"Every time I do these monologues it's like taking out an old friend," says Patricia Norcia, who brings her one-woman show, The World of Ruth Draper, to Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall for a single Mar. 10 performance. For Norcia, who has gained a sizable following interpreting and performing Draper's work all over the United States and internationally, her enchantment with the 20th-century American monologist is threefold.
"When I first started listening to some of the Ruth Draper recordings, I was fascinated that you could act in different languages and everyone would understand," says the Italian-born stage actress and opera director. "Secondly, the monologues are extremely funny and also extremely moving, and thirdly, I have a huge respect for what it took for her to be touring around the world alone. She was a society lady in the '20s, '30s, and '40s, and you didn't go and perform by yourself all over the world. I thought she was such an inspiration as a person."
Like Draper, who died in 1956, Norcia will play all the characters in the monologues on a setless stage with minimal props. The Carnegie Hall show will feature three Draper pieces. In "The Actress," a Rumanian prima donna flirts with an American admirer while she squares off against her impresario and struggles with English; "A Class in Greek Poise" teaches four 200-pound women graceful movement based on some of Isadora Duncan's more peculiar notions; and "In a Church in Italy" follows five tourists -- not all of whom are particularly devout -- to an Italian church.
On the same day as her Carnegie Hall show, Norcia's CD, also called "The World of Ruth Draper," will be released by Original Cast Recordings. (It can currently be ordered through www.ruthdraper.com).
Norcia sees a substantial audience, as diverse as Draper's characters, for the CD. "There's three audiences," she explains. "There's the older generation who saw her; then there is a much younger but quite sophisticated audience of people who have heard the records Ruth made; and then there are new people, people who are acting students or who have read about her." And maybe Norcia's work will leave the kind of lasting impression on audiences that Draper's performances did. "When I find somebody who saw [Draper], they remember [her show] with a clarity that is mind-boggling," Norcia exclaims.
"It shows you what an impression she made."
Directed by David Kaplan, The World of Ruth Draper is at Carnegie Hall Mar. 10 at 8 PM. For more information, call (212) 769-4217.
-- By Diane Snyder