(Michael Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 9/19.)
As a small child, multiple Tony nominee and Obie Award winner Dana Ivey was taken by her actress mother to see the legendary lady. "We were up in the balcony," Ivey recalls. "She was far away on the stage, in a pool of light. As a rule, I don't much like single-person shows, but just remembering her alone on a big stage, in that pool of light, must somehow have been formative."
It might well have been. The legendary lady, whose 130th birthday the world will celebrate this December, was Ruth Draper (1884-1956). Her solo performances, preserved on audio recordings made 60 years ago, have kept her enchantment alive. Idolized in her own time, Draper achieved the magic all by herself, with nothing onstage except her, a shawl, a chair, and occasionally a small table. It was enough to earn her four decades of sold-out houses, critical raves, and the adoration of her most eminent colleagues. John Gielgud ranked her with Martha Graham as "the greatest individual performer[s] America had yet produced," while Uta Hagen declared, "I was in awe of Ruth Draper. Each of her characters was like a Rembrandt on stage." Last spring, Annette Bening joined the long list of actors tempted to test their skills against the challenge of Draper's texts, with an evening of four Draper monologues at L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse.