MST’s new season could
be biggest one yet for popular veteran actress
Claire Hart-Palumbo has spent 33 years helping to build theater in Houston. Over the course of her career, she has worked as an actress, administrator, teacher, writer and director. Like so many of the women she has played, her life has taken some unexpected turns. However, she has faced each challenge with a mixture of bravery, humor, compassion and strength, which she then imparts to her characters.
When she is not working as a technical writer, editor and consultant for large petrochemical companies or teaching distance learning classes for Cypress-Fairbanks College, Hart-Palumbo can be found in rehearsal at Main Street Theater.
Rebecca Greene Udden, executive artistic director of Main Street Theater and long-time friend of Hart-Palumbo, said, “This is a big season for Claire at Main Street. She is starring in the one-woman play The Year of Magical Thinking in January/February; she is directing Noël Coward’s riotous hit comedy Blithe Spirit which runs in June; and this November/December we are producing The Heidi Chronicles. Though Claire is not in this production, her history with that play and with Main Street are very much felt!”
Hart-Palumbo’s history with Main Street Theater began after she resigned a seven-year post at Stages Repertory Theatre. Several years and roles later, Hart-Palumbo left Houston to attend graduate school. When she moved back to Houston in 1992, Udden asked her to audition for the role of Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles. Though she was literally unpacking her moving truck at the time, Hart-Palumbo jumped at the chance to play the lead role in Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work.
“It was a big show for me,” Hart-Palumbo said. “It was kind of a watershed show for me and for Main Street. Which is why it’s so exciting they are doing it now, 18 years later. I think it’s still a show that has a lot to say and is every bit as pertinent as it was then.”
The play chronicles a period of 25 years in the life of Heidi Holland, from high school in the 1960s through her career as an art historian. The play explores the changing roles of women during the height of the feminist movement. Through the exploits of its characters, centered round Heidi, the play brings the social and political transformations of those decades into stark relief. Within the character of Heidi, the conflict women of that era felt is personified
At the time Hart-Palumbo played the role at Main Street Theater, she was facing one of the same choices as the protagonist.
She said, “Heidi reaches a point in her life when she realizes she desperately wants a child and she may have missed her chance. But, she does a really brave thing at the end of the play, probably the bravest thing she does. In her mid to late-thirties, she decides to adopt a child and raise it on her own. Which I think is incredibly courageous. It was a choice I was seriously considering at the time. I was not as brave as she.”
Hart-Palumbo can also relate to the feelings of the character she will play in her upcoming role. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion deals with the loss of her husband and illness of her daughter. Hart-Palumbo found the play while looking for a one-woman play she could preform as a more mature actress. When she presented the play to Udden for consideration, she discovered it was particularly poignant for both.
Hart-Palumbo said, “I have always respected Joan Didion as a writer, and this came out of her experience, her personal tragedy with the loss of her husband and the illness of her daughter. Both Becky and I had lost a parent in the last couple of years, so we had that experience fresh. So, when I was reading the play, it really spoke to me because there are reactions and things she talks about that I recognize. I think Becky had the same reaction when I brought it to her.”
Though the themes in the play are heavy, and Didion comes to some harsh conclusions about life, Hart-Palumbo encourages everyone to see it if they have the chance.
She said, “It’s beautifully, almost lyrically, written. It’s a brilliant piece, I think it’s just wonderfully written. And hopefully I can make her as interesting and evocative as she is.”
In addition to her many other talents, Hart-Palumbo knows good writing. She has written and adapted plays of her own. Her “day job” is that of a technical writer/editor/corporate trainer for SPX Corporation who contracts her to the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Her dream for retirement is to live in the country, writing children’s novels. Though juggling a career, teaching and rehearsals, she has managed to complete three quarters of her first book this year.
Over the summer, Hart-Palumbo will be directing Noël Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit at Main Street Theater, as well. Retirement seems a long way off for this multitalented woman.
As Udden said, “She’s an amazing, strong woman who takes the world by storm and puts her heart – and herself – into everything she does.”
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