Carolyn Michel takes the stage this week in Florida Studio Theatre’s production of “Family Secrets,” a one-woman show by Sherry Glaser and Gregory Howells. Michel portrays all five members of a Jewish family who have moved from the Bronx to Southern California. It’s a family affair in more ways than one. Michel’s husband, Howard Millman, is directing.
“It’s a relief to know I’m in good hands,” says Michel. “This play is a high-wire act without a net. I transform in plain sight and never leave the stage. I do all my costume and wig changes in front of the audience.”
Michel’s characters include: Bev (“a mom with her own story to tell”); Mort, the father (“a straightforward guy in a complex family”); their rebellious 16-year-old daughter, Fern; their 20-something daughter (“who’s still finding herself”); and Grandma Rose (“an octogenarian who never lost herself”).
According to Millman, the characters are loosely based on Glaser’s own family members. “The play’s family is very specific. At the same time, it’s every family. You’ll laugh, but it’s the laughter of recognition and unflinching honesty.” He adds that the playwright has known her share of personal tragedy, and isn’t interested in saccharine stereotypes. “Glaser is gritty and fearless as a writer,” he says. “She makes us laugh through the pain of real life and real relationships. She never denies the heartbreak.”
Doing justice to Glaser’s edgy material was anything but a heartbreak. “It’s what we live for,” laughs Michel. “This really is as good as it gets.”
Millman’s and Michel’s creative collaboration dates back to their years at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. Millman held dual tenures as the Asolo’s former producing artistic director; Michel is a longstanding Asolo Rep actress.
Millman understands Michel’s process. “Before she walks into rehearsal, she has the role down,” he says. “She’s memorized her lines and plotted it all out in her mind.”
Michel says, “Howard is my mirror. I can’t see myself, but I can see myself through his eyes. I may think something works. He can look at me and say, ‘That doesn’t work; try this.’ And I’ll try it.”
“Family Secrets” marks Michel’s fifth one-woman play. It’s a form she is drawn to. “There’s an intimacy in any solo production,” she says. “You’re speaking directly to the audience, drawing them in, getting them on your side.”
She adds that it’s really the play speaking to the audience—and that the play deeply spoke to her. Michel says she was surprised by the play’s warmth and humanity. “Sherry Glaser is a legendary comic talent,” she says. “I expected belly laughs. But I didn’t expect it to touch me the way it did.”
“We can all relate to the Fishers,” says Millman. “They’ve been called a dysfunctional family. I think that’s a mistake. Families function by being dysfunctional! We all have skeletons in our closets.”
“Family Secrets” runs June 30-July 25, at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre, 1247 First St., Sarasota; Tickets: $19-$34. For information, call (941) 366-9000 or go to www.floridastudiotheatre.org.