The writer of Little Shows, the new two-woman musical project which had a reading last spring starring Polly Bergen and Karen Ziemba, is looking for a forum in which to do a future workshop.
Playwright and journalist Deborah Grace Winer penned the piece, a character study that is told in song, dance and spoken word. The musical features songs that already exist, although the dialogue has been written expressly for the play. Winer had originally written the piece for Ziemba and cabaret-stage veteran Julie Wilson, but Wilson withdrew due to scheduling conflicts.
"The playwright is trying to find a place where we can do a workshop," Ziemba told Playbill On-Line Dec. 5. "It really needs to be seen in a performance mode. We've only done sit-down readings so far. There's quite a bit of music in it." Bergen spoke at length about the new work to Playbill On-Line last April: "The first act is primarily a one-woman monologue," Bergen explained, "of Karen Ziemba's character. It's basically a stream of consciousness. She is an authority on everything. Then, there is this startling discovery of who she actually is and where she [works]. At the end of the first act, I enter and wash my hands. [Ziemba's character] is actually a girl who works in a ladies' room . . . I come in, wash my hands, put a dollar in the [tip jar] and I leave, and that's two minutes from the end of the first act."
Bergen takes centerstage for the second half of the evening, portraying a woman, who like Bergen herself, was a hit singer in the fifties. About her character in Winer's work, Bergen commented, "[My character] became very bitter and left [show business]. I moved to Maryland and raised a child, and the child moves away. I have nothing to do, so I buy this little dive, and I turn it into a cabaret bar, so that I can star in it. [The second act] is me doing a show opening night in this bar, which has eight people in it. That's all who have shown up! Then you discover," Bergen continued, "that the gal from the first act, Karen Ziemba's character, is my assistant. You discover how that came about. When she leaves the ladies' room [in the first act], I am having a stroke in the hallway, and she calls the ambulance and waits with me. . . She becomes a surrogate daughter to me, and I hire her to be my assistant-bartender-cleaner upper plumber."
Bergen and Ziemba first met when they starred in a reading of The Women to benefit Phyllis Newman's Health Initiative. Bergen portrayed Ziemba's mother, and the two became fast friends. —By Robert Simonson
and Andrew Gans