Cast, Writer

Arnetia Walker (left), Stan Zimmerman and Mindy Sterling.

Photo credit: Elvira Barjau

A holiday comedy that is pitch-perfect for this special time of year, “Yes, Virginia,” opens Judson Theatre Company’s ninth season next weekend.

Starring Broadway’s Arnetia Walker and two-time Emmy Award-nominee, Mindy Sterling, this is a heartwarming, hilarious story of two older women navigating the perils of aging in suburban Detroit. As they share memories of their lives and families over the course of an evening, they soon learn secrets about each other. With wit and laugh-out-loud humor, they bond in a way that they hadn’t been able to in the past, over their very different, but similar pains.

Performances are scheduled Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 21, at 3 p.m., at Owens Auditorium in the BPAC on the campus of Sandhills Community College.

“A regional premiere by established playwrights is a major coup for a professional company of our size,” says Morgan Sills, executive producer of Judson Theatre Company. “‘Yes, Virginia’ is already in the process of being published, and will be licensed for future productions by Theatrical Rights Worldwide.”

Writer/director Stan Zimmerman wrote “Yes, Virginia” in collaboration with Christian McLaughlin. Chances are you’ve enjoyed this writing duo's work on one of your favorite sitcom episodes. Their work encompasses “The Golden Girls,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Roseanne,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Married … with Children,” and many, many other series.

Zimmerman says the characters in “Yes, Virginia,” his second published play, were loosely based on his mother and her housekeeper.

“My mom passed away in June,” he says. “She was my biggest supporter and really believed in me as an artist. This is the first production she won’t be here in person, but she will be there in spirit. There is a sweetness to the story, and it has a real heart to it. It is very funny, but also about wanting to live in dignity.”

Especially these days, Zimmerman says people need to spend more time truly listening and trying to understand each other’s perspectives. “I think if people would listen more we would all find common ground.”

Mindy Sterling plays Denise Miller, the character loosely based on Zimmerman’s mother. She is currently has a recurring role on ABC’s ‘“The Goldbergs,” and different audiences may know her for her role as Frau Farbissina in all the “Austin Powers” films or Pam on “Black-ish.” Her major kid show cred includes playing the principal Susan Skidmore on Disney Channel’s “A.N.T. Farm,” the hilariously strict Ms. Briggs on “iCarly,” and episodes of “That’s So Raven” and “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.”

Sterling’s voice has a fame of its own, from the series “Chowder,” “The Legend of Korra,” “Robot Chicken” and “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.” She even sang the original version of the theme song of “Family Ties.”

A longtime friend of Zimmerman’s, Sterling says when she read “Yes, Virginia,” she fell in love with the story. She’s since performed in several productions of the play, including a virtual performance broadcast last year by Judson Theatre.

“The funniness comes from the characters, the way they see the world. We’re getting older. We’ve aches and pains and things going on that we don’t want to tell anybody,” Sterling says. “But the great thing is we want the same thing for our lives.”

Not so unlike their on-stage personas, Sterling and fellow lead actor Arnetia Walker also share much in common. The two women share a birthday, the same agent and both have an adult son.

“It’s kinda kismet. It is cool,” Sterling says. 

Walker plays Virginia Campbell in “Yes, Virginia.” She is also currently on CW’s “Dynasty” and has appeared in Broadway musicals like “Dreamgirls” and “The Wiz,” and plays like “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.”

In television, she had her own series, the “Empty Nest” spinoff “Nurses,” for three seasons on NBC. More recent television work includes “Popular” and “The Big House.” Her films run the gamut from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” to “College Road Trip.”

Walker describes Sterling as “like my sister from another mother.” This is the third production they’ve performed together.

“When I first read the play, I couldn’t understand how a Jewish guy could write a Black woman so well. Virginia could be my Aunt Susie,” Walker says. “As a kid in Georgia, my aunt was a nanny to a white family. She would go take care of the white children while we were left at home. That dynamic is very familiar to me.”

Walke says that when she first read the dialogue, she could see that insight the Zimmerman had of this Black woman.

“He has such a great spirit ... to understand that humanity,” she says. “That we are more alike than we are different.”

Walker adds that for the two women in the play, although they were formerly boss and employee, they are now pretty much at the same place.

“Both of them have a lot more living to do and they become friends,” she says. “It’s like they’ve known each other for 40 years, but they really didn’t know each other. Over the course of the evening, they realize how much they love each other and that they need each other. It becomes a new beginning.”

Tickets for “Yes, Virginia” and all Judson Theatre Company shows and events are available at JudsonTheatre.com; follow the theater on Facebook and Instagram (@judsontheatreco).

Judson Theatre Company is the Professional Theatre Company in Residence at Bradshaw Performing Arts Center (BPAC) on the campus of Sandhills Community College.

Contact Laura Douglass at (910) 693-2474 or laura@thepilot.com.

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