One-woman show lays out 'Family Secrets'

05:00 AM, Aug 23, 2013

Carolyn Michel plays five members of a quirky clan in 'Family Secrets,' now at Downstairs Cabaret at Winton Place. (Photo provided by DCT)/


Written By Debbie Waltzer

Carolyn Michel has a face that you cannot forget. Whether she’s examining the contents of her nostrils while listening on the phone to her grown daughter’s rants, or putting on make-up while singing the tune “Crazy,” Michel seamlessly transforms from one character to the next in Family Secrets, now on stage at Downstairs Cabaret at Winton Place.

The play, which holds the distinction of having been the longest running one-woman show in off-Broadway history, features Michel playing five family members and their quirky yet loveable traits.

During the one-act, 80-minute performance, Michel — whose professional credits include a stint with Sid Caesar on Broadway — plays Mort, the family patriarch; Bev, his eccentric wife; Fern, their 28-year-old, slightly confused daughter; Sandra, their rebellious 16-year-old daughter; and Rose, the wise 80-year-old grandmother.

Michel is a 23-year member of the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. She is directed in this production by her husband Howard Millman, former artistic director of Geva Theatre Center and retired artistic director of Asolo, who now does freelance directing.

Everyone in the audience will recognize their own family members in this show,” Michel says. “The show demonstrates how important our families are to us, and the story is told with plenty of warmth and humor.”

Chris Kawolsky, producing director of Downstairs Cabaret, has wanted to bring Family Secrets to Rochester ever since seeing it about 15 years ago in New York City. He spoke repeatedly with performer Sherry Glaser (who co-wrote the play with her former husband, Gregory Howells). But schedules prevented her from bringing the show upstate.

When Kawolsky learned that Glaser had released performing rights to the show and that Michel was performing it through Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, he made arrangements for Michel and Millman to come to Rochester.

Last week, Downstairs Cabaret held a party and fundraiser, which featured snippets of performances from some of its current shows, including Dream Lover: A Salute to the Music of Bobby Darin and My Gal Patsy. Attendees enjoyed those segments, Kawolsky says, but it was Michel’s theatrical bits from Family Secrets that “brought down the house.”

Carolyn fully inhabits this eccentric group of characters,” he says. “This is laugh-out-loud theater. It is a very funny and poignant play.”

The play runs through the end of September at Downstairs Cabaret at Winton Place, 3450 Winton Place, Brighton. Tickets are $26 to $33. Call (585) 325-4370 or go to downstairscabaret.org.

Waltzer is a Rochester-based freelance writer.