Posted: April 29, 2008
To cap off her long and illustrious career as professor of theatre arts at Mount Holyoke, Joyce Devlin will be appearing May 23 and 30 in Lenya, a play about Lotte Lenya, the Viennese singer who rose from obscurity as a "ballet girl" to stardom as Jenny in Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Three Penny Operaand other works. Holger Teschke, visiting professor of theatre arts, wrote the play especially for Devlin.
Teschke became interested in writing the play several years ago after seeing Devlin in Imagine a Woman My Age, a solo performance in which she played her upright bass while describing a great passion and love. Devlin recalled him telling her: "You'd make a great Lotte Lenya." She had seen a revival of Three Penny Operain New York in the late 1950s. "It made quite an impression on me," she said. After speaking with Teschke, she did some research on Lenya and liked the idea.
Teschke planned to compile some of Lenya's memoirs for a one-woman show, but hit a roadblock at the outset when he discovered that Harold Prince had exclusive rights to all her personal papers for his Broadway production of LoveMusik, a musical about the relationship between Weill and Lenya. Undeterred, Teschke figured out a way to tell Lenya's story without using these materials directly. He did so by inventing a character, Anna, who becomes obsessed with Lenya after seeing her in the opening of Three Penny Operain Berlin in 1928. Anna, an aspiring actress and singer whose talent does not match her ardor, follows Lenya's career from Berlin to New York. Teschke's play takes the form of Anna's monologue, beginning at Lenya's death in 1981.
Rochelle Calhoun '83, executive director of the MHC Alumnae Association, a theatre arts major, and former student of Devlin's, was the play's director during early rehearsals in January and February. Calhoun stepped down in March due to time and scheduling constraints, and Michael Birtwhistle, Stanley King '03 Professor of Dramatic Arts Emeritus at Amherst College, took over, working with Devlin on a revised draft of the play. Jean Dixon, retired manager of Mount Holyoke's Language Resource Center, is serving as general assistant.
Devlin has enjoyed working on the play with Teschke: "He's an excellent playwright and is easy to work with. He's open to change." Devlin will sing Weill songs in the production, accompanied on guitar by her husband, Larry Baione, head of the guitar program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Devlin came to Mount Holyoke in 1980, after teaching at two Vermont universities and the Putney School. Before that, she worked for ten years as an actor/singer/dancer in New York. She is the mother of three boys and has directed and appeared in over 30 productions at the College and taught a generation of theatre students. She is celebrating her retirement this spring but will be on sabbatical next year performing Lenya and playing the upright bass in orchestras and jazz ensembles.
Lenyawill be performed at McCulloch Auditorium in Pratt Hall at 8 pm.