Phoenix Theatre vet and Bloomington resident Diane Kondrat will bid farewell to the Indy theater scene after her role in The Lyons is complete. She recently spoke with IM about why she chose this part as her last before making her next move.
Shana Ngo: So this is your final role in Indy.
Diane Kondrat: I’m really glad that (Phoenix producing director) Bryan Fonseca picked it for me. There aren’t as many roles for women as men in the theater, and there aren’t as many roles for older women as there are for younger women. So I was glad he was able to find something that went along with the Phoenix’s choice to do contemporary work and had a good part for me. I’m also really glad to do an accent, that was the very first accent I ever learned in my life, when I was a little girl in New Jersey. My mother had a book that had some vaudeville stories written phonetically for dialect, so the accent that I’m doing in the show is very dear to me.
SN: What is that accent like?
DK: You know, it’s Joan Rivers. I didn’t realize it. I thought I had kind of developed it on my own, but then I was looking at Jewish comedians from that time period, and I was like, “Oh, it’s Joan Rivers.”
SN: Tell us about your character in The Lyons.
DK: Rita’s had this standard life that we don’t really think about women having anymore; the life of a woman who had no employment. Her only job was to serve her husband and her children, and that’s all. And she had the misfortune of not liking her husband very much, and her children aren’t the best kids on the planet, and they don’t like her, either. Very few people are nice to Rita, so she’s an unhappy lady.
SN: What is the overall tone of the piece?
DK: It’s really funny. It’s so funny that we’ve had groups laugh so much that [the actors] are holding for [audience] laughs about every three lines. It’s written in a vaudevillian manor. The first act, for sure, when the whole family is together—these are very old jokes to make fun of. They’re very universal. The music written for the piece is also very recognizable to American audiences. It’s almost immigrant humor. You don’t see it much, and people respond to it without even thinking about it, because the rhythm of the comedy is part of what you’re getting, as well as what they happen to be talking about. So, it’s like two things are funny. What they say is funny, and the music of what they say invites laughter.
SN: So there are basic components to the humor, but it’s smart—is that what you’re saying?
DK: Oh, yeah. I don’t want to boast, but my character speaks in a very elevated way. It’s very obvious that these are not stupid people. They’re well-educated people.
SN: Is this a play that someone who is a novice to the theater could enjoy?
DK: Oh, yes. It’s not like you’re doing Edward Albee or Caryl Churchill—something that’s very, very sophisticated. It’s just that [the characters] are not lower-class people. They’re not rich, but they have money, and they value education. So, the allusions that they make are high, rather than low, but a lot of it is still educated immigrant humor. You don’t have to be smart to enjoy the show.
SN: When you read it, how did you know this was the right role to leave Indy with?
DK: Well, I didn’t pick it out. Bryan was the one who read it, and all I could do was say, “Thank you.” For me, actually, I’m a little slow when it comes to perceiving comedy on the page. The comedy wasn’t apparent to me until I heard it out loud with the accent, and then I was like, “Oh, I get it, now. It’s really funny.” So that made a big difference for us; that was the key that unlocked the humor of the show.
The Lyons runs through March 31. Thurs. 7 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. $28 for adults and $18 for 21 and under. Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, 635-7529, phoenixtheatre.org
Photos courtesy Phoenix Theatre