Empty Bed Blues,
our parents did. We’re going to take our trust funds and party in Paris,’” he said in an off-the-cuff imitation of Harry’s inner monologue. “I’m preparing for my role by smoking a lot of opium, overdrawing my bank account, and not stopping at red lights.”
“If cities are attached to decades, then the 1920s is Paris,” Gerrity said. “It was an entirely different mind-set than now. Talkies had yet to make an impact — it was the page that burned! We make reference in the play to James Joyce, Hemingway, Hart Crane. These characters lived their lives like candles lit at both ends.
“I don’t come to this as a D.H. Lawrence scholar, but as an actor. I think of the play as kind of muscular in terms of something active, or big stakes. I think the stakes are enormous here. Though the writing is very different, in some ways it’s as compelling as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? must have been when audiences saw it for the first time.”
Just as rehearsals began for Empty Bed Blues, Dempsey was struck with a ravaging cold that he considered a blessing, because it put him in touch with the tuberculosis that wracked Lawrence’s lungs for much of his life (and eventually caused his death). He spends a lot of the play eschewing activities that sap his physical strength and arguing with Harry about literature and passion. The women join these discussions and have conversations of their own about love and fidelity. Both Frieda and Caresse met their husbands when they were already married, and both left their husbands and children after whirlwind romances that changed the course of their lives. Pierson isn’t sure that Caresse would have participated in an open marriage were it not to please Harry, but she acknowledged that Caresse was quite wild and went along for the ride. Harry, in fact, was the one who renamed her Caresse. She was born Mary Phelps Jacob and was known as Polly Peabody when she and Harry met.
In order to prepare for her role as Frieda, Miller went to Taos, where the caretakers opened the Lawrence ranch for her and put her in touch with 95-year-old Jenny Vincent, who was a close friend of Mrs. Lawrence. Vincent told Miller that even after Frieda remarried, she always spoke glowingly of Lawrence and remained devoted to him. Vincent also revealed that Frieda spent hours at her kitchen table talking to her about sex. “Apparently she was very open about her body and the words she used. It seems like something really opened up between Frieda and D.H. She was his fiercest protector,” Miller said.
“Their relationship obviously went far beyond the physical,” Dempsey said. “Even after the physical part stopped” — due to Lawrence’s illness — “the relationship didn’t stop, though it certainly caused a lot of strife.”
“Frieda is definitely a woman who celebrates love-making,” Gerrity said. “There is a contrast with Caresse, who is the first to express sadness at the scent of another woman’s perfume on her husband. In that way, Caresse and D.H., in terms of the play, seem like kindred spirits, whereas Harry and Frieda are free-loving souls. They’re a matching pair in some ways, and yet opposites attract.”
Just for the record: Rima Miller