It is almost impossible to think of Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander without recalling the world premiere of The Texas Trilogyby the late Preston Jones on November 19, 1974, directed by the legendary Paul Baker, founding artistic director of Dallas Theater Center.

The Texas Trilogy began with its first play, The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, performed at DTCs Down Center Stage on December 4, 1973. Lu Ann followed two months later.

The original Claudine Hampton, Lu Ann's mother, was created by Synthia Rogers, current director of Theater at Greenhill.
Rogers recalls the occasion during rehearsals when Paul Baker's wife, Kitty, suggested it would be fun to do all three plays (including the Trilogy's third play, The Oldest Living Graduate, in one night. Of the character of Claudine Hampton, Rogers said: "(She was) a good ole West Texas woman, salt of the earth."

Rogers further reminisced of a behind-the-scenes incident in which she felt dizzy during rehearsal, later learning the cause of her dizziness was impending motherhood. She told Preston of her dilemma: "He wrote me an exit. During one of those nights when we did all three shows, there was such a long time between my first and last entrance that I had time to go be a bridesmaid in a wedding (at a nearby church)."

Opening night of this marathon on DTCs mainstage Kalita Humphreys Theater was truly an affair to remember. Not unlike the Hampton family spanning three generations, I attended this event with my father and my teenaged daughter.
The evening began with appetizers. A salad followed Act I; the main course of bar-b-que with all the trimmings followed Act II. Dessert followed the final curtain.
The cast received a standing ovation in an era of Dallas theater when, unlike today, the audience didn't automatically pop up like a Jack-in-the Box.

Robyn Baker Flatt, Founding Artistic Director of Dallas Children's Theater, created the role of Martha Ann Sickenger in The Oldest Living Graduate. As Flatt recalls: "The evening proceeded in a timeline fashion through the separate acts of each play. Preston captured the grit of West Texas living. You could feel the sand; you could feel the land. You get these wonderful battles of wills between people. Preston just struck a very true and honest note."

The plays were presented in a chronological time line rather than each play being presented as a whole. Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander spans the period from 1953-1973; whereas its bookend plays both transpire in 1962.

The role of Lu Ann was created by Sallie Baker, now an English and Drama teacher in Denver. Baker recalled of her character: "She was an optimistic character; she had some very tough things that happened to her. I had a hand-printed copy of the script; Preston didn't type."
Baker said: "Preston asked me to play Lu Ann. When I asked him why, he said he wanted a pretty girl."

The role of Lu Ann was written to be played by the same actress throughout, ageing over a 20-year time span. The part was played throughout by Sallie Baker at the Dallas Theater Center as well as by Diane Ladd in the Broadway production. Rene Moreno, director of the production opening April 13, 2007 at Contemporary Theater of Dallas, has made an interesting choice of casting 17-year-old Lu Ann and her 17 year-old daughter, Charmaine, with the same actress. One can only surmise his choice may have been dictated by the fact that CTDs artistic director, Sue Loncar, is playing the role of Lu Ann at 27 and 37 and made the wise decision that, as good an actress as Loncar may be, playing a 17 year-old would be a stretch even she wasn't willing to attempt.


Key Subjects: 
Texas Trilogy, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, Synthia Rogers, Preston Jones
Rita Faye Smith
April 2007