‘Con­fi­dence’ asks us to look at gen­der, power and pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LYNN TRENNING Correspondent

Ac­tors trickle into the re­hearsal room at shared workspace Ad­vent Cowork­ing on a stormy Wed­nes­day evening. Direc­tor Anne Lam­bert hands each a script. It’s five days be­fore the end of a Kick­starter cam­paign to raise the fi­nal $5,000 of the $20,000 needed to pro­duce “Con­fi­dence (and The Speech),” a play writ­ten by Lam­bert’s sis­ter, Su­san Lam­bert Hatem. The cast will re­hearse for four hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks.

This is the sec­ond col­lab- ora­tive pro­duc­tion be­tween the sis­ters, who hail from Ge­or­gia, and now live on op­po­site sides of the coun­try. Lam­bert, 53, is an ac­tor and pro­ducer. Hatem, 51, is im­mersed in sto­ry­telling. Lam­bert has long been ar­tis­ti­cally cu­ri­ous about gen­der. Su­san wrote a play that show­cases gen­der bend­ing. It’s a nat­u­ral fit.

The play’s epi­cen­ter is a 1979 speech given by Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter that came to be known as “The Cri­sis of Con­fi­dence Speech.”

“It gets talked about ev­ery year,” says Hatem. “It’s al­most a ser­mon, about the need to rein­vest in the soul of Amer­ica, and who we are as ci­ti­zens.”

This his­toric reimag­in­ing in­cludes a mod­ern-day twist. When a young man queries a col­lege pro­fes­sor about her ex­pe­ri­ence 40 years ago in the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, she agrees to share her story with him on one con­di­tion. In the retelling of her tale, she will play the role of Pres­i­dent Carter, while the in­quir­ing young man will play her role as a young woman in the White House.

“The gen­der bend­ing will be mag­i­cal, and it will in­volve panty hose,” says Lam­bert. “Su­san wanted to say some­thing very spe­cific about women in pol­i­tics.”

In­spired by “West Wing” and “Hamil­ton,” Hatem in­tends to show­case his­tory through a

cap­ti­vat­ing dra­matic lens. “It felt like a fun, his­tor­i­cal play, and it turned more po­lit­i­cal af­ter 2016,” she says. She hopes peo­ple of all ide­o­log­i­cal stripes will at­tend. “Pol­i­tics is not sep­a­rate from us,” she says. She in­ter­prets Carter’s speech as a bi­par­ti­san call to ac­tion.

While the play ex­plores se­ri­ous sub­jects, it re­tains a sense of whimsy. “It’s fun to imag­ine a woman pres­i­dent. It’s fun to watch a young man walk in a woman’s shoes in the 1970s.” When a speech de­liv­ered by a pow­er­ful man is reimag­ined through the coun­te­nance of a young woman, the dy­nam­ics meta­mor­phize. “There is a lovely thing that can hap­pen in the­ater, where the per­for­mance of the story can be as in­for­ma­tive as the story it­self,” says Hatem.

Hatem de­fines “Con­fi­dence (and the Speech)” as a work­shop pro­duc­tion be­cause it will be tweaked dur­ing its run. The clos­ing night script may dif­fer from the one pre­sented on open­ing night, de­pend­ing on au­di­ence re­ac­tion. The play was a semi-fi­nal­ist for the Eu­gene O’Neill Na­tional Play­wrights Con­fer­ence.

The sis­ters grew up in De­catur, Ge­or­gia, and say they were ex­posed early and of­ten to the­ater via their fa­ther, Vic­tor, who pro­duced, di­rected and acted. Lam­bert acted too, while Hatem spent a lot of time in the au­di­ence where she “silently judged ev­ery­one,” she says with a laugh. Hatem grad­u­ated from USC Film School in Los An­ge­les, and her pro­duc­tion com­pany is 143 West out of Hol­ly­wood.

Af­ter earn­ing a B.A. in English and Drama from David­son Col­lege, Lam­bert went to Ja­pan on a Wat­son Fel­low­ship, where she stud­ied the all-male Kabuki the­ater, and the all-fe­male Takarazuka Re­vue. “I was re­ally in­ter­ested in tra­di­tions where peo­ple played gen­ders they were not born into,” she says. “What did you do with your makeup? How did you walk and speak? That is a fas­ci­nat­ing part of act­ing for me.”

Lam­bert has been a con­sis­tent player in Char­lotte’s the­ater scene since 1998, when she co-founded the all-fe­male Chick-speare with Sheila Snow and Lolly Foy. She cul­ti­vated the Off-Broad­way brand to pro­vide her­self with more op­por­tu­ni­ties to di­rect and act. “I feel sad when I am not do­ing work,” she says. Her first pro­duc­tion un­der its ban­ner was for City Stage Fes­ti­val in 2004. Since then, its fringe pro­duc­tions in­clude “Rap­ture Blis­ter Burn,” “Matt & Ben,” and “I’ll Eat You Last.”

She cred­its the rent waiver pro­gram spon­sored by Blu­men­thal Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter for en­abling in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers to use the Duke En­ergy Theatre at a re­duced rate. Her goal is to de­velop a re­hearsal and per­for­mance space, un­der a cowork­ing model, that she could share with other in­de­pen­dent the­ater pro­duc­ers.

The sis­ters turned to crowd­fund­ing to raise the fi­nal piece of their bud­get. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing, fun way to use the global com­mu­nity to al­low peo­ple to join in,” says Hatem. By cam­paign’s end, 71 back­ers had pledged $6,092, top­ping the goal hand­ily.

Af­ter the Sept. 13 per­for­mance, po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Aisha Dew will fa­cil­i­tate a talk­back with the cast and lo­cal politi­cians who are women. “Su­san has imag­ined what a woman pres­i­dent looks like,” says Lam­bert. “Carter was the first to use eq­uity as a com­po­nent of a pres­i­dency. That’s why it is a timely script.”

If there is an agenda to the play it is that “we are miss­ing some voices in the room,” says Hatem. “And ev­ery­one needs to have a seat at the ta­ble.”

Lyric Photography for Char­lotte’s Off-Broad­way

Anne Lam­bert talks with Berry Newkirk and Paul Gib­son in re­hearsal.

Lyric Photography for Char­lotte’s Off-Broad­way

Anne Lam­bert (left), Su­san Lam­bert Hatem (right) and the cast of “Con­fi­dence (and The Speech)”: back row, from left: Max Greger, Nathaniel Gille­spie, Paul Gib­son, Greg Paroff, Josh Logs­don; front row: Lau­ren Duck­worth, Lane Mor­ris, Josephine Hall, Jonathan Hoskins.

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