ROBERT WATERHOUSE REMEMBERS KAREN NEMETH
By ANTHONY CHASE
Karen Nemeth, who died the weekend before last, was a consummate stage manager during a Golden Age in the growth of Buffalo’s small professional theaters. She was most closely associated with the old BET, a theater that performed in a converted office space in the Jackson Building at the corner of West Chippewa and Delaware Avenue. Interestingly, while she had not worked regularly as a stage manager for some time, she has the distinction of having stage managed for all 26 Artie Awards ceremonies. She will be fondly remembered by all who worked with her. Below, director/playwright Robert Waterhouse, one of the stalwarts of the old BET, shares his memories of Karen.
“Karen was in fact the first person to welcome me in an official capacity to Buffalo, as it was her job, as an employee of UB, to lecture incoming international students on the perils of working illegally or of divulging our social security numbers. This was in a great lecture hall with an American flag on the stage, and with her straight hair and tinted glasses she seemed to me, then, to be as officious and humorless as the barking immigration officers at JFK. When, years later, in the early 1990s, she, Bernie [O’Donoghue] and I all found ourselves doing shows in the BET’s quarters atop the Jackson Building, I found this persona masked a warm and funny expert on human nature. (I was never sure ho Karen and Bernie got dragged into the BET, but it was no doubt because of the late, great [actor] Tim White, whom Karen adored and to whom she was fiercely loyal. When they quarreled, as friends do, Karen was always philosophical: ‘I’ve known Timmy a long time,’ she’d sigh, and the storm would pass.) Karen was the production manager, and although she could execute her duties with efficient zeal, she took a mischievous delight in the idiosyncrasies of others, and nothing amused her more than eccentricity, or actors who consistently did things they were not supposed to. Her soft, delighted chuckles over the fallibility of people, especially theater people, and her protective indulgence of the chicks in her brood, were qualities that made her a superb stage manager and very special. But if she was good humored, and even, after hours, occasionally tipsy, she remained formidable. I came to learn, and sometimes fear, the signals of her hands: her fingernails were long and painted, though sometimes chipped; she smoked long, slender cigarettes (you could smoke in rehearsals in those days); and if her hand went up, palm out, or if she raised a long finger while she attended to something and you tried to speak, you knew to shut up – and woe betide anyone who didn’t!
Karen loved the comradery of theater, but although she, Bernie, and Tim would sometimes share a table at Flynn’s or the other watering holes used by theater types in those days, she would head home early, and she could be unnervingly quiet. She was quickly and softly spoken, and could speak her mind succinctly and with brutal honesty, but she tended to be a listener – she was an excellent, sympathetic listener – and she did not talk at all if she had nothing to say. This was especially true in moving vehicles: she was a non-driver, as I was, so we often cadged lifts together, or found ourselves side by side on the subway, but Karen had no time for conversation for its own sake; she would usually lapse into a meditative silence that would have made Jesus feel like an idle prattler. She was kind, funny, loyal, and a good friend; she was very good at what she did, and a soft spoken lioness who protected the ones she loved.
When I think of her, I think of that chuckle, and hope she’s chuckling now.”
DEE LAMONTE PERRY
Actor, Dee Lamonte Perry, was a gentleman. The untimely death of this much loved Buffalo actor last week left the community sentimental and thoughtful. Social media came alive with warm reminiscences of “the last time I spoke to Dee,” and in most instances, the recollections were very recent. They all spoke of his decency, and his talent.
With a warmly resonant voice, during a career that spanned more than 25 years, Dee appeared in such shows as The Meeting, A little Bit of Paradise, and The Interrogation Room. His performance as Simon in The Whipping Man at Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York earned him an Artie Award nomination. He won the Artie for playing Paul Robeson in Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting at the Paul Robeson Theatre. He appeared in numerous commercial, and most recently achieved his ambition to portray an attorney in a recent commercial. He had the distinction of appearing in To Kill a Mockingbird, the final production of Studio Arena Theatre.
Many will remember Dee best for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom he bore an uncanny resemblance.
The celebration of Dee’s life at Gethsemane Full Gospel Church on Saturday, Oct. 15, was a joyful and emotional affair, packed to the rafters with those who loved this beautiful and talented man.