Duluth theater community lays out laughs for director after double mastectomyHow to pay homage to an influential member of the theater community recovering from a double mastectomy: Sketch comedy, original monologues, maybe a duet from “Spamalot.”
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
How to pay homage to an influential member of the theater community recovering from a double mastectomy: Sketch comedy, original monologues, maybe a duet from “Spamalot.”
About a dozen acts will perform during the “Liz Larson Variety Show,” part benefit, part reunion for the local director with a colorful theatrical past both in and out of Duluth. Larson was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of September, had a double mastectomy in November and is now recovering.
The event is at 6 p.m. Saturday at Church of Restoration, 2623 W. Second St. Donations go to support Larson. There also will be a silent auction.
Organizers had no problem finding artists who wanted to get involved.
“I talked to a lot of people I’ve known and met through her over the years, we put up a Facebook page and as soon as that went out there was a flood of people wanting to help and wanting to perform,” said actor-singer-teacher Bree Taylor, an event organizer who plans to pair with actor Nate St. Germain on “The Song That Goes Like This.”
Larson knew it was breast cancer before her diagnosis — and that is what made it hard for her to go to the doctor, she said. She didn’t find a lump, but she had symptoms that included pain, dryness and discharge.
A mammogram revealed cancer in one breast and the threat of it spreading to the other.
“When they told me I had cancer, I didn’t cry or scream or wail. I was prepared,” Larson said. “I knew I had to do something. Whatever I was going to do would make me the best candidate for survival and for getting it done. I didn’t want to worry every day.
“Cancer is a game of percentages,” she said. “I wanted to lower mine as much as I could.”
Larson opted for mastectomy over lumpectomy and radiation and then spent about three weeks considering one breast or two.
“I’m a very large lady,” she said. “My breasts are large, too. I couldn’t imagine being without one. I didn’t want to be listing to the right.”
She had surgery in November, but had a situation with her sutures that has extended the healing process.
Larson, whose professional name is Elizabeth or Liz Gray, was in the 1991 movie “Drop Dead Fred” with Ron Eldard who was in the 1996 movie “Sleepers” with Kevin Bacon.
That’s two degrees of separation in the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
Larson was in a national tour of “The 1940s Radio Hour,” which led to performing as one of the “Lovely Leibowitz Sisters,” a trio that opened for Phyllis Diller in the late 1990s. She liked working with Diller.
“She was so gracious and wonderful and filthy. She told a joke I can’t even tell.”
Larson began working in the local scene in about 1998. She’s worked with actors ranging from children’s theater to college theater to community theater.
In the spring, she’ll direct “The 1940s Radio Hour” at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
St. Germain hasn’t worked directly with Larson, but they run in the same crowd. He also was a student at Central High School, though not yet an actor, while she was charged with the drama department.
“I’ve seen a lot of people going through hard times, trying to find themselves, and find something positive to hold onto because of her,” he said. “She’s helped people find their talent and find their muse. She’s an amazing person. She’s so passionate about what she does.”
Larson will sit on a chair she plans to refer to as her throne during Saturday’s variety show.
She has asked to not be informed of the lineup, so she doesn’t yet know that the young actors from the Playhouse Children’s Theatre that she directed in “West Side Story” will be serenading her with a number from the show.
“She’s done so much,” said Kate Horvath, education director at the Playhouse. “She’s a great supporter of the Children’s Theatre and the children’s program. The kids love her.”
She doesn’t know about the saxophone quintet, the original monologue or the dance piece, either.
Larson said she almost feels like she’s been given a do-over.
“I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think,” she said. “The loveliest thing — it’s almost shocking how many former students have been here to visit me. People are beautiful.”
If you go
What: “Liz Larson Variety Show”
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Church of Restoration, 2623 W. Second St.
Tickets: Free; donations accepted