Check Out an Interview With the Cast of THE COVER OF LIFE
Tood, Weetsie, and Sybil are brides in rural Louisiana in 1943. Each married a Cliffert brother. The men are off to war and a local news story about these young wives keeping the home fires burning intrigues Henry Luce. He decides that they belong on the cover of Life magazine and assigns Kate Miller to the story. She has been covering the war in Europe and, though she views doing a "women's piece" as a career set-back, she accepts because it will be her first cover story. Kate spends a week with the Cliffert women and her haughty urban attitude gives way to sympathy as she begins to understand them while coming face-to-face with her own powerlessness in a man's world. Filled with charm and fun, The Cover of Life is a deeply affecting story about the struggle for self-worth. "A picture-perfect story" - New York Times.
Jessica Carillo is Tood Cliffert - Wife of Tommy Cliffert
Molly Callahan is Sybil Cliffert - Wife of Johnny Cliffert
Abigail Milnor-Sweetser is Weetsie Cliffert - Wife of Jerry Don Cliffert
Amy Losi is Aunt Ola - Mother of the men at war; Mother-in-law to Tood, Sybil, Weetsie
Maia Nero is Addie Mae - Reporter for a local newspaper in New Orleans
Thomas Kalnas is Tommy Cliffert - Husband of Tood
Director/Producer, Stephen S. Miller, had the opportunity to sit down with the cast to speak with them regarding their individual roles, and the story that they will be bringing to life.
In your opinion, who do you think should see The Cover of Life?
"This play is really for everyone, especially those who would appreciate a woman's story set in the south in the 1940s," Cook explains.
"I think that any person with a nostalgic interest in the era -- depicted so vividly in the play -- would enjoy the show," Carillo adds.
"I think the great thing about The Cover of Life is that there's something for everyone. Because all of the characters have such distinctive personalities, everyone can relate to a different character -- they're all so three dimensional that everyone is bound to find a character they identify with," Callahan explains.
"The wonderful thing about this show is how much it displays the evolution of women in a man's world - especially in the 1940s, when women finally got a chance to work and be seen for more than just their 'reproductive and homemaking abilities.' The story of Tood, Sybil, and Weetsie, I think, reaches across many generations, from baby-boomers, whose mothers these women might remind them of, to young women today determined to gain equality for all genders, races, and people. This play is deeply relevant to the political climate we are experiencing in America. I would adore seeing an audience full of people born between 1933 - 2003. I think those people are the ones who will really enjoy it. This play is brilliant in that it is filled with all of the shades of human experience -- from humor, to yelling matches, to teasing, to tears. It shows heartbreak from the subtlest level to the grandest. I think any human who values vulnerability and strength will love this show," Milnor-Sweetser says.
"Anyone who loves theatre and a story filled with unique characters, and those who like period pieces and the 1940s. Also, anyone who is interested in stories about women and the challenges women faced in the 1940s, and continue to face in present times," Losi explains.
"Someone who enjoys theater. This show is set in the 1940s but has true to life experiences that we are feeling to this day, with lasting effects," Nero says.
"Anyone who's been in love during tough times. The show focuses on love during WW2, and how hard it was for couples to stay in love. If you've struggled to maintain a relationship during tough times, then you'll like the show," Kalnas added.
Theater is a challenge to put together and portray roles of so many varieties. What is the most challenging thing regarding bringing this script to life?
"Portraying a single woman in New York who considers herself one of the guys," Cook says.
"As in any role it is always a challenge to bring truth to the character. In this particular role, the setting in a different era required some diligence to create the reality that this character so deserves. As I became more engaged in working on my character Tood, it soon became apparent that many facets of our personalities were similar. I like to think of myself as a strong woman who is most honest to those I love. I found those same characteristics in Tood and became more entranced with her as my work became more alive," Carillo says.
"For me, the most challenging aspect of this show is finding a way to ground myself in the time and place that it's set. Sybil is ahead of her time in so many ways, but is still so profoundly affected by the societal expectations of the time period she lives in. I think the most important aspect of this production is feeling like a family with one another. All of the women care about each other so deeply but express that in such different ways, being able to find that together as a cast and crew is so vital to the success and truth of the show! I think the most challenging part of Sybil is displaying her outward confidence while still making it believable how insecure she can be underneath it all," Callahan says.
"Portraying the time period accurately, thoroughly, and specifically. With that said, however, I do want to make it clear that researching is one of the things I love most about this craft, especially when it involves another period of time - I'm a huge history enthusiast. I want to make sure that I am able to portray Weetsie in Sterlington, Louisiana in September of 1943 as she was - and as it was - with respect and precision. Especially as this play is based on a true story. The storytelling is the most important aspect for me. The relevance of these women's stories in the world today and how they can, hopefully, inspire the current generation to keep fighting for their voices to be heard. The refusal to be surpassed is a theme I feel resounds loudly by the end of the play. And what makes it most effective and true to life, I feel, is that sadly, not all of the women are able to abandon their conventional, archaic ideals or get over their heartache, which makes those that do all the more vital. The audience is left to see what's at stake for the choices each of these women make, or don't make. As Viktor E. Frankl states in Man's Search for Meaning, 'It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand towards the conditions.' Some of these women find the strength to do that by the play's end, while others are drowning in them, or are desperately treading water," Milnor-Sweetser says.
