South of Katz’s Deli on Houston Street, somewhere along the narrow urban labyrinth of tattoo parlors, bike shops, slick bars and knish bakeries on the crowded, short blocks that comprise today’s hip lower East Side, there is a private club so private that I am not allowed to mention its name in this article. For the initiated, it has sister outposts in Hong Kong and London, and when one enters into its spare reception area just a few feet away from the leather and graffiti milieu of Ludlow Street at dusk, there is a jarring sense of disconnect. You are directed by the cheerful front desk staff to your destination, via elevator, which in my case took me from a posh downstairs bar area to another lush bar room on the third floor, which had a large, comfortable seating area facing a red curtain. A bit after the appointed time, and without ceremony, the curtains opened and Francesca Van Horne stepped into a spotlight, swathed in a plain gray blanket. Accompanied by her (imagined) children, she seems to have just left her husband, and doesn’t know what to do, or where to turn.
Tales From The Trundle, Ms. Van Horne’s autobiographical one-woman show about surviving a marriage and living to tell about it, recounts the story of a young aspiring actress, Valentina, who meets someone and falls in love, gets married and has children. But things don’t end happily ever after. The husband is emotionally volatile and addicted to drugs, and the vignettes of their marriage are peppered with confrontational scenes that finally descend into actual physical abuse. Ms. Van Horne employs several characters to tell her story, and she plays them all herself, shifting adroitly from one to the other over the course of about an hour, but in many ways the most important character she plays is herself. At the end of the show, her alter-ego Valentina has made it through her marital ordeal, and come out on the other side a stronger, wiser person.
In fact, a stronger, wiser person who is now doing a one-woman show about it, getting back to the aspiring actress she once was before she met her husband. There are two levels of reality here, as it is clear that Francesca Van Horne has lived this particular scenario; you can’t make this stuff up, you wouldn’t want to. She is the writer, star and producer of Tales From The Trundle, as well as the subject from which the material is drawn. Talk about wearing a lot of hats.
I spoke with Francesca at a cozy, upscale hangout in her Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn, a retro-Prohibition Era saloon with a speakeasy vibe that shall go as nameless as the private club where she had performed a few nights prior. She is still working on her show, she says, which premiered here in New York a few months ago at the 7th Annual United Solo Festival, and feels relief that it is now again on its feet, as well as energized by the creative process that has continued after the performance. She has been a busy producer: she has upcoming performance dates for Tales From The Trundle on June 26th at the Jalopy’s Theatre on Columbia Street in Red Hook, and in mid July for a week at Le Petit Gymnase at the Théatre du Gymnase in Paris, followed by another week playing at The Bridewell Theatre in London, then moving for a few nights to The Courtyard Theatre there. Though it would be clear to anyone that Francesca is the main driving force behind what is turning out to be a successful project, on many levels, she takes time to credit her director, James Phillip Gates, and to acknowledge her friend Margaux Robichon for helping her book the European tour. Because of the subject matter of Tales From The Trundle, there is a sense of mission in her work; that by telling her story she can help empower other women to get themselves out of an abusive relationship, and that it just gets better. She says, “I’m doing this to inspire change. If one person comes away from seeing my show and it resonates or moves them to realize they can do it too, I’ve done my job.” She is also raising her three children, whose ages range from 14 to 7, and while I am shaking my head in amazement, it is clear from Ms. Van Horne’s buoyant personality that she is embracing all of these challenges with what appears to be a genuine sense of joy. In spite of everything she has been through, she is living out her dream, which will be continued this coming Monday at Jalopy’s Theatre in Brooklyn.
Tales From The Trundle, written and performed by Francesca Van Horne, directed by James Phillip Gates. Monday, June 26 at Jalopy’s Theatre, 315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY. Tickets: