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Larry Shue - remembrance

 

Remembering Shue

Kristine Thatcher looks back on working with the playwright
Lansing City Pulse
Nov. 23, 2016
By David Winkelstern

Playwright Larry Shue was always cooking something — but it was rarely food.

“His kitchen was more like a laboratory,” said Kristine Thatcher. “He would cook up his next fake nose for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’” or “ways to expand his forehead. Larry looked different in every play.”

Shue wrote two popular farces, The Nerd and The Foreigner, and had begun to write for television when he died at 39 in a 1985 plane crash. Thatcher, 65, a Lansing native, worked with Shue in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. She remembers when she learned of his death.

“I walked into the green room and a bunch of actors were crying,” Thatcher said. “It was a horrible day.”

Thatcher performed in the The Nerd’s 1981 premiere as Tansy; Shue played the animated character of Willum. Thatcher knew from the first performance that the play was something special.

“The first production of it took our breath away,” she said.

The audience loved it and laughed enthusiastically.

“They would pitch forward and roll back,” Thatcher recalled. “It was like a horizontal wave.”

The loud chuckles sometimes overpowered the stage dialogue and forced the actors to pause.

“We had to wait and wait for laughter,” she said. “Larry had a very generous heart. He was very, very funny.”

Thatcher remembers Shue as an actor who was dedicated to his craft, especially his appearance on stage. She recalls visiting Shue to find various manufactured body parts “sitting in pots” and “ears lying around.”

“He was very inventive,” she said. “He took the physical aspect of his characters seriously.”

Shue often brought new plays to Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, seeking feedback from his peers.

“He would write these plays, and we’d do workshops,” Thatcher said. “I guess I was pretty mouthy. He said, ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ — and I did.”

That exchange inspired Thatcher to write plays of her own. Her first, “Niedecker” is based on the life of poet Lorine Niedecker. With Shue, she co-wrote another play, Waiting for Tina Meyer. The play was originally conceived as an episode for TV soap opera One Day at a Time, but the script never aired.

“Just before it was submitted, we found out the show was canceled,” Thatcher said.

Some 30 years later, in October 2015, Thatcher reopened the Waiting for Tina Meyer script for a one-night staged reading at Lansing’s Robin Theatre.

“It was like visiting with Larry all over again,” she said.

And she’s hoping to visit him again this year.

“Long ago, we promised each other that we would get in touch at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve,” she said. “I plan to visit with him. I think I’ll give him a tip of the hat.”

Thatcher can’t help but wonder what Shue might have achieved if not for the accident that took 14 lives in Virginia, not far from his home.

“What on Earth would he be doing?” she said. “Whatever it might be, it would be spectacular.”