"It is always challenging to bring honesty and naturalness to characters living in another era. And creating a well-rounded character and bringing her to life-finding the humor, the uniqueness, and developing a person audiences will care about. It is touching to see how much of Aunt Ola's life has been dedicated to keeping the peace and making sure others are happy-even if it meant at her own expense. She reveals her vulnerability when she realizes the role she may have played in the sad turn of events that occur toward the end of the play. We see her strength, frustration, and fragility," Losi says.
"Reading with the cast for the first time is always the biggest bump to get over because everyone is new in the theater family, and then we are able to move forward and bring the characters and the script to life. Addie Mae is a big fish in a little pond. She has a strength or an edge to her personality, and she comes off as tough and gruff. But deep inside her heart, she is a very sweet, kind woman who desires nothing more than to be the best of the best. The moment that Addie Mae meets Kate Miller - reporter for Life magazine -- Addie's life is forever changed. She sees that her hopes and dreams are bigger than she ever realized," Nero says.
"This is my first NYC script! It's a very emotional role and a fragile character. I can't let the pressure affect my performance. My biggest fear is overthinking it. Director/Producer, Stephen Miller's family history is so cool. His connection to this script is so genuine and heartfelt," Kalnas says.
A very important question for our readers is what will the audience take away after seeing The Cover of Life and spending time with its wonderful characters?
"How quickly our lives can change paths when we least expect it. Be the strong role model for women of any age," Cook says.
"I am confident after the audience experiences the beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking relationships between characters they will understand how resilient and independent a woman can be, and at the same time be loving and compassionate. I believe they will leave the theatre inspired," Carillo explains.
"I think the audience will leave the show with a new understanding of the ways families can be complex and care for one another -- family is not always blood, it's the people you choose to surround yourself with and depend on, as we see throughout the show," Callahan says.
"I hope they will be invigorated and inspired when the curtain falls. I hope that the audience will gain perspective and empathy for opinions not their own, though still commit to fighting for their beliefs. I hope that they will leave the theatre having a discussion about how they can improve their own lives and times. I think they will take away a story of a family that, though dysfunctional to be sure, is full of love and suffering and guts. Most of all, I hope that they leave with just that, hope, no matter the adversaries that may surround them," Milnor-Sweetser explains.
"Many of the issues raised in the play are relevant today. Women still struggle for equality with men, to be taken seriously, and to be respected," Losi says.
"This is a true story, and tells about events during WWII, and what women endured-- which is by the way a hot topic still in our current situation," Nero says.
"Is love worth working for? Does love have a worth?" Kalnas explains.
In the aspect of character development and personal life styles, what are your favorite parts of your character and how is this character like yourself?
"Kate Miller is a strong and ambitious woman with a wonderful vocabulary!" Cook says.
"Initially when I read the script I found the external characteristics of Tood the most challenging. Being born and raised in New York was quite different culturally than the South. The play takes place in the 1940s so I knew I had much research ahead of me to bring the truth to the character," Carillo explained.
"Sybil and I both have the same kind of defiance and determination to be ourselves despite the pressures that other people may force on us. That's what I love the most about her. I love her attitude and sense of humor! I think Sybil's weakness is her unwillingness to share her burdens with others, when she could have so many people willing to help her through her hardships. She doesn't let herself lean on other people when she needs support the most," Callahan explains.
"Weetsie is very different from who I am, which is partly why I'm so excited by her. She is extremely religious, committed to a loveless marriage and a husband who doesn't even care about her enough to write her, and yet defends him to the bone, regardless. She is deeply, deeply sad, I think, underneath her pedestrian façade of being the homemaker and traditionalist. And though I don't identify with many of these characteristics, I can empathize greatly with her sorrow, pain, and feelings of loneliness, and perhaps, even, abandonment. For these are all emotions that I have felt in my life again and again. I understand her absolute need to fantasize and have hope in the future: all will be well once Jerry Don comes home, they will get their own house, they will start a family, and her husband will love her because she fought and defended the idea of the fish and bait shop he wants to establish with his brothers once they are all home. And though Weetsie seems to put her husband before herself in all things, I understand that she is not capable at this point in her life of doing anything more than that - her potential is still yet to be seen by the end of the play. Living for her husband and family is the equation for her own happiness and what she has been taught. And though it's hard for me to agree with that from the outside, I absolutely will not judge her for it. I embrace it, because I too, will do what I must to find my own happiness in life. It is a human habit, I think, and one that I respect and feel for in her. Weetsie is a hoot, and she is completely unaware of it, which is always fun to play. I'm looking forward to the bickering with Sybil and to the brown-nosing of Aunt Ola. I'm also eager to explore her subtle, nuanced vulnerability and silent heartbreak amongst the much more vocal ones of the other two women," Milnor-Sweetser explained.
