Michael Cera as Jesse Wade Thompson and Kelsey Keel as Tiger Ann Parker in "My Louisiana Sky"

We watched a 2001 children’s movie from Showtime, “My Louisiana Sky,” and we weren’t surprised afterward to learn that it had won numerous awards — including the Andrew Carnegie Award and three daytime Emmys — and had been  nominated for more.

JULIETTE LEWIS

Based on a novel by Kimberly Willis Holt, the story concerns Tiger, a 12-year-old girl, who lives on a farm in Louisiana with her mentally handicapped parents — Corinna and Lonnie Parker — and her maternal grandmother, Jewel Ramsey. Corinna (Amelia Campbell) is childlike, less mature now than her own daughter, and Lonnie (Chris Owens) is barely literate but is savvy enough to not only hold down a job on a nearby farm but to win the trust and respect of the owner. Jewel (Shirley Knight) keeps the house, maintains order, and does per-diem farm work — sometimes with the help of Tiger (Kelsey Keel), to earn some cash.

AMELIA CAMPBELL

There is one prodigal family member — Jewel’s other daughter, Dorie, played by the redoubtable Juliette Lewis — who has left rural life behind for a career in Baton Rouge.

Tiger experiences isolation and rejection because  of the way other children regard her parents. The only child who pursues a friendship with her is Jesse Wade Thompson (Michael Cera), and Tiger has trouble accepting his exuberance. When life at home deteriorates, she considers but does not leap at the prospect offered by Dorie of a comfortable and exciting life in the city.

KELSEY KEEL

While adults may find it simplistic, the portrayal of a girl deciding where her true happiness lies can be a valuable object lesson for children.

Under the direction of Adam Arkin — whose brother Anthony is married to Amelia Campbell — every cast member delivers a strong performance. Arkin and Kelsey Keel won two of the Emmys.

SHIRLEY KNIGHT

This story is based on an interview I had with Shirley Knight for the Home News Tribune and the Asbury Park Press.

NEW BRUNSWICK: Shirley Knight is in the cast of Arthur Laurents’ new play, but she will not give a single performance.

The actress — a Tony and Emmy winner and an Oscar nominee — will appear at George Street Playhouse in Laurents’ drama “Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are.”

She will create the role of Marion, a psychological therapist who — along with the other four characters in the play — is trying to cope with the implications of the death of her charismatic son, Paolo.

The others are Sara, a professional singer — played by Alison Fraser — who was married to Paolo for 27 years; Richard — played by John Carter — who was Paolo’s father; Michelle — played by Leslie Lyles — Paolo’s disaffected sister; and Dougal — played by Jim Bracchitta — who competes with Paolo’s lingering influence as he courts Sara.

Laurents, 92, who will direct this production, has woven into the play both the kind of introspective and unblinking discourse that has characterized most of his works and an underlying conviction that love is the most important factor in a human life.


ARTHUR LAURENTS

ARTHUR LAURENTS

The playwright, who has recently directed the Broadway revival of “West Side Story,” for which he wrote the book, has introduced several plays and dozens of new characters on the George Street stage.

As Shirley Knight gives life to one of his newest characters, she said, she will approach the opportunity with a mindset that is necessary if Marion is to be spontaneous and, therefore, credible.

“I never give a performance,” the 73-year-old actress said. “Each night, I have another rehearsal. And that is essential because if you just do a rerun of what you did the night before or the week before or on opening night, it would be unbelievably boring.”

When she appears onstage at any time during the run of this play, Knight said, she won’t be acting Marion so much as she will be Marion. And that will mean that she won’t anticipate what will occur, no matter how many times she has heard it.

SHIRLEY KNIGHT IN 1966 ROLE

SHIRLEY KNIGHT IN 1966 ROLE

“There really is only one pure state of acting,” she said, “and that’s that you don’t know what you’re going to say, you don’t know what you’re going to do. You don’t know what the other person is going to say or do. You don’t know where the play is going. You have to do a play as if you haven’t read the play.

“Now, of course, you have read the play — but you cannot be in that state of knowing. You have to be in the state of going absolutely from moment to moment.”

The actress has honed this approach in 35 stage plays over the past five decades. She has also appeared in 49 films, 162 television productions, and a dozen radio dramas.

While she was engaged in this busy career, Knight — who holds a doctorate in fine arts — also managed to have a family life. Her husband, John R. Hopkins, was a prominent film and television writer. She has two daughters — actress-singer Kaitlin and TV-stage writer Sophie.

KAITLIN HOPKINS

KAITLIN HOPKINS

“Kaitlin at the moment is doing something different,” Knight said. “She just finished a year’s tour of “Dirty Dancing,’ and she has taken over the theater department at Texas State University. My youngest daughter (Sophie) is writing plays and teaching school in Los Angeles. She has her master’s from Columbia in English and fiction writing, and now she wants to teach.”

