these new acquaintances are the same person, it’s time to update the old FiloFax.

We first took notice of the all-around Renaissance woman Lorraine Stone in Raisin in the Sun and other productions by Dunbar Repertory Company, producer Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr.’s loosely organized troupe dedicated to presenting African American-themed stageworks in and around Monmouth County.

From there, she started showing up like Where’s Waldo in the cast photos for The Vagina Monologues at Brookdale Community CollegeMarjorie Conn’s guerrilla-theater Viva Vagina in Asbury Park; and natural-childbirth advocate Karen Brody’s BIRTH: The Play in Middletown.

And wasn’t that Stone the solo storyteller (performing under the name The Wisdomkeeper) portraying such historical heroines as Harriet Tubman andSojourner Truth? Why yes — yes it was. What’s more, if you’ve ever caught a performance by the Afro-Caribbean percussion and dance ensemble M’Zume, you’d find this mother of three grown sons out front and outdancing performers half her age.

The Eatontown resident, an experienced journalist and a first-time grandmother as of 2008, is going to be very visible these next few weeks — starting Thursday, when she’ll appear at the Middletown Township Public Library in a solo performance of material from her Stone-alone poetry show Words, Rhythms and Love.

This coming Saturday, Stone is one of the performers scheduled to appear in a special evening hosted by Pandora Scooter at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Lincroft — an event that promises to channel some of the energy of the self-described Queermamasapien Spoken Word Dynamo’s Open Mic hootenannies in Highland Park.

Then, on February 8, Stone transitions from intimate guerilla-style art happenings to the stage of the Count Basie Theatre, where she’ll stand in front of the Monmouth Civic Chorus as Sojourner Truth, in a symphonic salute to President Abraham Lincoln.

And — this just in — Lorraine Stone will be co-starring in the February 22 performance of The Letters of Ethel and Julius RosenbergMarjorie Conn’s piece (presented at Restaurant Plan B in Asbury Park) about the American couple who were convicted and executed as Soviet spies in the 1950s. More about Conn and her work tomorrow, here in oRBit.

Even during a week when her car was in the shop and she was on the mend from a leg injury, Lorraine Stone presented a performance poet in motion. Red Bank oRBit caught up with her for a quick chat at Panera Bread in Shrewsbury.

RED BANK ORBIT: I suppose I should ask you how you manage to keep up with yourself — I’m getting winded just contemplating your schedule. So is this the start of an insanely busy 2009 for you?

LORRAINE STONE: It’s February, you know — Black History Month. This is going to be as good as it gets for me!

They’re not all Black History events; you’re one of five actresses playing Ethel Rosenberg over at Plan B.

It’s the first time I’ve ever played a Jewish woman — a different character than I get to do with Sojourner or Harriet. I have to keep them all distinct and compartmentalized — I go from six foot tall Sojourner Truth to Harriet Tubman, who was just five foot two. And being Ethel Rosenberg is something else again — all kinds of women have traveled through me (laughs).

You spend a lot of time either alone on stage or in a really small cast, but last time I saw you perform was part of an ensemble, in The Dance on Widow’s Rowfor Darrell Willis at Brookdale…

That was my first time in a comedy, at least a hundred percent comedy sort of play. I thought we could have used some more rehearsal time with that one, but you know, the people who came to see it really seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some of the women came back to see it again — I guess we underestimated how much people wanted to laugh!

So tell us about what you’ve lined up for Thursday in Middletown.

That’ll be a poetry show — excerpts from the Words, Rhythms show I do. I’ll be doing things like “The Party” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Creation” by James Weldon Johnson, and a Nikki Giovanni poem, “Ego Tripping,” also about creating the universe. I like to pick poems that tell stories.

And at the same time you’re starting to rehearse a much bigger and different kind of piece, with the Monmouth Civic Chorus. Are you doing your regular Sojourner Truth program with them?

No, actually this is something different. Same character, different words. It’s a letter that she wrote — she was illiterate, you know, but she had another person write it down — she wrote a letter to President Lincoln after meeting with him.

This is basically a program honoring Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday.

It includes his favorite music, with excerpts from his big speeches, his letters, the debates with Stephen Douglas. Lincoln really liked music, and he liked going to the theater — I guess you could say that’s what did him in.

Then with the Rosenbergs thing, you’re being paired for that performance with Greg Brewington…

Right, he’s a former teacher in Asbury Park; a member of the Board. They’re all interesting pairings — it’s a small town, Asbury Park, but like most towns in New Jersey it’s been pretty segregated over the years. Most of New Jersey is still like that. These pairings can help — with the kind of arts community that’s been emerging there, it could be a rationale for different people to come together on projects like this.

Oh, and I have to mention that I wrote my first play — writing is my first love, you know, I used to write for the Asbury Park Press — and I wrote something for theStrand Theater in Lakewood; they have their Playwrights on the Rise series, and they did a play I wrote called Mama’Zuri.

What can you tell us about that?

It’s about a retired woman, 75-ish, a widow, independent and active. Her son wants her to move in with him, but she gets married again and doesn’t tell him. And then she…

Save the spoilers! Tell us instead what you have lined up for us on Saturday night.

I have no idea! I just have a small part of the show, but — I think of Sojourner Truth standing on a stage, looking at the audience and saying “I see all of us are here to see what I’m gonna say!”

I wouldn’t worry about it. You must have about eleven or twelve full-length, one-woman shows stored in your head.

I’ll just knock on my brain and say, “come on out!”