In our previous four production cycles of the Mrs. Hawking plays, our eponymous lead has been played by Frances Kimpel, the talented actor and artist who was one of the founding members of the Chameleon’s Dish Theatre. Frances is an old and dear friend of mine who I have worked with on many projects since our days in the Hold Thy Peace Shakespearean theater group at Brandeis University. My admiration for her as an actor is so much that she was one of the original inspirations for how the character of Mrs. Hawking looked and moved.
This summer, however, Frances, along with our beloved stage manager Eboracum Richter-Dahl, has moved across the country to Washington state, meaning they can no longer perform their previous roles. But sad as I am to lose the chance to work with such great friends and collaborators, the show must go on. Which means I had to search for another person who could perform this unique and challenging central role. It’s not a choice I could make lightly, as the whole productions rest on the charisma, believability, and fascination of this character. I had to find somebody right.
It’s been my very good fortune that I had the chance to meet the very talented Cari Keebaugh and find she was interested in auditioning. She was introduced to me in person by Circe Rowan, who plays the role of Mary, but I actually first encountered her in The Post Meridian Radio Players’ The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted for performance by another Hawking collaborator Tegan Kehoe. Not only is that one of my all-time favorite stories, which helped inspire my love of Victorian literature and storytelling, but Cari performed the title dual roles. Her performance as a gender-flipped interpretation of the counterparts showcased her versatility and expression, as well as raised familiar issues of a woman being trapped by the conventions of her Victorian world.
As much as I’ll miss Frances, I’m really excited to work with Cari and see what she brings to the role. It’s going to be a transition for me in my vision of the character, but I think that’s a good thing. One of the brilliant features of theater is its potential for endless reinterpretations. If these stories are truly strong, they should welcome that variety. And if the character of Mrs. Hawking, possibly the proudest and most important creation of my life, can stand up to the interpretations of many actors, then I know I’ll have made something with true staying power.
So please join me in welcome Cari to Team Hawking! I can’t wait to see her bring our hero to life.