From her own prolific and varied career, Knight can mention several high points, though she seems to have a special place in her heart and memory for “Dutchman,” a 1967 film she produced, an adaption of a play by Amiri Baraka about the explosive relationship between a coarse, racially biased young white woman and a mild black man.

The play won Knight the Volpi Cup as best actress at that year’s Venice Film Festival, and “Dutchman” was named best film of the year at Cannes.

“We shot it in five days,” she recalled. “It was on a shoestring. In the year 2000 when the Whitney Museum did “Great Art of the 20th Century,’ the only film they showed about civil rights was “Dutchman.’ That made me very happy.”

PORTRAIT OF SHIRLEY KNIGHT BY JASON TOWLEN OF GANNETT NEW JERSEY

PORTRAIT OF SHIRLEY KNIGHT BY JASON TOWLEN OF GANNETT NEW JERSEY

PAUL NEWMAN

PAUL NEWMAN

Prompted by Shirley Knight’s impending appearance at the George Street Playhouse, we watched “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the 1962 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1959 Broadway play. I have never seen the play on stage, and I have read that the tale lost some of its edge with the modifications that had to be made to satisfy the sensibilities of the early ’60s. By today’s standards it’s tame, but it dealt with some tough subject matter for the Eisenhower era.

This film has one of those casts that dazzles the mind: Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, and the wonderful Canadian actress and even more wonderful human being, Madeleine Sherwood, recreated their Broadway roles, and they were joined by the redoubtable Ed Begley Sr. Geraldine Page and Rip Torn both were nominated for Tony awards for their work in the play. Begley won an Oscar and Page and Knight were nominated for the film.

GERALDINE PAGE

GERALDINE PAGE

Newman plays Chance Wayne, who returns from Hollywood to his hometown in Florida, almost literally dragging along with him a legendary movie star, Alexandra Del Lago (Page), who has sunk into a drug-and-alcohol-induced stupor after what she perceives as the failure of her latest film. On the surface, Chance Wayne is her driver and spear carrier. In reality, he is exploiting her — in every possible way — in the hope that she will give him what has been an elusive “big break” in the movies.

Alexandra travels to Florida with Chance because she has gone underground to avoid the fallout from what she has adjudged a box-office flop. Chance has another goal — to reunite with Heavenly Finley, the love of his life whose father, Tom “Boss” Finley (Begley), is a moralizing, corrupt, and ruthless political kingpin who doesn’t want Chance near his daughter.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

Finley’s son, Tom Jr., who doesn’t have his father’s cunning but outdoes him in brutality, is played by Rip Torn.

This film, which in 1961 was off limits to audiences under 18, may have been sanded down from Williams’ original version, but it far outstrips the embarrassing 1989 television remake with Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon as Alexandra and Chance and Rip Torn as “Boss” Finley. Even though its techniques are dated, the movie can play with your emotions as you try to sort out your feelings about the actress and her gigolo — both of whom are infuriating yet sympathetic — and frazzle your nerves as Chance keeps antagonizing the volatile and dangerous “Boss.” The players in this film aren’t stars first and foremost; they’re actors, doing their work as well as it can be done.

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."

ARTHUR LAURENTS

ARTHUR LAURENTS

I know what I want to be when I grow up — Arthur Laurents. I bumped into Arthur today at the George Street Playhouse where his latest play, “Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are,” will have its premiere next month. I was at the playhouse to interview Shirley Knight, who is rehearsing for this  production.

I told Arthur I just finished reading his recent book “Mainly on Directing,” and he said, “I’m just starting to write a new book. It’s called ‘The Rest of the Story,’ and the first line is: ‘You have to know who is telling the story.’ ” The title is a reference to the book he published in 2001, “Original Story.” The first line, I’m sure, is a reference to the fact that Arthur Laurents regards himself as a work in progress, a person always evolving, always acquiring new insights, new ways to look at the theater, at life, and especially at love.

GEORGE STREET PLAYHOUSE

GEORGE STREET PLAYHOUSE

The thing is, Arthur is 92 years old. He just directed the Broadway Revival of “West Side Story” — for which he wrote the book — he has had a new play at George Street for at least the last three years in a row, he is writing a new book when the ink isn’t dry on the old one. And he’s 92 years old.

That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

When I’m 92. Still working, still learning, still thinking — as Pablo Casals said in his 90s — that “I’m making progress.”

ARTHUR LAURENTS and the CAST OF 'WEST SIDE STORY'

ARTHUR LAURENTS and the cast of 'WEST SIDE STORY'