As Miss Lillian Carter, Carol Swarbrick Dries mimes dancing with her husband, Earl, in “Lillian Carter: A Life of Some Significance.” (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

As Miss Lillian Carter, Carol Swarbrick Dries mimes dancing with her husband, Earl, in “Lillian Carter: A Life of Some Significance.” (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Sequim actor, director’s hands are full this season

Carol Swarbrick Dries will direct, appear on stage

SEQUIM — A one-woman show with new stories added, a film docudrama inspired by that show, a popular musical in Seattle and a whole other stage production about human resilience: These are a few things on Carol Swarbrick Dries’ winter-spring calendar.

Let’s take it in chronological order, for simplicity’s sake. Today at Olympic Theatre Arts, Dries will hold auditions for “Let Me Down Easy,” a set of monologues about people coping with the tougher challenges life brings.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith created the show, which calls for three male and three female actors; Dries will direct it as a staged reading. Tryouts will go from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at OTA, 414 N. Sequim Ave., and more information is available at olympictheatrearts.org and 360-683-7326.

For this production, “I really need a diversity of ethnicities,” Dries said, adding that she welcomes actors across the age spectrum.

Rehearsals for “Let Me Down Easy” will start in late May, and the readings will take place in OTA’s Gathering Hall, Fridays through Sundays June 19-28.

This weekend on OTA’s main stage, Dries will transform into the woman she has been portraying, with gusto and awards from Port Angeles to New York City, for years now. Miss Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother and an outspoken daughter of the Deep South, is Dries’ subject in “Lillian Carter: A Life of Some Significance,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets to this Clallam County League of Women Voters presentation — celebrating the centennial of U.S. women’s suffrage — are sold out. A talkback will follow each 75-minute performance.

Each time Dries has brought her solo show to the stage — and Miss Lillian has appeared at the Truman Library in Missouri, the United Solo Festival on Manhattan’s Theater Row and at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam, B.C., among other venues — the performer has stirred in new insights.

She and her husband Jim Dries cowrote the play, and both have visited Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at their home in Plains, Ga., as well as at the Carter Center in Atlanta, several times.

“Each time we meet with the Carters or do something involved with Plains,” where Lillian lived in her beloved Pond House, “we learn new information and new stories,” Dries said.

These infusions, she added, make the show even more fulfilling for her and for Jim.

Two freshly integrated pieces: Lillian’s recollection of the January day in 1981 when the family left the White House to move back to Georgia, and a letter she wrote home on her 70th birthday, during her Peace Corps service in India.

“Either of those gives us a personal glimpse of her heart,” said Dries, “and her determination.”

She emphasizes that this play isn’t about parties or politics. It’s a portrait of a woman who grew up in segregated Georgia and who befriended all kinds of people; a nurse who cared for children in India; a mother and fierce protector of her values and her family.

When Dries did the show in Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver, B.C., her host told her: “This isn’t ‘an American story.’ It’s a humanitarian story.”

That is what has kept her inspired — to not only continue her live performances but also to produce a movie.

The film version of “Lillian Carter: A Life of Some Significance” includes interviews with the now 95-year-old Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn and others who knew Lillian well. It interweaves those conversations with scenes from Dries’ live show. After a year of work, it will be completed and ready for distribution at the end of this month.

The movie will be presented to platforms such as Netflix and Apple TV, Dries said, in hopes it will be purchased and offered on one of the streaming services. She and director Vivian Winther may also opt to screen later in the year it at film festivals around the country.

Dries won’t be staying home in Sequim to await word from the distributors.

In February she’ll travel to Grand Rapids, Minn., for a set of performances as Miss Lillian. Next she’ll become an entirely different woman at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, appearing in the musical “Sister Act,” March 13 through April 5. As Sister Mary Lazarus, she has a rap song among other numbers.

“Sister Act” is another in Dries’ long résumé of shows; as it happens she also played a nun, Sister “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” Berthe, in 2015’s “The Sound of Music” at the 5th, and yet another sister on television’s “Murder, She Wrote.”

Directing, appearing on stages and screens — it’s still exhilarates Dries, who’s been in show business for about 50 years now. She looks forward to a jam-packed 2020 — and remains grateful for it all.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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