Thomas Burns Scully
OnStage New York Columnist
Drama Desk Award Winning play Intimate Apparel is set to return Off-Broadway next year, be-fore moving to a regional engagement in other cities in the US. Famed for its 2004 Off-Broadway run at Roundabout Theatre featuring Viola Davis, Lynda Gravatt, and Corey Stoll, it has since been produced by Steppenwolf, City Theatre, and Artists Repertory Theatre. The New York Times called the play “a feminist lament of intelligent, talented women defined and con-trolled by men; a soft-focus glimpse into the beating hearts behind the archives of African-American life a century ago.” Red Soil Productions is now gearing up for their 2017 staging, and we were lucky enough to have the chance to speak to their Mrs. Van Buren: Ms. Bettina Schwabe.
“It’s a bit of a homecoming for me, ” Schwabe says of the role, “ I first played the part at the Mary MacArthur Theatre in 2013, it’s nice to be back.” This sold out, one-night only production (Directed by Susan Pilar) was very well received, making Schwabe’s return to the part four years later almost inevitable. “Hah! It’s true, I didn’t have to think very hard about my answer. I said yes almost immediately. I love the play, I love the part, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve done.” And that comes from an extensive list of credits, Schwabe works constantly. Her roles include Lena in The Girl Behind the Wall (Best Singer Award, New York Theater Festival), Julie in We the Sims (Best Up and Coming Actor Award, New York Theatre Festival), and Laura in Exposed Brick (Best Actor, Unfringed Festival).
She was also a cast member on The Other Mozart, the internationally-acclaimed show about Mozart’s sister. “People seemed to like us a lot. The New York Times were very kind to us, and so was The Guardian. I know people say not to read reviews, but I think it’s okay to read just the good ones,” she says cheekily. The Other Mozart allowed her the rare occasion to utilize her skills as a violinist. “I’ve been playing since I was six. I was the protege of Ella Elstein, who literal-ly wrote the book on the instrument. (Elstein wrote the violin reference book now used in every Russian Music School) It was a pleasure to get back to my roots.” As a child Schwabe played to packed houses of thousands across Germany, accompanying Wladimir Teodorowitschh Spi-wakow on occasion. She is the Other, Other Mozart, it would seem.
In Intimate Apparel, Schwabe plays Mrs. Van Buren, a role that demands a great deal of her act-ing prowess. “The thing about Mrs. Van Buren is that she is a complex woman and I needed to be extremely sensitive and accepting of her as a whole” This insight gives us a look in to Schwabe’s process, and the reason for her ongoing success. She is an actress with a native in-telligence and an instinctive command of emotion. Tony Nominee Amelia Campbell, who worked with her recently, said that Schwabe has “an amazing presence. I’ve never witnessed such a gifted instrument in a person in her career.” This is likely why Schwabe works so much, both on stage and off. “I love going from a film set to a stage rehearsal. Its kinda scary, but it’s a thrilling challenge.” She has worked on feature films with international directors including Fractal by Andrea Quintero, and Ubik and Timeless by Kartikay Singh, as well as appearing in National US commercials and becoming the interactive digital face of all Innovative Control Systems car washes in German speaking countries. “Yeah, the car wash thing is a bit surreal, but I’m very happy to do it! Work is work, and the people at Innovative were lovely.”
With such internationally-recognized talent on board, it seems like Lynn Nottage’s challenging drama about race in turn of the century New York has a bright future. “I love the cast that Red Soil Productions have put together, they’re all such wonderful people. I already love the play, Susan Pilar is a wonderful director, it’ll be great to be back with her again… it’s hard to believe that this is quite as good as it is… but it is.” A fabulous continuation to a bedrock foundation of a career. With some performers in New York it’s difficult to see beyond the struggling actor arche-type, and the million luckless cases that parade themselves through casting rooms on a daily ba-sis. You see none of this in Bettina Schwabe. You see the glittering eyes of a professional who focuses on what she is striving towards, and knows that it is all completely within her grasp. Def-initely a name to watch, and Intimate Apparel is not to be missed.
Intimate Apparel opens on June 2017 will run for 4 weeks. It is produced by Red Soil Produc-tions Inc. and directed by Susan Pilar, for more information see red-soil-productions.com.