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July 29, 2006 Author and actress Perri Gaffney is settling into Ashland Mark A. Curci Tidings Correspondent No matter what else she does, Perri Gaffney is a storyteller. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress and Renaissance woman

Author and actress Perri Gaffney is settling into

Mark A. Curci

No matter what else she does, Perri Gaffney is a storyteller.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress and Renaissance woman recently read selections from her debut novel, “The Resurrection of Alice,” at the Ashland Public Library.

Gaffney, a New York native of 27 years, is dwelling in Ashland during the current run of the OSF’s “Intimate Apparel.” The author/actress is also an accomplished playwright, screenwriter, film director, producer and co-author of a textbook on managing pop stars.

What impresses most immediately about Gaffney is that every question asked about her is ultimately answered through the relation of the life story of another. Gaffney, as an artist, is unable to separate her various crafts from a greater connection through the human condition.

One future project of Gaffney’s is to narrate a documentary by videographer Dwight Smith on the East Coast C2EA: Campaign to End AIDS involving a march from Lincoln Tunnel to the Lincoln Memorial.

But she doesn’t talk about that for long. Instead, she talks about Margaret, a woman who has been living with AIDS for fifteen years. And, after ten minutes of hearing Gaffney speak about Margaret, you’ve known Margaret for every minute of each of those years. “I’ll write her biography one day,” says Gaffney.

Next she’s explaining the autobiography she’s helping old high school friend Ronald Franklin pen. Ronald used to be a champion high school basketball player and an exquisite dancer. Now he’s a quadriplegic who councils vets and cons.

“Whatever your problem is, he says, ‘get over it,’” says Gaffney. “Once he was poetry in motion. Now he is an inspiration.”

Gaffney didn’t set out to be a writer. She always dreamed of being an actress, but set about it in an unusual way; by becoming a business major at Kent State.

“I knew all the things needed to be an actress,” Gaffney said. “Luck, talent, looks, etc. What I needed to learn was how to deal with massive amounts of rejection. I didn’t know if I could take that, so to learn I majored in business.”

Gaffney’s first novel, “The Resurrection of Alice,” which she read from Wednesday, is indicative of her passion towards making the human condition universally accessible.

“I’ve traveled all over the world,” Gaffney said. “And I just keep meeting the same people.”

One of the people this work is inspired by is actually not someone Gaffney met on her world travels, but rather an old friend with whom she shared a car-ride with between Cleveland, where she was raised, and her home in New York City.

“This friend of mine always talked about how much she wanted to be a house wife and mother,” Gaffney said. “But then when she got all that, she hated it. She explained that part of why she wanted it so badly was the joy she saw in her own mother growing up but later, after starting her own family she discovered it was all a lie.”

Gaffney tells of how, at a very young age, her friend’s mother was forced into an arranged marriage with a much older man. Despite years of seemingly blissful structured life, the woman actually suffered much depression. Over the course of the experience, and through subsequent conversations, Gaffney’s friend told much of her mother’s story.

“Originally, I planned the work as a biography but she died before I ever had a chance to meet her,” Gaffney said. “I loved her and I never met her.”

According to Gaffney, many Americans never realize that even through the 1950s many marriages among the poor were still arranged by families rather than the women themselves.

“For a lot of people then there was no way out,” she said. “Folks were just looking to have a roof over their heads. Many wives had to call their husbands ‘Mister’.”

Eventually, Gaffney does relate a story about herself.

“Okay,” she says. “The closest I ever got to Broadway was this one audition. I had it all planned out. There is a point in my monologue where I was just going to floor them. I get right to it and all of a sudden my tongue swells and fills my throat. The rest of my sketch was something less than actual words. I’m walking out and…”

Gaffney takes a moment and smiles. “I’m walking out and the director says, ‘Excuse me. How do you think you did?’” Gaffney starts laughing.

Gaffney’s next project is a fictional recollection of her nine years as a substitute teacher in New Jersey and Harlem. Gaffney ran into one of her favorite students and mentioned her book in the works.

“I couldn’t remember a single story to tell about her, so I killed her so I could eulogize her spirit.”

When she related this to Melissa the response was, “Gee. Thanks Miss Gaffney.”

As for Gaffney herself, in the face of dozens of careers, she looks at her time as a school teacher as, “the most significant thing I’ve ever done. But I’d never do it again.”

Perri Gaffney insists that art — good art sometimes and great art always — inspires, educates and promotes.

“Whether you’re finishing reading a book or leaving a theater, you should be changed,” says Gaffney. “To me, the things that hold us down or back are ourselves. Every day you learn something if you’re paying attention. Some people don’t know what to do with that info and they’re stuck.”

“This (writing) is my day job, rather than waiting tables,” says Gaffney. “ I’ve done that too.”

Gaffney is appearing in OSF’s “Intimate Apparel.” Her Web site is www.perritales.com.

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