Valerie Harper's interest in novelist Pearl S. Buck is so strong she performed one play about the Nobel Prize-winning author and has now co- written and is starring in a second piece, All Under Heaven. The solo began performances Nov. 3 at Off Broadway's Century Theater Center and officially opens Nov. 16 for an open run.
All Under Heaven, with Harper playing numerous characters in the American author's life, is co-written by Dyke Garrison and directed by Rob Ruggiero, associate artistic director of TheatreWorks in Hartford, CT.
The play is produced by Harper's husband, Tony Cacciotti, and Randolph Macon Woman's College, where the piece was first staged. Randolph Macon, in Lynchburg, VA., is Buck's alma mater (circa 1914). Buck wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Good Earth."
In 1997, Harper, best known as TV's "Rhoda," performed a one-woman Buck bio, The Dragon and the Pearl, by Marty Martin, commissioned by Cacciotti. The play workshopped at Milford, NH's American Stage Festival and was developed at Chicago's Organic Theatre.
But that play's reception was not quite what the actress and producer hoped for, so Harper teamed with Garrison (whose work has been produced in San Francisco) and director Ruggiero. The play had its world premiere at Randolph-Macon Woman's College Sept. 1-13. The Century Theatre is at 111 E. 15th St. Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets. All seats are $45.
* In Heaven, Harper impersonates 14 male and female characters, opening with an octogenarian Buck appealing to the authorities for a visa to China to visit her mother's grave. Buck was a noted humanitarian, working on behalf of the Chinese, African-Americans and others.
Harper has received four Emmy Awards for her work in television, has appeared on Broadway (Subways Are For Sleeping) and in films, and most recently replaced Linda Lavin in Off-Broadway's Death Defying Acts. Like Buck, Harper devotes much of her time to charity. She is closely involved with The Hunger Project, an organization with the mission of ending world hunger by the turn of the century.
Asked how the idea for a show about Pearl S. Buck came about, Harper told Newsday (Nov. 16) she was sparked by the interest of a friend -- Carol DeLuise (yes, Dom's wife). "Carol is a Pearl Buck fan," explained Harper, "and has worked for the Pearl Buck Foundation. We got cards every holiday from that Foundation. I was in Death Defying Acts...and Tony [Cacciotti] had been saying, `you're here working in theatre, waiting around for television to happen. Wouldn't it be more lucrative if we owned something, a show of our own? Then my husband looked down at one of these Pearl Buck cards and said, `Oh, my God.'"
Off-Broadway designers for All Under Heaven are John Wade (lighting), Peggy Carbonneau (costumes) and Michael Schweikardt (sets).
Buck was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature and the author of more than 70 books. Buck died in 1973 at age 80. Characters in Buck's life represented onstage include a Chinese governess, a Chinese empress and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.