Alison Fraser Takes on Seven Questions About Squeamish, Her Tony-Nominated Stage Career & More
October 24th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Two-time Tony Award nominee Alison Fraser (The Secret Garden, Romance/Romance) has made a career stealing the show, but now she is the show. Alison stars in Aaron Mark's acclaimed, chilling new solo show Squeamish off-Broadway. She inhabits an Upper West Side psychoanalyst and a long-time recovering alcoholic who gives up booze, caffeine, antidepressants, and antipsychotics in the hope of finding balance in her life—despite what she discovers about herself instead. It's an incredible, controlled yet frenetic performance that fans of the theatre just shouldn't miss.
Scroll on as Alison talks with BroadwayBox about how she changed her life for this role, her biggest career heartbreaks and triumphs, and how she finds balance.
1. How did conversations with Aaron Mark first begin? Was it a hard sell? What was your initial reaction to the material?
Aaron and I have been working in close collaboration since about eight years ago when he wrote me a terrific part in a very clever indie movie he wrote and directed called Commentary. I happened to be playing opposite him, and through exhaustive rehearsals and filming I realized this was a very special young man whose undeniable talent should be nurtured. He then started writing more plays for me, and one of them, Deer (which was based on an incident in my life in which a deer committed suicide by my car) has been published by Dramatists Play Service and has had professional productions. I had long admired the superb piece Another Medea, which he wrote for Tom Hewitt, so when Aaron presented me with the first draft of Squeamish about three years ago, I was thrilled. We went through several readings and workshop processes, many with the New York Theatre Workshop, and in the midst of that, Empanada Loca was written and produced for Daphne Rubin-Vega with great success by the Labyrinth Theatre. So to be a part of this trilogy of terror monologues—I like to call them the Bloodbath Plays—was one of the greatest honors I have ever had in theatre. I loved the material immediately. It was and is everything theatre should be—challenging, dangerous, poetic, scary smart, surprisingly erotic, great storytelling that's really inexpensive to produce. It’s just me and a chair and a light or two. And it is an incredibly exciting ride every night.
2. This role seems incredibly challenging. How do you prepare for this? What’s your pre-show like?
I basically just live to do this role every night. I take excellent care of myself. I haven’t had a drink in three months because I figured I needed all the brain cells I could muster for this epic effort. I eat very simply, never right before a show. I’ve lost ten pounds, because I figure Sharon would be very slim. I speed read through the script at least once a day to get my mouth around Aaron's intricate, incredibly fast paced language. I read it from a music stand, like a score, because Aaron’s text is very rhythmic, percussive, and musical. He is a brilliant director, and presented the piece as a concerto with different movements. For example, Cara’s revelation is the big aria. I usually wind up going through the whole show twice off the music stand before I step into the light—once in the tub and once onstage in house lights. And my last words before taking that step onstage into that world is “see you on the other side”.
3. Before Squeamish, what stage role challenged you most?
I have to say that listening to Romance/Romance today makes me wonder how the heck I ever did it eight times a week. There were seventeen songs, running the gamut from operetta to hard rock.
4. What solo performance have you seen that you’ll never forget?
Spalding Gray was the greatest solo performer I have ever seen. He was the consummate Storyteller. His loss is huge.
5. In retrospect, what’s something wild or unexpected you’ve done in search for balance in your life?
I have two lives; one is very cosmopolitan and sophisticated in my nice Upper West Side apartment and my exciting shows and social life, and the other is in a little country house in Pennsylvania where my greatest pleasure is stacking a cord of wood or moving large rocks. It’s a good balance.
6. As the original Trina, what’s a Falsettos memory that can always make you smile?
For me, the opening of the recent revival of Falsettos is my happiest memory of that show, because it made me realize how marvelous it is to have been an integral part of the genesis of the piece. Something Bill Finn and Jim Lapine and Chip Zien and Steve Bogardus and Michael Rupert and Michael Starobin and James Kushner and I did those many years ago became something that would live on gloriously in the world of theater forever.
7. In your opinion, what’s been the biggest triumph and the biggest heartbreak of your long and acclaimed career?
The biggest heartbreak was the crash and burn of The Green Heart, the musical version of A New Leaf (well, of the Jack Ritchie short story it was based on) written by my late husband Rusty Magee and Charles Busch. It’s a wonderful script, a fantastic score and it’s hilarious, dark, touching and redemptive, but the MTC production was ill-starred from word go. To this day I regard it as one of the great lost musicals. Someone clever could make a lot of money on that piece (are you listening, artistic directors?).
My greatest triumphs have been my two major solo plays: Aaron Mark’ s gorgeously written and beautifully directed Squeamish, for reasons listed above, and a piece I did called Tennessee Williams: Words and Music, conceived for me and directed by David Kaplan. I had a stellar seven piece band, led by the great Allison Leyton-Brown, but I was the only person who spoke or sang. I was a platinum blonde Blanche DuBois archetype singing the American songbook standards that Tennessee Williams put in every one of his play, and the music was juxtaposed by carefully chosen text from his plays. (There’s a spectacular CD available on Ghostlight , so pick one up readers!) It tells a compelling story, albeit tragic, and like Squeamish the storytelling is on my back alone and to rise to that challenge was absolutely exhilarating.
Run to Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre before November 11 to see Alison Fraser in Squeamish.