Like the Eskimos have 29 words for snow, Richard Maltby Jr. thinks we should have 29 words for relationships. The Tony Award winner is currently the director of the off-Broadway show “Love Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter,” which he describes as a modern play, even though it takes place in the first half of the 20th century.
“People, human beings, are inventing all sorts of perfectly happy relationships that just don’t have a name for them. It’s only our poor vocabulary. We sort of need to have 29 words for relationships,” he says to Metro, when we call him up for a chat about the play.
Jazz vocalist Stevie Holland wrote and stars in this one-woman musical about the relationship between Linda Lee Thomas and legendary songwriter Cole Porter. The story plays out from Linda’s perspective, based part on facts and part on interpretations. Although Cole was gay, the couple stayed together for 35 years. Linda says in the beginning of the play: “I tolerated his interest in men, because I had his love and that’s all I wanted.”
Still, their relationship has been tirelessly questioned.
“She was married to Cole Porter, but what was that? A marriage of convenience? Was she a lesbian? Was she a cover for Cole?” the director comments. “Because it’s ill-defined, people ignore it — and what Stevie has done is looked at her for the one thing that nobody seems to believe: that they really loved each other.”
Through monologues, Cole’s music and lyrics by Gary William Friedman, “Love Linda” tells a story about loyalty, glamorous living and relationship issues that match problems any other married couples could have. and so does Maltby Jr. also think.
“Frankly, I think we know it from our own lives,” Maltby says. “People know that you can love somebody and love somebody else at the same time, and I think one of the things that we all wrestle with on our lives [is] how many different kinds of love we have.”
A fun feature of the play is seeing how the songs work for Linda’s point of view, though they were written for myriad purposes. Because of this, the audience also gets to think about the way Cole’s songs stay fresh and relevant.
“Many of the songs where just written for shows, some [of the songs] are known to be written when he was in love with some man, but the emotions expressed in a song are often applicable to anybody — which is why they are famous,” the director explains, pointing to “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” as an example of how much a song can change depending on its context.
“Love Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter” is running through Jan. 5, 2014, at The York Theatre Company (www.yorktheatre.org).