As we speak, Savannah native Haviland Stillwell is in the midst of an extended run of For the Record: The Coen Brothers, a musical celebration of movie–making siblings Joel and Ethan, at a trendy restaurant–slash–theater in downtown Los Angeles called Barre.
One of the characters she plays is the eccentric, art–loving Maude Lebowski.
“I don’t come in on a trapeze, unfortunately,” Stillwell laughs, “but I do have the Julianne Moore wig and the whole thing.”
Stillwell, who’ll sing Sunday, Aug. 21 in a benefit for the Tybee Post Theater, says she’s having a great time.
“They call it environmental theater,” she explains. “We’re kind of all over the place. So the audience member gets to sit there and literally have actors and singers surrounding them doing scenes and songs from The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, Hudsucker Proxy, Burn After Reading, etcetera etcetera.”
The Coen show runs through Sept. 23, followed on the Barre calendar by a similarly–quirky revue of music from Quentin Tarantino films.
“The audiences are packed – we’re in a bar, so I’m singing an opera song and I’m literally bumping into people and tables and stuff,” Stillwell says. “You’re literally right there in the audience.”
Stillwell, typically, is bouncing between projects like the cueball on a bumper pool table. She appeared this season in an episode of CSI: NY, and launched an Internet situation comedy, Unicorn Plan–It. She co–wrote, co–produced and co–stars in the two episodes currently on view at autostraddle.com, a website devoted to lesbian interests.
Very L.A.–centric, Unicorn Plan–it plays like a cross between Entourage and The L Word.
“What we were going for was kind of a Modern Family meets Arrested Development meets Curb Your Enthusiasm,” she says. “Very fast, defined characters.
“We wanted to do a series that surrounded women who love women, but was also a funny series – something that was funny, that was quick, and that people could get into the characters and relate with them. And laugh. It was honestly just about that.”
Four additional episodes are in the can. “The first two really just set up the characters,” explains Stillwell. “The real hi–jinks ensue in the next couple of episodes.”
The series is about four women who run an event–planning service – and, Stillwell stresses, while some of the comedy comes from the characters’ sexual particulars, it’s not a “gay show,” so to speak.
“Most of the people I’ve heard from, as far as reaching out to me, have not been people in the gay community,” she says. “It’s actually been people contacting me to say ‘Hey, I’m not gay, but I really relate to this,’ because this show is about event planners, planning a wedding. Everybody does that. I think it’s very topical for what’s going on right now, as far as gay marriage, but also marriage in general.
“One of the points we’re trying to make – and it’s isn’t a political point, it’s just kind of obvious – is that there are things we all go through in the human experience. And one of those is things that go on in an office. Things that go on in a relationship. Things that go on in planning a wedding.
“They’re just human issues. I think of something like The Cosby Show – white people didn’t not watch it because it was a show about black people. We watched it because it was a funny show. We would like to be, for the gay community, what The Cosby Show was for the black community.”
Stillwell, who left her hometown for Atlanta (with her recently–divorced mom) at the age of 9, first stepped onto a stage in a production of The Little Red Hen at Savannah Country Day School.
She had her first flush of success with a recurring role in the Atlanta–made TV series I’ll Fly Away (with Sam Waterston); at Ithica College in New York, she studied opera.
At age 22, just out of school, she landed a plumb role in a Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, following that with a lengthy stint in Les Miserables.
Los Angeles caught her in its web in 2008. She’s been doing theater, and TV parts, and singing cabaret since the day she arrived. Her CD How I Role came out in 2010.
She’ll be doing songs from that album, and Broadway favorites, at the two Aug. 21 performances at the new wedding chapel on Tybee.
Stillwell will be accompanied, as she was for her Christmas show last year, by pianist Steven Jamail. “He’s coming from New York, and I’m coming from L.A.,” she explains. “We’ve been joking that the only time we really get to spend time together is when we meet in Savannah.”
I’ll Be Home For Christmas, she reports, was a fantastic success. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it went. By the end of the night, people were singing along, and dancing. I know everybody had a really good time.”
That concert, also a benefit for the Tybee Post Theater, took place in a private home in Savannah. Stillwell’s thrilled that the 2011 shows are to be held in the new chapel (“made famous by Miley Cyrus,” she chuckles).
“I’ve never actually done a concert in Tybee before. I’ve done lots of stuff in Savannah, but it’s cool to be able to perform almost actually in the ocean.”
A Cabaret with Haviland Stillwell and Steven Jamail
Where: Tybee Island Wedding Chapel, 1112 U.S. 80, Tybee Island
When: 4:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21
Tickets: $25 for the 4:30 performance; $50 for the 7 p.m. performance, which includes an after–concert wine and dessert reception with the artists
Phone: (912) 525–5050
Tickets also available at the door
Artist’s website: havilandstillwell.com