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Swimming At The Ritz

By Gary Wien


Pamela Churchill Hayward Harriman, the ultimate party girl, has been living an idyllic life at the luxurious Ritz in Paris for the past several years accompanied by her young Italian valet, and has been spending her and her stepchildren's vast inheritance on paintings, clothing, jewels, furs, champagne (her day-to-day necessities). But her stepchildren's attorneys are about to shut her down. On the verge of losing everything, with the creditors literally at her door, Pamela reveals her journey from man-to-man and bed-to-bed, in a funny, poignant tour-de-force.

Such is the premise of Swimming At The Ritz, a play by Charles Leipart based on the true life of Pamela Harriman which will have its U.S. premiere in January. The play is being presented by New Jersey Repertory Company in a limited run from January 8 through February 1.

New Jersey Stage spoke with the playwright about what drew him to Pamela's story.

What attracted you to the story of Pamela Harriman?
I was fascinated. Pamela Digby, a chubby 17-year-old daughter of a minor British baron of diminishing fortune, arrives in London to work in a 20-pound-a-week government clerical job--about 3 dollars in U.S. currency in 1937 (the World Depression years). She becomes the daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill and at 19 finds herself pregnant with Winston's grandchild and he has her sharing the bomb shelter at 10 Downing Street. Subsequently over the years, she becomes the lover and wife of some of the richest and most powerful men of the 20th Century. Ultimately she becomes the First Lady of the Democratic Party, helps elect a U.S. President and when her life ends, she is the U.S. Ambassador to France. That's where we meet her in 1995 in a private suite at the Paris Ritz Hotel. Down to her last 10 million.

How did this happen to chubby Pamela?

Did she actually burn through the entire inheritance in real life?
In fact, she did. By 1995 Pamela had gone through the entire 115 million dollars left to her by Averell Harriman's death in 1986. As Pamela says in the play, "the cost of fresh flowers alone." She was spending her way through the 40 million dollars of a trust fund left in her care for the Harriman daughters and grandchildren when the Harriman clan brought a lawsuit against her to reclaim their inheritance. To keep the family wolves from her door, Pamela put her personal property up for auction. That's where the play starts.

Why do you think people generally love seeing the rich become penniless? It seems to present a classic storyline for a play.
I think we're more intrigued by the question of how some people get control of such vast amounts of money only to spend it all and end up with nothing. We can all fantasize about having vast wealth but we never think for a minute that we'd lose it. Yet, it happens. My interest as the playwright was in the breadth of Pamela's life experiences. She lived lavishly. She loved lavishly. All the while she was spending lavishly she was encouraged by the men in her life to do so.

This is the U.S. premiere of the play that originally ran in the U.K. in 2010-2011.  Has the play changed much since then?
No, it hasn't. We were able to present the play for the first time in the U.K. supported by the Arts Council England, which was such a great opportunity. It was very well-received. Some details deemed "too American" were removed from the play and the play was slightly shortened. With this American premiere, Swimming In The Ritz is as I originally wrote it, with just a few modifications.

Considering her relationship with Winston Churchill's family, what was the U.K. reaction to the play?
The U.K. audiences and critics loved the play and were fascinated by Pamela's exploits. Interestingly enough, Pamela left the U.K. for New York in 1959 and spent the next four decades as a U.S. resident. Most of the British audiences were unaware of her U.S. history. What the British audience didn't know was that Pamela achieved so much more than simply being Winston Churchill's daughter-in-law.

Have you been working with NJ Rep on this production? Do you plan to make it to the opening?
Yes, I'm there to be as helpful as I can to SuzAnne Barabas the director, and I will indeed be at the opening. Pamela is on-stage throughout the play as is Pietro, the Ritz valet. The play requires quite a bit from both actors. While I've not worked with Judith Hawking or Christopher Daftsios previously or SuzAnne, I'm excited to be working with each of the three of them.

What do you hope audience members take from the play?
An entertaining and insightful theatre experience. Pamela was charming, intelligent, self-critical and remarkably intuitive about people. She had the uncanny ability to make whomever she spoke with feel important and that they were the only person in the room, especially the men. My hope is that at the end of the play, everyone in the audience will feel as if they have been in the presence of one of the greatest courtesans and diplomats of the 20th Century. I certainly have enjoyed her company.




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"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in conjunction with TROIKA Entertainment is will present KINKY BOOTS, the smash-hit musical that brings together four-time Tony® Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy® Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony Award-winner for Best Score for KINKY BOOTS), at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City from April 30 until May 5 with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets starting at $35.00.
The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.
4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ.  The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.


It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.






Event calendar
Friday, Jan 18, 2019


MUSIC

John Forster at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Morristown - 7:30pm

David Massengill - Folk Concert @ Christ Congregation Church, Princeton - 8:00pm

SAL "THE VOICE" VALENTINETTI @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

The Elvis Birthday Bash @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

Annie Jr. @ The Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Some Girl(s) @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm







COMEDY

Big Apple Comedy Club @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm


MISC

The Jason Bishop Show to Benefit CASA @ Pfleeger Concert Hall, Rowan University, Glassboro - 7:00pm

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