Friday, June 12, 2009


My favorite actress, Elizabeth Westall performed the dramatic monologue, "Nance Dude" for a mesmerized audience last night at the Martin Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands, N. C. Not only did the seasoned actress garner standing ovations (yes, several!), but the adoring audience kept her for almost an hour following the performance answering questions. They learned that Elizabeth is "technically blind," but moves about the stage with deftness and confidence (probably due to the fact that she has done this play several hundred times).

In the scene on the right, Nance reads from her Bible, stating that in her fifteen years in a penitentiary, she was urged to demonstrate that she was "penitent" by reading her Bible constantly. Elizabeth has performing this role for twelve years. In the beginning, the play was more complex: two scenes, set changes, complex lighting and sound effects. Now, the play has been reduced to a single scene and a bare stagewith the "props" in the photo on the left: a rocking chair, a wooden box, a Bible, a stump, a pile of fresh-cut kindling an ax and a jar of spring water.
Following the performance, I was invited to join Elizabeth on stage where we fielded questions from the audience about the "real" Nance Dude and the story of her murder trial that captured the interest of WNC in 1913. Although Elizabeth has announced that this was her "final performance," I am determined to persuade her to repeat this role for a fund-raising event in Sylva this fall.


  1. Elizabeth as Nance Dude is a priceless treasure!
    I can't wait to see her perform in Sylva later this year in a benefit performance for the new Jackson County Public Library Complex. June T. Smith

  2. WOW ! I would have loved to have been there!
    Congratulations Gary, how awesome for you!

  3. He's not exaggerating
    I was there last night for Nance Dude. Got there late but can vouch for the standing O's and audience enthusiasm.
    The best part of the evening was watching Gary and Elizabeth be charming at dinner. To us and each other. It looked like Hepburn and Tracy in their 7th movie. I interrupted twice just so there would be a range of verbal skills at the table.
    Posted by Ron Leslie

  4. If this play is as good as Birdell with Bobbie Curtis,I would certainly like to see it. I'm sure the folks in Sylva are in for a treat.

  5. Thank you, Glenda. Most people say it is the best thing I have written. I don't agree, but I'm pleased that it is so popular. We intend to use a production to raise money for the new library.

  6. The first time I watched Nance Dude I felt like I had watched a program written for adults, and I mean that in the best possible way. It was a no-holds-barred look at the human heart.

    I found it incredible how a male playwright could speak so accurately about a woman’s sexual feelings. In particular, Carden’s portrayal of Nance’s sexual frustration—she is sexually unsatisfied but so ignorant she doesn’t know that’s what’s wrong with her—rings true with me.

    People have called Nance Dude “dark” but I really think that’s what life looks like when we take off the sugarcoating most of us apply. Life is dark: it’s hard and lonely and we all die at the end of it into a complete mystery. I think this is why some people consider this Carden's best play—it really penetrates to a deep place inside you.

    Great art helps us explore the dark side of life. Entertainment—whether it is movies, plays, television, or books—distract us with
    various types of sugarcoating.

    And the actress Elizabeth Westall does a sensational job.

  7. Thank you, Katie.

    I've been watching Nance Dude for a long time now (12 years), and your insight is profoundly moving.
    I've had people refuse to schedule it because it is "just too dark," and I have even been approached about letting someone with "a brighter outlook" rewrite it. Not likely. I'll pass your message on to Elizabeth.

  8. Watch a clip from this performance on Youtube: