Nearly a decade after debuting her show about President Jimmy Carter’s mother in Sequim, Carol Swarbrick returns to perform “Miss Lillian, a Life of Some Significance.”
She presents two shows of the one-woman play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19 on Olympic Theatre Arts’ Caldwell Main Stage at 414 N. Sequim Ave.
Seating is limited with tickets $25 each at the theater box office 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, online at OlympicTheatreArts.org or the door. The show serves as a benefit for OTA and is presented by the theater and the Clallam County League of Women Voters.
Active with the League of Women Voters, Swarbrick said the group ties her play about Lillian Gordy Carter into its year-long celebration for American women’s right to vote for 100 years.
“It’s a real honor to tell her story,” Swarbrick said.
Lillian Carter, who died in 1983, was much more than the former president’s mother, as she was a social activist, humanitarian, nurse, peanut farmer and nurturer. She even celebrated her 70th birthday in India while serving in the Peace Corps.
Organizers say the play introduces Lillian Carter as someone who refused to bow to the attitudes of her Southern surroundings, a free-thinker who enjoyed professional wrestling, and who nurtured the best human qualities in all with whom she interacted.
Swarbrick and her husband Jim Dries collaborated on the play for about a year, she said, before debuting it as a reading at the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse and later in memorized productions.
It’s been revised often as the couple learned more about Lillian through her son and daughter-in-law Rosalyn Carter, historians and friends of hers.
The couple changed the format from a two act play with a full set to a show about an hour in length, which Swarbrick said the response “was better than we had imagined.”
Swarbrick said the former president saw a video of an early draft of the play and invited her and Dries to Plains, Ga., to “meet more of the family.”
There, he introduced Swarbrick to the congregation at his church as an actress “who has perfected a play about my mother,” she said.
The couple has met several times since then with the Carters and become friends.
“We’ve learned more and more about Miss Lillian,” Swarbrick said. “We’ve learned heroic stories, embarrassing stories (and more).”
When she asked the former president and first lady about any phrases Lillian used, Swarbrick said the couple sat and thought, “and after a long pause, Rosalyn said, ‘she called everybody ‘honey.’”
She said Jimmy Carter told her “’she probably called the pope ‘honey,’” which is now mentioned in the play.
When approaching Miss Lillian, Swarbrick said, “there’s such a blurry line of doing an imitation and an impression,” but she is doing an impression.
Over the years, she said she’s become more and more familiar with Lillian though.
“(I’ve developed) a great admiration for this very flawed human being that was an inspiration and a help for everyone she met,” Swarbrick said.
Through their interviews and research, Swarbrick and Dries renamed the play “Lillian Carter: a Life of Some Significance” in May of 2019.
A month prior they also began filming a documentary-drama with Swarbrick portraying Lillian that will be interspersed with interviews about her, including Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, family members, and friends like news anchor Sam Donaldson.
They were able to film scenes in Jimmy Carter’s Boyhood Farm and they received a VIP tour of the Carter Center where they learned of even more backstory for Lillian, Swarbrick said.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” she said.
The documentary tentatively will be completed in January and shopped to networks and streaming services this year, Swarbrick said.
What’s next for Lillian and Swarbrick?
Shows for “Miss Lillian” continue into early 2020 with Sequim and a weekend in Minnesota. Swarbrick hopes once the documentary is picked up, interest will grow in the play.
Both of Sequim’s shows feature a question and answer session.
Lillian remains fresh in her mind as she goes through the play at lease once a week, she said, and more often closer to shows.
This June, Swarbrick returns to OTA to direct readings of “Let Me Down Easy” with auditions set for Jan. 16 at the theater.
Along with shows in Sequim, Swarbrick tentatively appears this year in the movie “Christmas on the Square” starring Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski and Treat Williams.
“To meet and work with Dolly Parton is indescribable,” she said.
She also acted for an episode of a new comedy “Three Busy Debras” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
For more information on “Miss Lillian, a Life of Some Significance,” call the theatre at 360-683-7326.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.