Friday, June 10, 2011

Lynne & Bob Wells: All's Wells

Lynne & Bob in Glorious!
At Dell’Arte this weekend Bob and Lynne Wells are being honored for their acting achievements and contributions to local theatre over a generation. But the thread that ran through our conversation at the Plaza Grill in Arcata last Friday did not concern the past. It was all about the next show. Especially since that would be their Lifetime Achievement dinner this coming Saturday (June 25).

 Lynne had assembled video and photos from past performances, but Dell’Arte Producing Artistic Director Michael Fields wanted something live. So they had to decide “What do we want to say at this point?” Lynne said. “Who are we still?”
 Both professed to be frightened by the prospect. “We’re being honored so we want it to be good. It’s kind of like, are we really worth it?”

 In just the past year North Coast audiences have seen the Wells in performances that would be on anybody’s highlight reel: Lynne’s bravura star turn as Florence Foster Jenkins in the Redwood Curtain production of Glorious! (with Bob’s comic support) and Bob Wells singing and busting some dance moves as Eliza Doolittle’s father in NCRT’s My Fair Lady.

 But these are just the latest occasions of more than twenty years onstage in Humboldt County. For in 1984 Bob Wells was “a furrowed-brow actor” when he wasn’t being music director and drive-time DJ at KINS in Eureka, and Lynne was a mother of three on an organic farm in Petrolia.

 Thanks to an acting class at College of the Redwoods, she was seeing a new world open up to her, and she got a part at Ferndale Rep in Neil Simon’s I Ought to Be in Pictures. Bob, who swore he’d never be in a Neil Simon play, didn’t want to audition and didn’t want to do a play right then, auditioned anyway and got the role. Within a year, he and Lynne were a couple.

 “It was cosmic,” he said. “It was supposed to happen.” “Warm water!” Lynn exclaimed, hearing this. “That’s what’s missing! In the opening piece we’re doing at the dinner—there’s something missing, and that’s it—warm water! We always used to say, we’re in warm water together.”

 They talked about that, in a combination of couples and actors shorthand. They’re planning a kind of physical theatre piece (Lynne won’t call it a clown piece—“I flunked clown!”) to reflect their Dell’Arte background.

 Together they attended a year at the Dell’Arte School in 1988, and Bob returned for another year, appearing in both the student and company productions of Joan Schirle’s Punch that traveled all over the state. Bob also did Out of the Frying Pan, which toured for two years, including a month at Park City, Utah, home of Sundance.  Both have performed in Dell’Arte shows since. But they seem unusual for Dell’Arte grads in returning to conventional theatre.

 Bob’s favorite acting role was as Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Lynne’s was in an all-woman production of the musical Quilters. Both productions were at the late lamented Pacific Arts Center Theatre.

 They’ve acted together, notably as George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Asked to do something from this play at the dinner, they demurred—they just didn’t want to go to that intense and unpleasant place again. But what they remember about performing it is the surprise of hearing the audience laugh. They hadn’t quite realized its comic aspect.

 “How people respond—it’s always unknown but it’s always what we as actors live for,” Lynne said. “The breathing, living relationship that happens.” “That’s the best time,” Bob agreed. “When the audience is right there with you, and you get the back and forth. It doesn’t always happen but it’s great when it does.”

 “That’s what’s so scary about doing this one-time thing, “ Lynne said, returning to the dinner performance. “It’s beyond my comfort zone,” Bob admitted.

 But along with anxiety, there’s gratitude. Even though he doesn’t consider himself a singer, he’s planning to sing “A Song For You,” as done by Leon Russell. “I love that song so much,” he said. “It fits what I’m trying to say.”

 The song begins: “I've been so many places in my life and time I've sung a lot of songs/ I've made some bad rhyme I've acted out my love in stages/ With ten thousand people watching/ But we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you.”

 The Lifetime Achievement Awards dinner for Lynne and Bob Wells is at Dell’Arte on Saturday at 5 p.m. The $75 admission includes that night’s performance of Mary Jane: The Musical. For reservations call (707) 668-5663.

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