Masterson and Davidson Have Stories To Tell
Photo by Deborah Lopez
By Jamie Larson
When well-known actors/directors Mary Stuart Masterson and Jeremy Davidson moved to northern Dutchess County three years ago, they found a comfortable family home and a community they enjoy. Then they found a trove of local stories they wanted to tell. Storyhorse Documentary Theater, now in its sophomore season, was started by the couple to tell those true stories, steeped in local culture.
Their latest dramatic reading, The Kept Private, delves into the all-too-true history and legacy of slavery and racism in the Hudson Valley. Written by Davidson and starring accomplished actors including Masterson, who is relinquishing directing duties for the first time to Carl Cofield, the performance will be staged November 10 through 13 in a barn at Brook No Evil Farm in Red Hook, where the piece’s main character rests in a small cemetery.
Professor Brian McAdoo, Davidson and Masterson meet in preperation for The Kept Private. Photo by Deborah Lopez.
Masterson (Fried Green Tomatos, Benny & Joon, The Cake Eaters, and a recent guest starring role on NCIS) and Davidson (Salt, Windtalkers, and an impressive list of recognizable TV roles) moved to the area after the arrival of their fourth child.
“We knew we wanted to raise our kids in a rural setting and we also needed to be within striking distance of NYC,” Masterson said, adding that they first tried living in Westchester County. “But we couldn’t hack the suburban life, mostly because we work from home and, ‘home’ has to have its own center rather than be the place where the bed is while everything else revolves around the city.”
“[Here]I knew I could grow vegetables, have enough space for everyone to spread out and good schools for the kids, but what I didn’t know was that Jeremy and I would be smack in the middle of a cultural, intellectual Eden. Surrounded by interesting people living deliberate and conscious lives in an exquisite setting, it seemed to evolve naturally that our work would grow out of this place in which we want to grow deep roots. “
Lieutenant Walter Patrice with a picture of one of his ancestors in Poughkeepsie.
Davidson said they fell in love with the area while visiting friends and knew instantly it was the place to finally make a permanent home.
“We’ve always kind of been gypsies,” he said. “Our work creates this sort of disconnected, transient life where you’re always moving and you’re surrounded, usually, by like-minded people. Here there are people busting their butts for a living and everyone has different and important stories.”
Though they’re still relatively new to the area, they say the style of life in the upper Hudson Valley suits them well. You can’t really blame other local celebrities for wanting to have some incognito time when they come home to the RI region, but Masterson and Davidson seem to have a compulsion for community activity. In addition to everything else, Masterson has been working with Stockade Works in Kingston to help pass legislation to increase the tax credit for upstate film makers from 30 to 40 percent. The bill recently passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.
The barn at Brook No Evil Farm.
“Oh gosh,” Masterson said, thinking up a list of her regular haunts. “There are so many good places to eat! I love Cinnamon and Samuel’s in Rhinebeck, Mercato in Red Hook, and literally everywhere I’ve been in Tivoli. I love Poet’s Walk and Montgomery Place for gentle hikes. Hearty Roots, Sawkill and Westwind are farms that are nice to visit.”
Right now the couple are in crunch time, preparing for The Kept Private, opening only weeks after a successful run of their other show for the year, Good Dirt (based on the stories of local farmers and preformed at Bard’s Fisher Center in October). Davidson said the weight of the real lives behind these stories is what motivates him.
“When someone shares their story with you it’s a really courageous act,” Davidson said. “You hear the intimacy of their lives. I feel a responsibility to get it done right. These stories have some stakes involved. I know we’re not going to heal anything but we are having the conversation. Acknowledging that someone’s voice matters is really special.”
Susan Frazier, 1880.
The Kept Private was based on Professor Brian McAdoo’s Earth Science survey of African-American burial grounds in Rhinebeck, conversations about race in our community, historical documents, and the 1834 Revolutionary War pension application of a 93-year-old black farmer from Milan named Andrew Frazier. While Masterson usually directs, given the topic, they wanted to collaborate with artists of color, bringing on Cofield to guide the performances of the diverse cast and its designers. After the reading there will be an audience “talkback” with historians and Black Lives Matter activists to further contextualize the work.
“For the performance we wanted to weave together a tapestry of race and slavery. Doing it in a Dutch barn that contains that history is really relevant,” Davidson said. “But we knew this wasn’t just our story to tell.”
Storyhorse performances this season are even more deeply connected to a sense of place than last year’s. That connection feels like a testament to how fully Masterson and Davidson have opened themselves up to their new hometown. And it’s given them a chance to work together. It’s like a little mom and pop business…run by movie stars. One thing that’s really impressive about the pair is that they manage to make that seeming contradiction comfortably true.
“We love this work because it adds more meaning to our lives than it takes resources from our energy bank,” Masterson said. “I think we work very well together and complement each other’s strengths and weakness. We have always collaborated, so it is nothing new. It is just a progression for us.”