Saturday, May 23, 2009

Harnessing Honaker

Posted by Bruce Miller
First of all there’s the pronunciation. You put the emphasis on the first syllable—just like you would expect. But the first syllable rhymes with “bone,” not “don.”

Then there’s the matter of the second and third syllables. You say them just as if you were talking about an “acre” of land, with the “a” getting more emphasis than the “ker.”

So it’s Hone’-ake’-er, with each syllable getting slightly less emphasis than the one that preceded it. Like homemaker. Not Hahn’-ah-ker.

I’m talking of course about Audra Honaker, who is now starring in Barksdale’s I Ought To Be In Pictures at Hanover Tavern (see pictures above and to the right and below and to the left).

About her performance, critic Celia Wren wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “If America could harness the vim that actress Audra Honaker brings to her latest gig, the country’s energy problems would be solved.” That’s the first sentence of the review.

In STYLE Weekly, Mary Burruss issued similar compliments: “Hackman and Honaker hit dramatic heights. Honaker delivers a strong performance.”

If Richmond has stars--and I think we do--she's one.

So who is this theatrical powerhouse whose talent and energy are capable of lighting up a stage and a nation?

1. She’s the youngest of that elite group known as “the most talented professional actors in Greater Richmond.” No group’s really known as that, but you know what I mean. I’m not talking the top 50; I’m talking the top ten. I don’t use these words lightly. (That's Audra in Seussical to the right, and in Brooklyn Boy below and to the left.)

2. She’s one of the two or five actors in town so enjoyed and remembered by the theatre-going public that her name above a title can actually sell a significant number of tickets.

3. Like most of the greats, she’s a quadruple threat: she can act, sing and dance, and she’s very good looking.

4. She has a healthy self confidence. But her most endearing quality is that she honestly seems to have very little sense of her elevated place in the pecking order. I don’t think she knows there is a pecking order. And if she ever finds out there is one, I don't think she'll give a peck. She accepts roles in the ensemble just as happily as she accepts leads. In her spare time you can find her spray painting props, power washing sidewalks, laundering costumes, and tending to abandoned kittens. Whatever around the theatre needs doing, Audra is happy to do it. All these things I’m saying, she’d never say herself … or even think.

5. Like all the greats, she works all over town. Barksdale, Stage 1, Swift Creek Mill and Theatre IV (in alpha order) are all regular employers. (That's Audra with Drew Seigla, as Little Red and Jack, outside Willow Lawn on the sidewalk for Into the Woods.

6. She is equally adept at comedies, dramas and musicals. She has the instincts of a seasoned performer. She always takes direction eagerly. I’ve never once seen her roll her eyes as if she knew better.

7. She takes quickly to accents and with little or no effort can sound as eloquent and British as anyone could want. But in real life, she speaks with an unselfconscious Hopewell drawl that is easy to imitate as the Audra-voice. She probably (and proudly) has the most frequently impersonated accent in town.

8. She’s SMART. I should have put this as the first comment, because it may be the most important. (That's Audra to the left with Jan Guarino in the world premiere of Mona's Arrangments.) Audra's blog, and I won’t give you the address because it’s completely unselfconscious and I don’t want to freak her out, is laugh-out-loud-funny and warmly enjoyable. Other than boy genius Matt Hackman, Audra’s usually the first one off book. She sight reads vocal music like a pro, and is almost always the first one off score.

9. She’s nice, thoughtful and is friends with just about everybody. Seriously, does anyone know someone who knows Audra and doesn’t like her a lot?

So now for the shameless self-promotion part, except it’s not really self-promotion, it’s Barksdale promotion. Come see Audra in I Ought To Be In Pictures, playing now through June 21, and Audra may be missing a couple shows the last week, so come soon. Audra plays the wonderful role that won a Tony for Dinah Manoff (Best Supporting Actress, 1981) and should win Audra her second Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award next fall. (Audra won Best Actress last fall for her star turn in Once Upon a Mattress at the Mill.)

I Ought To Be In Pictures is a funny and sweet play. Audra, Matt and Lisa are wonderful in it. Hope to see you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller


Matthew Costello said...

Audra is a gifted comedienne and outstanding actress. Her performances I have been fortunate to see have had me laughing uncontrollably and touched me deeply. I've also had the pleasure of being on stage with her and can say she is a generous actress and delightful to perform with. I look forward to seeing this production and hope it is sold-out through the entire run!

joepabst said...

I first met Audra in 2001 while directing "Jekyll & Hyde" for Richmond Rec & Parks at Dogwood Dell. I cast her in the ensemble, and I really don't remember the particulars of her audition. I only remember thinking she had a powerful voice and quirky personality. But there is one scene, really one minor moment, that still stands out in my memory.

In the scene, I asked Audra to play a blind street beggar who stumbles upon one of Hyde's gruesome murders. Hyde strangled his victim with her own necklace, which he kept hold of as his victim slid to the ground. As he left the stage, he tossed the necklace to the "blind" beggar (Audra), who caught it, lifted her dark glasses to examine the gift, then flashed a trademark smile and ran off in the other direction!

The whole thing lasted maybe 5 seconds; you would have missed it if you looked away. But for that one moment, Audra commanded the stage and the audience's attention. I remember my wife, Debra, turning to me and saying, "She's adorable! Who is she??"

After several years and dozens of wonderful performances, Audra still commands the stage! She still flashes that trademark smile! And she's still adorable! But very people now have to ask, "Who is she??"

Anonymous said...

Me and my wife just saw her in "I ought to be in pictures" this past weekend and she did a wonderful job. I look forward to seeing her in other productions.