At the age of 90, Mabel Tidings Bigelow has much to look back on, including swimming the English Channel from England to France.
Those memories, and the people who populate them, form the basis for “Pride’s Crossing,” a play opening Sept. 17 at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro.
The play, a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, features the Commonweal’s Adrienne Sweeney as Bigelow — which is somewhat of a surprise to Sweeney.
“When I read this play, it did not jump off the page and say ‘You have to do that part (Bigelow),’” Sweeney said. “My entree into the story was all the other people. I was swept away by the relationships.”
But the more Sweeney read, the more attracted she became to the role of Bigelow, a feisty, independent woman. “I love her tenacity,” Sweeney said. “She just doesn’t give up. There’s this wonderful ornery quality to her that I love. That’s what got her across the Channel.”
That’s also what got her through 90 years — a lifetime that included so much more than swimming the Channel.
“The play’s not really about that (the Channel swim),” Sweeney said. “It’s about this 90-year-old woman’s life, looking back on the big things and little things. Yes, we do these spectacular things, but our life is a culmination of all these things.”
That’s really the way it is for all of us, Sweeney said. Sometimes we climb great heights, sometimes we step over ant hills. Sometimes we stumble over a crack in the sidewalk. All of those steps, and all the people who accompanied us, make up the fabric of a life.
To capture all these moments and memories, Tina Howe’s script requires Sweeney to portray Mabel at a range of ages, from 10 to 90. “I try to find the 90-year-old and make sure it’s the same person as the 10-year-old,” Sweeney said.
Also in the cast are Commonweal resident artists Abbie Cathcart, Hal Cropp, Ben Gorman, Megan K. Pence and Jeremy van Meter, with guest artist Miriam Monasch. The play is directed by Leah Cooper, who previously directed “The Drawer Boy” and “Arcadia” at the Commonweal.
“Pride’s Crossing” runs through Nov. 13.