Playwright and composer Marty Durlin (right) leads her fellow musicians (left to right) Kay Woods, Bill Powers and Shelley Gray during a Sunday rehearsal at the Paradise Theater. Durlin’s musical is an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, “Babbitt.” It’s premiere is this Saturday, Feb. 28.
The musical play adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, “Babbitt,” will have its world premiere this Saturday night in Paonia. The talented playwright responsible for the musical, Marty Durlin, has deep roots in Delta County.
Marty Durlin began her life in Glendale, Calif., and spent her first four years in Cambridge, Mass. Then her father, Charles Conklin, a lawyer and a four-year speaker of the Colorado House in the late 50s and early 60s, moved his family to Delta. Durlin’s grandparents lived in Delta where her grandfather was a beekeeper. Durlin, her father and grandfather all graduated from Delta High School in 1965, 1936 and 1908 respectively.
Photo submitted Marty Durlin at her piano in the 1970s when she wrote “Going Home” in her kitchen in Delta. Durlin graduated from Delta High School in 1965.
Today Durlin lives in Paonia, as does her older daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, Poppy and Mason. Durlin has worked at High Country News for 1-1/2 years. She freelanced for the Delta County Independent from 1975-1978. “They paid me a quarter an inch,” she said with a smile. That was before the Sunderland family purchased the newspaper.
Durlin learned to read music as a child. She played the flute and organ. She played the organ for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Delta for Sunday school and church. When she attended Colorado Women’s College she continued her musical studies. She went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. There she took Indian violin lessons.
Peter Ambrose (left) plays the lead role of Babbitt who is undergoing a mid-life crisis in the Sinclair Lewis satire.
When she lived in Delta in the 70s, she had a friend who was studying music at Mesa College in Grand Junction. “Everything he learned, he taught me. Then I took lessons on music theory from a guy in Grand Junction. Also, in those years I got a piano, which I had never had. I dreamed about having a piano. Then a friend of mine, said, ‘I have a piano. You can have that.’ It was up on 25 Mesa in an old shack. It was covered with mouse poop. We dusted it all off. I bought it. Four of us, two women and two men—we were all crazy—we put it in a pick up and brought it down to Delta. I put it in my kitchen. That was how I wrote my first musical on that piano.”
The musical play Durlin wrote and produced in 1977 was “Going Home.” It was based on her own experiences when she returned to Delta to attend her 10-year high school reunion and decided to stay.
During a rehearsal break, choreographer Lenore Cambria (left) shares a laugh with playwright Marty Durlin (right).
In 1978, she produced the play again at the Dickens Opera House in Longmont. Between “Going Home” and “Babbitt” she has written a dozen plays, and all but one of them were musicals. They were mainly one-act plays. She entered them in contests on the Front Range. She was part of two theater companies in Boulder. The first was called the Acme Moving Theater Company, which included some of the people from the Dickens Opera House. She was also part of the Holy Cow Theater Company. “Some of those people are going to come see the show,” she said.
“I stayed in Boulder County that whole time. I was a freelancer for awhile. Then I worked for the Colorado Daily for five years.” She became the managing editor there. Then in 1986, she went to KGNU, the public radio station in Boulder. She started as their news director before becoming the manager in 1987. She worked in that capacity for 20 years. “I thought 20 years was enough,” she said when asked why she left KGNU. “I got really tired of the Front Range. I just had it. The traffic in Boulder became… it made me crazy! I rode my bike all the time, but no one else did. That’s how it seemed. I thought 20 years is a long time. I want to go do something else.”
Durlin knew she wanted to go to a rural community, and had pretty much decided she would come back to Delta County. She felt she had more friends and a better chance of getting a job in Paonia, even though it is a small town. “It seemed to have more opportunities for me, for what I do,” Durlin said about her move to Paonia in 2007.
About her love of “Babbitt,” she read the novel by Sinclair Lewis in high school. About 10 years ago, she re-read “Babbitt.” As she read it she saw it unfold as a musical. She started writing her musical adaptation about 10 years ago. With her demanding job at KGNU and being a single parent, she worked on the musical when she could grab some time.
Durlin says “Babbitt” doesn’t have a standard plot line. Sinclair Lewis began writing it as a daily account of Babbitt’s life. Lewis, who grew up in Minnesota, spent a year riding trains. He listened to the way people talked. He wrote dialog down in the slang of the day. He used a lot of it in “Babbitt” verbatim.
“It’s the story of a middle aged real estate broker who had a mid-life crisis. He lives in the fictional Midwest town of Zenith. In the course of this crisis, he has an affair. He takes the strikers side in a labor dispute. He gets wild, stays up all night, drinks and carries on. Then he comes back to the fold,” Durlin said.
The book is known as a satire. “It was wildly popular in Lewis’ day. I think he was the first American writer to become a millionaire. People loved his book,” Durlin said. “I related to Babbitt as a real human being. That’s part of why I really liked it. I think he’s an every man. I saw myself in him and other people as well.”
Durlin used every bit of what was written about the women characters in the book. She added more insight to Myra’s character, Babbitt’s wife played by Sally Kane. It was a man’s world in Babbitt’s time. “I wanted more female characters. I used as much of them as I could.”
Before holding auditions in November, she worked with people at her house. They were the core group who really encouraged her to finish the play. One of them was Sally Kane, general manager of KVNF. Others were Marion Stewart, Diane Sylvain and a number of others.
“There were a few things I had to finish. I wrote some music just this year for it. In fact, I wrote one song after we had begun rehearsals,” Durlin said.
Between 30 and 40 people auditioned. There is a cast of 17. “I was really impressed with the caliber of the people who auditioned. Even the ones I didn’t cast. There are a lot of good actors here.”
In the course of Babbitt’s two acts are 20 musical numbers featuring ragtime melodies, hymns, a march, the Charleston and waltzes. Durlin is proud of the talent she has assembled for the musical.
“One thing that has really filled out the play was that I asked Gretchen Nicholoff to write vocal harmonies and be the vocal coach and director.” Lenore Cambria is the choreographer. Carl Smith is directing. Durlin’s daughter, Ali Lightfoot, is the assistant director. Leah Morris is the technical and lighting director. The musicians are Bill Powers on guitar, Shelley Gray on upright bass, Kay Woods on violin and Durlin on piano.
Peter Ambrose portrays Babbitt. He trained to be an actor at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, American Film Institute, and Tracy Roberts Acting Studio. He has worked as an amateur and professional actor since 1966. He is a veteran of the former Cabaret and Empire theatres in Grand Junction. In 2004 Peter formed the Sweetwater Shakespeare Company.
Sally Kane is Myra, Babbitt’s wife. Lenore Cambria is Tanis, Babbitt’s girlfriend. Babbitt’s children are played by Logan Woods Darby and Lais Peterson. Eames Peterson plays Henry T. Thompson, Babbitt’s father-in-law. Zach Mann is Babbitt’s best friend, Paul. Paul’s wife, Zilla, is played by Thea Deley. Cassidy Boone plays a duel role as a fairy that Babbitt dreams about and Ted’s girlfriend Eunice. “These are very talented people. The whole cast — I’m really impressed with them.”
The world premiere of “Babbitt” on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m., promises to be a gala opening. Tickets for the premiere at the Paonia Theater are $25 and include champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Matinees at 2 p.m., on March 1, 7 and 8 are $12 for adults and $6 for kids. For ticket information call the Paradise Theater at 527-6610. The theater is located at 215 Grand Avenue in Paonia. blog comments powered by Disqus