Arts & Entertainment

Providence Players Open Fall Season with ‘Auntie Mame’


Providence Players of Fairfax will stage Auntie Mame this month with (from left to right) Marie Wakefield, Beth Whitehead as Mame, Elizabeth Pfeifer, Jessica Silver, Sean Wilson, Barbara Gertzog, Bobby Welsh, Ruth Neaveill and Dell Pendergrast. (Photo: Chip Gertzog)

Beloved fictional character Auntie Mame will be reincarnated once again. Beginning Thursday, Oct. 13, The Providence Players of Fairfax will produce the stage version of “Auntie Mame” at the James Lee Community Center Theater.

Aunt Mame first appeared in print in 1955 as the titular character in Patrick Dennis’ novel, Aunt Mame. Since its publication, Auntie Mame has been reimagined as a play, a musical theater production and two major films. The first movie, “Auntie Mame,” was released in 1958 and starred renowned Hollywood actress Rosalind Russell (she also played Mame in the first Broadway production). The film was a hit. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and was the most seen movie in 1959. In 1974, legendary comedian and television icon Lucille Ball starred in a movie version to less acclaim.

“Whenever you mention the word Mame it is very iconic. Oh, Auntie Mame, Rosalind Russell and Lucille Ball,” said Beth Whitehead, who plays Mame in the Providence Players production. “You are not playing Lucille Ball or Rosalind Russell – you are playing what the script has written and the vision you have with the director.”

Beginning in 1928 at the onset of the Great Depression, the play follows Mame and Patrick, her orphaned nephew, over two decades. They embark on adventures and face many crossroads before measuring the impact they have had on each other.

“I think it is timeless,” said director Jayne L. Victor, also a Providence Players board member. “It is about a little boy who is orphaned and goes to live with his only living relative, his Auntie Mame. She’s rich in a lot of ways, not just in money – rich in her love of people, in her openness to people and eccentricities. This little boy comes to live with her and she knows nothing about children. It is really a love story about how she falls in love with this child and he teaches her so much and vice-versa.”

Despite being written in the 1950s, Whitehead believes the play can have impact on audiences today.

“Hopefully, they go away charged and just live,” said Whitehead. “It doesn’t have to take having cancer or a car wreck to think ‘I have to get up today and live and not be an observer.’ Mame is not an observer, she is a participant. I think this is why people are drawn to her whether it is the character in the book or the actor in the play.”

Providence Players of Fairfax, one of many community theater troupes in the Northern Virginia area, have put together a talented local cast and crew to bring the adventures of Aunt Mame to familiar and new audiences alike. In all the variations of Patrick Dennis’ novel, Aunt Mame is a socialite with flair who spends her waking moments living life to its fullest, “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” That seems to be the motto for the cast and crew of the Providence Players.

“I got involved with Providence Players a little over a year ago,” said Bobby Welsh who plays Mame’s loyal butler Ito. “What I like about it [Providence Players] is it is a community. It welcomes folks who are new to it. There are a lot of people with experience. There is not a lot of ego, just a lot of support and encouragement.”
“I have three lines and six costume changes,” added first time Providence Player Raedun Knutsen. “It is a blast – everything is done really fully. It is not cutback to any extent.”

“Auntie Mame,” which runs through October 29th, begins the new 2011-12 season for the Providence Players. The lineup includes “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play,” “Side Man” and concludes with “Sleuth” in the summer of 2012. Tickets for the play are $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students with identification. For more information, visit the Providence Players of Fairfax website at or call 703-425-6782.