Endless Summer 2019

Mariah’s ‘Intent’: Actress with Sea Isle Roots to Bring One-Woman Show to Cape May

By Dave Bontempo

Mariah Freda during a performance of ‘Artemisia’s Intent.’

Mariah Freda

Mariah Freda looks forward to a magical homecoming.


The Sea Isle City native brings more than the “Artemisia’s Intent” show she helped create and will perform solo at the Cape May Stage on Oct. 21. The return marks a full-circle journey, from stages at St. Joseph’s School, Wildwood Catholic High School, Boston University, the New School of Drama in New York, and her modern role of seasoned actress.


“I’m excited to be coming back to perform a show where I grew up,” says Freda, now a Brooklyn-based performer and mother of two small children. “Though we’ve done our show in New York City, and have toured it to other cities, it feels extra special to bring it home and share it with the people I love most. I am really looking forward to it.”


It’s been some ride for Freda, accented by teachers, mentors, parents, her own leap of faith, and a strong drive. The process honed an effervescent stage presence needed to embrace an audience for a one-hour solo show.


In theatrical parlance, Freda’s journey could be viewed in several “acts.”


The curtain raiser was St. Joseph’s in Sea Isle City, where Freda gained her first taste for acting, alongside grammar-school classmates.


“Two women, Regina Alulis and Jeanie Gibson, would stage full musicals with any child who wanted to be a part of it,” Freda recalls. “You audition, you get a part. At the time it seemed totally normal that we were mounting full productions of ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ but looking back I see it for the impossibly enormous feat that it was. I’m in awe of those two women and I understand the incredible gift that they gave me: a love of theater and a belief that if you show up and do the work, you get a part.


“And my parents [Marisa and Joe] honored how special it was to us,” she continues, referring to herself as well as her brother and sister. “They cheered us on and helped us learn our lines. I have distinct memories of mom standing on one end of the house, and us on the other saying, ‘When I raise my hand, it means I can’t hear you.’ So, I guess I started performing when I was 7. When I got to high school, I mostly played sports, but I joined the school musical my last year.”


Act II was Wildwood Catholic, where Freda played soccer, basketball and softball, renewed her acquaintance with the stage, and graduated in 2001. This phase concluded in an unusual way as she joined the cast of “The Wizard of Oz” as the Scarecrow, a part normally performed by a male. It was a foreshadowing that Freda would exhibit tendencies outside the norm.


Act III led her away to college and then back to the stage. Freda attended Boston University but regained her penchant for performing and later enrolled at the New School. Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Tennessee Williams and Bradley Cooper are among the alumni.


“I think my calling was more of a slow awakening,” Freda recalls. “As a young person, I viewed performing as a hobby, but in college I joined on-campus acting troupes and then started peppering in acting classes for electives. By graduation, the voice in my head telling me that I wanted to be an actor became harder and harder to ignore.


“I remember calling my dad to tell him that I would be moving to New York to pursue a life in the theater. I assumed he would be wary or try to direct me onto a more predictable path, and instead he celebrated it and told me he had been worried that I was never going to make the leap. It was an incredibly affirming moment.”


Act IV is ongoing. It concerns Freda immersing herself in a process originating from The Anthropologists, a New York-based organization. Shows are created, sharpened and performed by members in this group. Productions operate on tight budgets but retain artistic freedom not available at the Broadway level.


Mariah with her husband, Dan Spiegel, and their boys, Shiloh and Isaac.


The group motto is “where art meets action,” encouraging people to look at the world around them and find courage to improve it.


“The Anthropologists makes research-driven, ensemble-devised theater,” she says. “We get together around a story or a question or a person and we make a show together, actors, directors and designers alike. The developmental process varies, but because we are not starting with a script, it’s longer than traditional rehearsal processes. Some years are development heavy while others are production heavy.”


The Anthropologists are touring with “Artemisia’s Intent” while starting to create their newest show, “No Pants in Tucson.”


“Artemisia’s Intent” was created amid the #MeToo era. It is inspired by Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian painter from the 1600s. Gentileschi gained acclaim in artistic circles and will be celebrated at an exhibition at the National Gallery in London next year. She was an assertive woman and accomplished ahead of her time, yet she was tormented.


“She was incredibly popular during her life, though now she tends to only be remembered for the trial her father won against her rapist who was also her teacher,” Freda says.


“We wanted to figure out why this incredibly successful painter had been almost forgotten, her paintings hidden in people’s bathrooms or in storage rooms. And it got us to thinking about other women artists and how much of their work was being hidden or smothered in today’s society.”


Freda relates to the show’s character, joking that “Artemisia is a badass and we love her.”


Freda has been a natural fit for this role. Reviews have noted her strong poses and posture. Highlighted points include Freda wearing the drapery of Artemisia’s home city of Florence and echoing the perfect body position of some of Gentileschi’s most noted works. Freda does not rank her biggest role but notes that because of performing this show while pregnant, “it’s the biggest I’ve ever been IN a role.”


This event, a solo act, is a unique challenge. Freda enjoys delivering it, while playing off the music, lighting, design and audience participation.


“It is my favorite form to watch and to perform,” she says. “There is a lot of adrenaline. There is no safety net. A solo performance also enables you to have a big connection with the audience. The audience is another character in the show. That show can change depending upon what is happening in the room.”


Local support should be strong. Freda says she has too many cousins to name and anticipates a good turnout for this Monday evening performance. That would be “Mariah’s Intent,” operating just a few miles where she attended high school and in the same county where she was raised. Some people, like her mother, have seen her on every stage. For others, it will be a discovery.


“A lot of the people who were not able to get up to the show in New York are going to see it here,” Marisa Freda says. “I think it’s going to be a packed house.”

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