Schenectady

Mary Williams making theater debut at Schenectady Civic

'Being a maid, you know everything that's going on, so it's a good part'
Mary Williams (from left), Josie Smith, Kim Wafer and Angelique Powell star in the production of "An Inspector Calls."
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mary Williams (from left), Josie Smith, Kim Wafer and Angelique Powell star in the production of "An Inspector Calls."

If Mary Williams is ever fortunate enough to win an acting award, she’ll undoubtedly take the time to thank Patrick White in her acceptance speech.

“I am truly, truly, truly grateful to Patrick for giving me this chance,” said Williams, who is making her stage debut Friday night in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “An Inspector Calls,” directed by White. “He saw something in me, and I think I saw it, too, but he really brought it out.”

Written by English playwright J.B. Priestly in 1945, the story centers around a well-to-do family dealing with the suicide of a former employee at the family factory. When an inspector calls to check the family’s connection to the suicide victim — a young woman — the parents, their son and daughter are all implicated in the death.

Williams, who is a 61-year-old grandmother and great-grandmother, plays the family’s maid, Edna.

“Being a maid, you know everything that’s going on, so it’s a good part,” said Williams. “And I won’t be nervous. Edna is ready to go.”

Emmet Ferris and Kim Wafer star as Mr. and Mrs. Birling, and Angelique Powell is the inspector. Also in the cast are J.R. Richards, Josie Smith, Carol Durant, Marquis Heath, Carmen Lookshire, Jean-Remy Monnay and Aileem Penn. All of the actors are persons of color.

“I worked very hard to get a diverse pool of people to audition,” said White, who along with being one of the Capital Region’s top directors/actors also teaches acting classes for beginners as well as seasoned performers. “I didn’t know until the auditions, but then the opportunity presented itself and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ Frequently when we look for black actors, we’re doing ‘Of Mice and Men,’ or ‘Little Foxes.’ We need to cast the crooks so we need to look for a minority actor. This gives these actors a great opportunity.”

Ferris, who is black, is one of the busiest actors in the Capital Region, but even his options are often limited.

“It is easier these days, because a lot of directors are feeling a bit more free to be creative and step outside the box,” said Ferris. “But this has been great, and it’s actually coming together better than I imagined.”

In the SCP version, a group of black and Latino friends come together and put on Priestley’s play.

“That was one of those things that it took me a while to grasp,” said Ferris, laughing. “But I think after a couple of scenes, people won’t even think about it.”

“It’s actually a play within a play, but once we start ‘An Inspector Calls,’ we stick to that play,” explained White. “It’s just a group of actors getting together and doing the play as it was published, and there’s a lot in this play. There’s classism, there’s sexual abuse and harassment. There are labor issues. I think it makes a very powerful statement for today.”

For Williams, the opportunity to participate in a stage production is a huge thrill.

“This is a childhood dream of mine,” she said. “It was five years ago that Patrick offered an acting class at the library and I went to it. We stayed in touch a bit, and he told me he was putting on this play, so I went to the audition. I’m so happy that I got involved.”


‘An Inspector Calls’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Feb. 4; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: www.civicplayers.org, 518-382-2081

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