"Aunt Ola finds humor in everyday life. She makes the best of things and is strong and caring. Those are traits I can identify with. Aunt Ola is a fully developed character. She accepts her life and her place in society and learns through the course of the play that she may have had the power to change things, but she never realized it, and did nothing. This is a realization many women can identify with. And then there's her humor-she's lots of fun!" Losi says.
"Addie Mae's enthusiasm to tell stories and her inquisitive nature. She is hard working, in everyone's business, but that is what a reporter is all about -- fact finding and trying to bring light to the subject and share, share, share the story," Nero says.
"I love how impulsive this character is. He's so naive and sensitive and fun. It's like I get to be a little kid again. A few months ago, I moved to NYC without knowing much of anything about the city or the acting industry. My character went to war in the south Pacific without knowing much of anything about war, or the south Pacific. So, neither of us knows much of anything about anything. It's tough to play a romantic character who's also the runt of the family. I've been looking for the line between romantic and childish. It's a fine, fine line," Kalnas explains.
Looking into the script, what role if any, deeply affected you personally, or changed you in in a permanent manner?
"Playing the role Tood has helped me appreciate my strength and honesty as a woman and just generally allowed me to experience self-worth," Carillo says.
"I think I may be biased when I say Sybil. The way she puts on a brave face and is so unwilling to let anyone see her at her weakest moments is heartbreaking to me, and it reminds me why close personal relationships are so important," Callahan explains.
"Honestly, all of these characters touch me. It's sort of hard to choose just one when all of these women affect each other so consistently and fully. And the juxtaposition of each of their choices and beliefs is really what makes each of them come to life for me. So, it really is difficult to pick one without the others. As a young woman, a feminist, and an artist, I am just in awe of all of their potential and convictions, even if I, personally, do not agree with some of their beliefs. There is always room for progress, and I like to think that there is the hope for self-purpose even for those who are still lost in the Mer Rouge at the end of the play," Milnor-Sweetser explains.
"It's inspiring to identify with the women who stayed strong and independent, and heartbreaking to see the characters who allowed themselves to be destroyed by men," Losi says.
"The unseen character of Uncle Tom through the references made about him -- he's dying and he was somewhat of a womanizer, leaving his family without any food and left them to struggle with their daily life and how to make it through with no help at all. Yet something about him makes me want to love him. The role of Sybil has a profound impact on me as a woman, within the character she is not as strong as she believes herself, she is flirtatious and modern and is left with the feeling with the fear that maybe dying would be easier then moving forward. She believes that, she is 'as hot as a Saturday night, but as safe as a Sunday morning,' she wants to have a child, but finds that she is unable to do so. She is very troubled by her life choices, trying to be the modern woman in a world that does not allow this to happen. Her stability is in question for sure. The role of Aunt Ola is honest and always to the point," Nero explains.
"The characters in The Cover of Life are so well developed and written, it's so hard to choose, but if I had to choose one over the other, it would be the characters of Sybil and Tood, they are just so well written... It's just impossible to choose a single character in this script because of how well it's written," Kalnas says.
For the actor in us all, or for someone who is just getting a jump start in the theater world, what would you say would be the best scene partner to work with?
"A partner that gives and receives the material in the most organic way possible within the given scene," Cook explains.
"I always enjoy working with somebody who is open minded and willing to take risks to develop a more honest relationship between characters," Carillo says.
"To me, the most important quality in a good scene partner is a willingness to try new things! If you're not willing to explore all the ways characters could be affected by each other, then you may not discover beautiful hidden moments that you didn't know were there," Callahan explains.
"A person who listens before reacting, who is willing to be fearless, vulnerable, and fully available and open. Trust and respect is key in any partnership, especially when dealing with heartbeats that are not our own. Characters' stories are sacred and must be treated as such, I believe. Oh, and also, the ability to take one's work seriously, but not oneself too seriously. Sense of worth ethic and humor is a much appreciated," Milnor-Sweetser explains.
"An actor who gives rather than takes, who reacts rather than acts, and who stays in the moment and has your back," Losi says.
"The very last word so you know it's your cue, hearing their voice, the tonal quality so you are familiar with the structure," Nero says.
"Ideally, no two performances are the same. I like a partner who listens and reacts, who has a clear understanding of what they're doing in the scene, and who isn't afraid to try new things in the moment," Kalnas explains.