Stage set for local playwright’s account of former first lady

Stage set for local playwright’s account of former first lady
Playwright and founder, Encinitas Theatre Consortium, Judith Montague. A staged reading of Montague’s play, The Galt Regency, will be presented at 7 p.m., Feb. 11 at the Encinitas Library. Photo by Lillian Cox

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Michelle Obama is a popular First Lady with a recent Gallup Poll giving her a 73 percent approval rating. Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Todd Lincoln also figure prominently in American history. 

Surprisingly, few people recognize the name Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, a provocative figure memorialized by White House historians as the “Secret President” and “first woman to run the government” after her husband suffered a stroke in 1919.

Playwright Judith Montague casts the spotlight on Mrs. Wilson in a staged reading of her original work, “The Galt Regency,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 in the Community Room at the Encinitas Library. The cost is $5.

The production is made possible through the Playwrights Forum of the Encinitas Theatre Consortium, which Montague founded in 2008 to bring performance art to local audiences. It is directed by Doug Jacobs with a cast that includes Carmen Beaubeaux, Linda Castro, Brian Salmon and Todd Blakesley.

The play is a fictional account of Mrs. Wilson’s behavior following her husband’s third stroke which resulted in partial paralysis. Montague wrote, “Edith locked herself in his sickroom and, with the aid of his personal physician effectively ran, stalled and/or stymied the government for a period of five months.”

“In her brief reign as defector Commander-and-Chief, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson changed the course of history,” Montague added.

The play, written between 1992 and 1996, was selected as the Northeast Theatre’s History in the Present Moment Project, the Women Playwright Initiative’s play of the year, and part of the Bart Theatre’s Sister Series. In addition, it was developed at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was selected as the most promising New American Play in both the Orlando and Utah Shakespeare festivals.

Montague became a playwright quite accidentally. After graduating with a degree in microbiology from the University of Illinois, she accompanied friends to an audition in Chicago. The friends didn’t get the role. Instead, it was Montague, who had no interest in acting, who was asked to audition and cast in the part. She went on to become a member of the “farm team” of Second City during the glory days that produced original “Saturday Night Live” cast members John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. After moving to San Diego in the mid-1970s with her new husband, Dr. Jon Montague, she studied acting at UCSD but lost interest. Instead, Montague became a theater writer and reviewer and, subsequently, a book publicist.

Montague took a film writing class through an extension program in the early 1980s, and wrote her first play, “Elvis the Last 5 Minutes” which was produced by Dramarama in San Francisco. In 1996 she earned an M.A. in playwriting from San Diego State. Since then she’s written more than 12 full-length plays.

Ultimately, Montague’s goal is to bring “The Gait Regency” to the local stage providing she can secure sponsorship. She learned how difficult that can be after producing the well-received Silent Film Festival at La Paloma in 2009 and 2010.

“I worked for free for six months and underwrote the festival, but I couldn’t find one sponsor so I had to let it go,” she laments, adding that she is in ongoing discussions to resurrect the festival next summer in the outdoor mall of the San Dieguito Academy.

The Encinitas Theatre Consortium has collaborated with Moxie, New Village Arts, San Diego Black Theatre Ensemble, Asian American Rep, Classic Youth Theatre and Joe Powers Blue Trunk. Its Playwrights Forum has staged more than 20 works by local playwrights beginning with the nationally sponsored Big Reader (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) in 2008. Montague is also the recipient of a California Arts Council Grant, a CSU Research Citation, a Tommy San Diego Dance Award, a San Diego Critics Circle Award and a Sloane Grant.

“In all the years Judy has been presenting the plays of local playwrights she has never done one of her own plays,” said Encinitas arts administrator Jim Gilliam. “She’s an award-winning playwright, and this is our opportunity to see one of her plays and experience her creative output.”

The Encinitas Library is located at 540 Cornish Drive. For more information, visit ETCinfo.net.

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