by Rita Charleston
Today she’s back in Mt. Airy, where her roots are strong and long-lasting. “My mother grew up in Chestnut Hill, and my dad studied at the United Lutheran Seminary in Mt. Airy,” says Suli (a Norwegian name short for Solveig) Holum, an actor and writer now appearing in “Sweat,” which kicks off the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s new season.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage is being presented in the company’s new home in the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St., through Nov. 4. “I spent my early childhood in Germantown before moving with my parents to Powelton Village in West Philly, but my connections have always stayed strong to this area.”
Inspired by her mother, Binnie Ritchie-Holum, a dancer and theater artist, Holum got her BA in Theater Studies from Swarthmore College, started Pig Iron Theater Company there, met and married her now-husband Trey Lyford, a fellow theater artist, and in 2001 decided to move to New York. Two years ago the couple, along with their young daughter, Coralie, decided to come back to Mt. Airy.
“I really missed the artistic community here, which is really very, very special. We chose this part of town because of our daughter, who attends Germantown Friends School. She’s loves living here with the freedom to navigate the neighborhood by herself.”
And you might say that the acting apple does not fall far from the tree. Coralie is currently performing in “Frankenstein” at Quintessence Theatre. Also, dad will be directing a show at Quintessence in the Spring. Holum says, “I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that we’re really living here today among all the writers and actors and musicians. We missed the artistic atmosphere this area has to offer.”
Over the years, Holum has been awarded a Drama Desk, a Barrymore Award and an Independence Fellowship, among others. For the last 10 years, Holum, 42, has been mostly creating her own shows, meaning she could live anywhere. “We’re very close to New York, and, well, Los Angeles will always be there. And I’ve gotten many opportunities to perform here.”
And, of course, that includes a role in “Sweat,” in which she plays Jessie. The play explores Reading and Pennsylvania’s shrinking industrial economy and shares the fear, tragedy and hopefulness of a neighborhood community in Reading. It highlights a town in which well-paying jobs are coveted, and politics are personal. But as industries disappear, the people of Reading are rendered powerless as they watch their income, legacy and relationships follow suit. “Sweat” is a local story with a national narrative.
“This is a beautiful play and one that is surprising as well,” Holum says. “For as the play hits on some painful stuff, the characters are able to laugh through their pain and joy and take the audience with them. And at the end of the night, the greatest thing of all is when the audience shows they are grateful to us for having been honest in honoring those stories as beautifully as we have.”
For ticket information, call 215-9850420.