REHEARSED STAGED READING
April 18, 2017 ~ Echo Theatre, Dallas, Texas
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gender gap that persists in live theatre. Because the words of women playwrights are not heard on world stages nearly as
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present are as different as the women who write them, so you’ll enjoy a variety of entertainment. Founded in 1998, Echo
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Playwright Jean Ciampi and actress Annette Johnson reminisce about Johnson playing "Gretchen" at a performance of Ciampi's play "Potato Gumbo."
League City Playwright's Work on Aging, Alzheimer's Gets Attention
By Don Maines
Published 9:05 am, Monday, May 15, 2017 Houston Chronicle
Photo: Kirk Sides / Houston Chronicle
Additional photos courtesy of Brazosport Center Stages/Tom Fowler
Growing old isn't for sissies in "Potato Gumbo," and the specter of Alzheimer's can
push people and families to their limits. The play by League City thespian Jean Ciampi
recently was chosen for a Dallas theater's spring series of staged readings of works by
"It is about our common struggles of aging and parenting adult parents," Ciampi said.
"It's an interesting and tricky situation of role reversal when we must step in to parent
our parents. It's a time that tests the limits for patience, love, tolerance and forgiveness on both sides. Unfortunately, there's no manual for how to do it,
but isn't that a fundamental truth about parenting anyway?"
Ciampi's script also celebrates the entertaining camaraderie she witnessed among residents of a retirement community in Columbus, where her
stepmother battled Alzheimer's. However, she noted, "The part of Gretchen in 'Potato Gumbo' isn't based on my (stepmother), other than her having
In the play, Gretchen convinces Thomas, a grieving widower at their retirement to run off with her to New Orleans,
where she will perfect her recipe for potato gumbo at a Cajun cooking school. Her friends and family wonder, "Is
this just a zany idea, or is it the beginning of Alzheimer's?" Thomas, who is developing a crush on Gretchen, worries
whether he's up to getting emotionally involved with someone with her potential problems.
Ciampi said she wrote the role of Gretchen for her longtime friend, Annette Johnson of Columbia (Columbia Lakes).
"She is a lovely actress and an amazingly gifted, vibrant and engaging 81-year-old force of nature," said Ciampi.
In September 2015, Ciampi directed Johnson in the first production of "Potato Gumbo" at Brazosport Center Stages
"For a playwright, there's nothing more thrilling or fulfilling than to see the characters that have spent so much time in your head come to life on
stage," Ciampi said.
"Gretchen is such a spirited woman," said Johnson. "I will never have another role as great as Gretchen."
Echo Theatre's managing artistic director, Terri Ferguson, was impressed with the play's handling
of its themes.
"She's been in love with the play since she read it," Echo producer Eleanor Lindsay said.
"Adding the interpretation of a director and the perspective of each actor then adds layers of dimension and creativity," Ciampi said. "That's what takes a
play from paper to art. The reading in Dallas has been an important next step for 'Potato Gumbo,' and, I'm hopeful, that the next full production will be
scheduled in the upcoming season."
Meanwhile, Ciampi, who is married with children, goes about the business of submitting the play to other theaters for a possible production.
"There's a theater in Florida that's considering it for their season; so I've got my fingers crossed on that," Ciampi said.
Want to read some of the Play? Act 1 of “Potato Gumbo” is on Ciampi’s website, TheWriterJean.com.
Don Maines is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org