Mother Superior’s Life Experience Rich
Kelley Cook, dialogue director and Mother Superior in the Sixth Street Melodrama’s new production of “Nunsense,” makes superb acting look easy. But Cook had to face some real challenges in order to stay true to her gifts and sense of inner direction over the years.
“Performing was in my heart. I just knew,” said Cook, who was born in the small college town of Delaware, Ohio. Her father was also in the business, arranging publicity first for Ringling Brothers, and later for hall shows.
As a young woman, Cook tested her desire by studying English rather than theater. The experiment only convinced her that she had to follow her dreams.
“I went to New York one spring break and auditioned for Joshua Logan, a very famous Broadway director,” she recalled. “I did it for the experience.”
She didn’t expect to get a part, but that summer, while she was working as an apprentice at a playhouse in Pennsylvania, Cook received a telegram. She was wanted as a replacement in Logan’s production, “Wish You Were Here.”
“At that point I had to make a choice whether to go back to school or not. I thought, ‘I’ve only been a half-hearted student. I may as well become a better performer.”’
Cook loved New York.
“There’s a rhythm, a pulse in the city that’s just amazing. Particularly in the theater district. Particularly at night.”
At the time, New York and Los Angeles were the only two places to seriously pursue a career in theater, she said. “That was the middle of the McCarthy era. It shut things down terribly.”
Cook stayed with “Wish You Were Here” for a year-and-a-half, first on Broadway, then on national tour. Returning to New York, she landed a series of roles in other productions, taking occasional day jobs to make ends meet. Competition was fierce.
Eventually she was lured from New York by the Muni Opera of St. Louis, where she stayed for two seasons. She also worked at a TV station, hosting a talk show.
“It was fun. We interviewed people like Bobby Darrin and Zsa Zsa Gabor,” she said, grinning.
From St. Louis, she moved to Los Angeles, then back to New York. By that point, in the early ‘60s, Cook’s career was starting to take off.
“People recognized me. It was working. Then I realized I was going to marry a man who would take me away from it all. He didn’t say so at the time, but I felt it in my bones,” she said.
Her new husband took a job in Kokomo, Ind., where Cook’s children were born. She doesn’t regret the decision to interrupt her career to raise a family. Nevertheless, the choice wasn’t easy. It eventually led to a personal crisis in which all the things she thought she could count on crumbled around her. Her marriage broke up. She became an alcoholic and checked into a treatment center.
“I thought, if there’s nothing bigger than I am, I might as well crash all the way,” she said. “I had tried everything - Eastern religion, astrology … I could cast horoscopes like you wouldn’t believe. But the only thing I’d ever read that seemed consistent were the things that Jesus taught. So I sat in my hospital room and said, if you’re real, you’d better show up,”’ Cook paused. “He did.”
Cook conquered her alcoholism and remarried, moving with her new husband first to San Diego, then to North Idaho, the couple responding to what Cook calls “direction.”
“We began to settle in here without any idea why,” Cook said. “That’s all right. You don’t need to know why.”
She soon found her way to the Sixth Street Melodrama, helping out with a couple of benefits and singing for a season with Kelly’s Alley Review. Her first complete role was that of Mother Superior in the Melodrama’s first production of “Nunsense” five years ago.
“Life is big,” she declared. “It’s not always easy, but it’s not supposed to be. We’re here to learn.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Bekka Rauve is a free-lance writer who lives in the Silver Valley. Panhandle Pieces appears every Saturday. The column is shared among several North Idaho writers.
This sidebar appeared with the story:
IF YOU GO
The Sixth Street Melodrama’s production of “Nunsense” runs through Sunday in Wallace. Call 752-8871 for reservations.
Bekka Rauve is a free-lance writer who lives in the Silver Valley. Panhandle Pieces appears every Saturday. The column is shared among several North Idaho writers.
This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO The Sixth Street Melodrama’s production of “Nunsense” runs through Sunday in Wallace. Call 752-8871 for reservations.