Uta, London Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf

I am Letty’s friend. I am Uta’s friend. 

We had several visits between Edinburgh and London she, my mother, and I going to events at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and I visiting her at her Baker Street flat in London. On one of those occasions, we went to see Ms. Hagen in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

That night she transformed into Uta for me. She and the part were perfect for one another. Backstage afterwards, I think all we did was say hello and hug. For the first time, I stood speechless before her.

Afterwards, we went to The White Elephant for dinner. Preordered as usual, the bowl of Uta’s strawberries arrived as soon as we sat down. I ate some before I spoke.

Uta, I was so deeply moved by your performance I could not utter a word. So powerful…the play, your acting. 

Her face lit up  “That is exactly the response I always want, but so few offer it. Thank you.” No longer just Letty’s mother, at that moment Uta and I became friends. Although I’d seen her in several plays, for me, she never was an actress. Later in the nest years, the rest of the 1960s through the ‘90s, I stopped to visit her when I went to New York. We sat in the familiar living room, Uta and I drinking 7 and 7, as we talked about books, our own writing, and exchanged our latest publications. We didn’t talk about the theater because I was never a part of that. Maybe we sometimes talked about teaching because we both taught, she in theater and I in special education. Sometimes we talked about family but not often. One time she told me what an excellent mother Letty was.

Fast forward once again another few decades when Uta’s granddaughter and Letty’s daughter, Teresa, was no longer my son’s occasional childhood friend. 

How often does one get to be close friends across three generations within the same family? It all began at the small rectangular glass top dining room table in a room barely big enough for the table and four people. 

Abigail Calkin

Abigail Calkin

Born in Germany, Uta Hagen moved to Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of six. With the exception of several interruptions for study in Europe, Ms. Hagen received most of her schooling in Madison, her home until age sixteen. After training briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she made her professional debut in 1937 in Dennis, Massachusetts, as “Ophelia” in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Hamlet.

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