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Pamela Dunlap Dances to a Flamenco Beat in ‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre

Dance in a graveyard

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

by Cynthia Citron

“I have a long history of flamenco,” Pamela Dunlap says — her tongue firmly in her cheek.  And thereby hangs the tale.

“Actually, I’m not a dancer,” she continues.  “I’m dragged kicking and screaming into flamenco class” as the lead in Stephen Sachs’ new play Heart Song, now having its premiere at the Fountain Theatre.

Playing Rochelle — a middle-aged, out-of-shape Jewish woman who’s undergoing a crisis of faith — Dunlap is persuaded to join a flamenco class for other middle-aged, out-of-shape women. The production unites two of the Fountain’s specialties — plays and the subject of flamenco (the Fountain is presenting Forever Flamenco at the Ford on June 15).

“It’s an all-female cast,” Dunlap says, “and the camaraderie is great.  It’s a wonderful journey.” Shirley Jo Finney is directing.

When I suggest that it sounds a bit like Steel Magnolias, a perennial favorite, she says, “Oh no, it’s not anything like Steel Magnolias!  In this play nobody has diabetes, nobody’s getting their hair done, and there are no cranky old women.”

Pamela Dunlap

Pamela Dunlap

She should know. She was in a Salt Lake City production of Steel Magnolias, playing the role of the former mayor’s widow, who describes the new mayor’s wife as looking, while dancing, “like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket.”

Dunlap confesses that early in her career she taught Latin dances — the cha-cha, the merengue, the samba — at a Xavier Cugat Dance Studio in New York.  “Cugat was the Arthur Murray of Latin dancing,” she says.  “He had dance studios all over.”

Dunlap is herself a New York woman from Flushing and Jackson Heights.  Currently she considers herself bicoastal, with a home in Manhattan and another in Van Nuys.  In Southern California, she has performed at the Ahmanson, South Coast Rep, and LA Theatre Works, but this is her first appearance at the Fountain.

In New York  she has been seen on Broadway in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Redwood Curtain, and Yerma, and in several Off-Broadway roles. Recently, she appeared at Theater Raleigh in North Carolina as Mattie Fae, the nagging sister of Violet and mother of Little Charles in August Osage County.

On TV she has been featured on How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, Law and Order SVU andCommander in Chief, but her most visible role currently is as Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law and abominable baby-sitter for Betty’s daughter Sally on AMC’s Mad Men.

About her role as “Sally’s fiendish baby sitter,” she calls her “a woman with a great sense of entitlement, exactly the opposite of the woman I’m playing in Heart Song — a woman who is struggling to find her sense of entitlement.”

In Heart Song, Rochelle is “a woman who never married, whose mother recently died, and who has very little support.  She’s in a painful place of transition, dealing with mortality and trying to find her own identity,” Dunlap explains.

Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).

Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).

Questioned about her identification with the characters she plays, she says, “acting allows us to play so many different characters, but we can always find something in ourselves that is like the character. The play mirrors the struggles we all go through, and we find a common history that we didn’t suspect we have in common.  A common history or something that connects us to that character.”

On the adventure level, though, she has had a few experiences that aren’t reflected in any play she has appeared in.  For example, when her son, Trevor Morgan Doyle, an anthropologist doing research in Finland, decided to marry a Finnish woman, she traveled to the wedding, driving a car for 10 hours above the Arctic Circle.  “The car was chugging along because the fuel was freezing in the tank,” she says.

She also reports that the bride’s family, “obviously testing my mettle,” invited her to swim with them in weather that was 70 degrees below freezing.  They dug a hole through the ice and then kept scraping the ice off the top of the hole as it froze on contact with the air.

Did she do it?  You bet she did!

“Actually, they claim it’s a cure for depression,” she says.  “You’re shocking your whole system.  I’ve never felt so alive in my life!”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, she has ties with Ethiopia.  She is an active member of the Salt Lake City-based Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, a non-governmental organization that provides schooling for girls in that country.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.

When not rolling naked in ice holes and visiting schools in Ethiopia, however, she has taken a few moments to accept awards.  She has received three Drama-Logue awards, has been an honoree of the New York Drama League, and has won an OOBR (Off-Off Broadway Review) award.

As for the future, she has very definite ideas about whom she would like to work with.  Before the question is completely posed, she answers enthusiastically, “Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s the real deal.”

But for the present, she is delighted to be working with director Finney, choreographer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez, and a cast consisting of Juanita Jennings, Tamlyn Tomita, Bermudez (through June 14), Denise Blasor (beginning June 15), Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou and Sherrie Lewandowski.

Photos by Ed Krieger. Cynthia Citron writes for LA Stage Times.  

Heart Song Now to July 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Pamela Dunlap, Juanita Jennings and Tamlyn Tomita Set to Co-Star in ‘Heart Song’ at Fountain Theatre

Pamela Dunlap

Pamela Dunlap

Casting is now complete for the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of the new comedy/drama Heart Song by Stephen Sachs, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. The trio of TV/Film/Stage actresses leading the way are Pamela Dunlap (“Mad Men”), Juanita Jennings (“Fences” at South Coast Rep) and Tamlyn Tomita (“Glee”, “Days of Our Lives”, “Joy Luck Club”). Heart Song opens May 25th.

Heart Song is a funny and touching new play that chronicles the personal journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a crisis of faith. Rochelle’s life is changed when she is convinced by friend Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) to join a flamenco class for middle-aged women. There she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of other women who propel Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood and self-discovery.

Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) makes her Fountain Theatre debut in Heart Song. She is a film/TV/stage veteran who has guest-starred on dozens of TV shows including two years as Pauline Francis on TV’s Mad Men and two years as Gilda Rockwell on Commander in Chief.  Her many film credits include Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling and I Am Sam with Sean Penn. On stage, she recently co-starred with Dorothy Lyman in August: Osage County and has appeared in regional theaters across the country including South Coast Repertory, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, New York Theatre Workshop and the Lonacre Theatre on Broadway.

Juanita Jennings

Juanita Jennings

Juanita Jennings (Daloris) recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences. She is well known to Fountain audiences for her thrilling portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress), and Twelfth Night. Other theatre credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum,  The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse.  Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns,   and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is also a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.

Tamlyn Tomita

Tamlyn Tomita

Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow, The Joy Luck Club, and Karate Kid 2.  Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud, and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang.  Tamlyn’s stage work include such productions as The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Mark Taper Forum’s Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club), and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). Tamlyn returns to our Fountain stage twenty-three  years after winning a Drama-Logue Award when she starred in our very first production, Winter Crane, in 1990.

Jewish women flamenco class title

Also featured in the Heart Song cast are Andrea Dantas, Alicia Dhanifu, Mindy Krasner, Sherrie Lewandowski, Norma Maldonado, and Barbara Oilar.

Stephen Sachs is the author of the recent Fountain hits Bakersfield Mist (optioned for London/Broadway) and Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award). Shirley Jo Finney won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for her direction of the Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning  In the Red and Brown Water. Internationally heralded flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez will serve as Heart Song choreographer.

Heart Song May 25 – July 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE