Playing “Rita” in “The Best of Hank and Rita: A Barroom Operetta by Joe Tougas.” Joe and I play a fictional husband-wife country-pop duo who hit the Top 10 briefly in the 1970s and, after a declining decade that followed, are performing tonight (circa 1986). They’re on the brink of divorce, but Hank doesn’t know that, but the audience does. It’s eleven original songs firmly grounded in the aesthetic known as “1970s AM Gold,” with a lot of improvised back-and-forth leading to a lot of raw human places.
Because it’s a stretch. For long time I offered feedback on Joe’s work-in-progress, stating clearly all the while that I wouldn’t be playing Rita. I don’t act, I don’t even speak on stage in our regular gigs as The Frye, I don’t have a big voice. Lots of reasons. Then I heard his rough tracks of the songs and said hey, well, these are killing me, I don’t care who else you’ve talked to, I’m doing this. So we’re doing it, and so far it’s getting full houses and nice reviews. Those feel wonderful. Every show feels like the first time I took an Ashtanga class which I couldn’t handle and still can’t. (I’m not saying that as a proud person who mastered Ashtanga and is being modest, I’m saying, I never went back.) That feeling was like: If I don’t focus really hard I’m gonna crumple and fall over on this mat. And there is no room to fall, there are other people standing all around me. So I have no choice but to think and sweat my way to not-falling. That is a thrilling zone to be in as long as it’s a choice.
Here is Joe’s ladyfriend, Jennifer. Fortunately for everyone, she’s a former stylist. For this project she identifies as a “hairdresser.” I think we can all agree that’s what she’s doing here. This is dressing, assemblage, sculpture. Hairchitecture.
Once she’s done, it’s impossible not to feel the ‘do with every move.
It’s a wafty-yet-solid piece of work. It looks desperate when back-lit. At one point Jen suggested extensions and I was like, Hank and Rita can’t afford extensions! Career is dying! Relationship is bankrupt! No extensions. Jennifer was all in. “Next time I’m leaving a flattened-down piece in back to look sad,” she said. Yup. Yes.
Ann Rosenquist Fee is a vocalist and songwriter with The Frye, an acoustic duo performing since 2008 at clubs, taverns and theaters throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. She is also executive director of the Arts Center of Saint Peter, a gallery and live music venue in south-central Minnesota. Ann is a style columnist for Mankato Magazine and a past teaching artist at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She has an MFA in fiction from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine where she met the fabulous Linda Sienkiewicz and other literary hotshots. Her writing appears in collections by Cleis Press, Blueroad Press, The Missouri Review and Demos Health. She lives with her husband, Scott, in Mankato, Minnesota. Ann blogs at annrosenquistfee.com and tweets at @ARosenquistFee.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
Angelica had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
Readers’ Favorite Finalist
USA Book News Best Book Finalist
Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters