Together again: Fierro and Lyons
Lee Fierro and Don Lyons, an acting duo that has delighted Vineyard audiences for more than four decades, might be thought of as Martha's Vineyard's answer to Lunt and Fontanne. And they are at it again, starring together after a hiatus of 13 years - in "A Sunny Morning," one of five offerings in Island Theatre Workshop's (ITW) One Act Festival currently running at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
The two actors are reprising roles that they originally took on in a production in the mid-1970s, and the result is pure theater magic.
Photo courtesy of Lee Fierro
Ms. Fierro admits she was nervous about getting back on stage after so many years, but says that she feels more comfortable now than she did back then. It was the opportunity to reunite with her long-time acting partner that influenced her to resurrect "A Sunny Morning." "I wouldn't have anybody else play these parts except for Don and me," she says.
Mr. Lyons was instrumental in the early days of Martha's Vineyard's only community theater. While serving as priest at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven, he used the Parish Hall to introduce some diversion for Islanders in the off-season. When ITW's founder, Mary Payne, moved to the Vineyard, Mr. Lyons offered the use of the Parish Hall for her theatrical productions. He also extended the offer to Kathy Joyce (now Joyce-Costanza) for her dance classes and presentations.
It wasn't until Ms. Payne asked him to appear in an original play as part of a hunger awareness project that Mr. Lyons made his first foray into acting. "I don't think that I ever said no if somebody asked me [to act]," he says.
Ms. Fierro was already an accomplished professional actress when she moved to the Vineyard in the early 70s. The Philadelphia native had a great deal of experience long before she took on the role in "Jaws," for which she may be most popularly known. Before she and her family settled on Martha's Vineyard, Ms. Fierro acted in Repertory Theatre productions in Philadelphia, acted in off-Broadway productions, and performed on network TV. "I knew I wanted to be an actor since I was eight," she says.
Soon after moving to Martha's Vineyard, Ms. Fierro became involved with the ITW - her reentry into theater work after a 15-year hiatus during which she focused on raising her children. She and her husband, Bernie Fierro, volunteered to do set design, and then she became the group's bookkeeper. She says, "Within a week or two I was totally involved." Ms. Fierro has been ITW's artistic director since 1996.
However, it took a few years before Ms. Fierro was coaxed back onto the stage. Ms. Payne, who knew of her work, asked her if she would appear in the play in which Mr. Lyons was making his acting debut.
"I felt an immediate - Aha. If I'm going to act, I'd like to act with this person," she says.
Their next roles together were as Beatrice and Benedict in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," and the two have since appeared in dozens of productions together. Ms. Fierro, a drama coach, director, playwright, and musical composer, has also directed a number of shows in which Mr. Lyons has appeared.
She refers to him as "a natural," noting that he is easy to direct. And he comments on her meticulousness as a director saying, "She always has notes. Even on the last night of a performance - still notes."
In all of their years doing productions together there was one falling out. According to Ms. Fierro, "Don wasn't sure if he wanted me to direct him again. That was the only time we had a contretemps."
The argument, however, did not affect their relationship on a personal or professional level. They continued to work together as both costars and actor/director. They both identify "The Lion in Winter" as their favorite show they have acted in together. They played the leads twice in productions of that play. The two have done Shakespeare together a number of times, including playing King Claudius and Queen Gertrude in "Hamlet."
The early years of the ITW called for both adaptability and endurance from the actors involved. At one time the group was performing up to 15 plays a year.
The two also played husband and wife in "The Diary of Anne Frank," which was presented in the ballroom of the old Tisbury Inn. Ms. Fierro recalls that they had to manage their many costume changes behind an organ. And Mr. Lyons remembers having to stand barefoot in the snow behind the Katharine Cornell Theatre while waiting for his turn on stage.
Mr. Lyons comments on their opposing styles of acting: "We differ in that Lee likes dramatic pauses and I like to keep the play going."
Ms. Fierro, who also directs "A Sunny Morning," points out another way in which the two differ: "I think our biggest difference in approaching character is that Don would go from the outside in, and I would go from the inside out - and we'd sort of meet in the middle."
Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.