Vivienne Shub

Actress appeared in Center Stage's first season and delighted Baltimore audiences with her performances for decades

  • Vivienne Shub
Vivienne Shub (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
September 18, 2014|By Jacques Kelly | The Baltimore Sun

Vivienne Shub, who played eccentric personalities as she delighted Baltimore theater audiences during a long and lauded run here, died of heart failure Thursday morning at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson. The former Liberty Heights resident was 95.

"Vivienne was one of the most talented actresses on the Baltimore scene," said Rhea Feiken, the television personality who performed with her. "You learned a lesson every time you watched her. Her dedication to the theater was enormous. As a fellow actress, I knew how much she gave back. Vivienne was just an incredible human being."

Ms. Shub last performed at Everyman Theatre in "Viva, La Vivienne," a one-woman autobiographical presentation she performed for her 90th birthday. Critics called her a "petite actress who portrays a grand spirit."

"The thought that we won't have that beaming smile lighting the halls of the Everyman Theatre breaks my heart," said Vince Lancisi, Everyman's founder and artistic director. "When she said she would join our resident company, I felt like a giddy little boy. She lent a high bar of acting prowess. Without intending to, she became an instant mentor to everyone at Everyman."

He said that she pored over scripts, even after a play she was in had opened.

"She taught us what it takes to be at the top of your game," Mr. Lancisi said.

Ms. Shub gained recognition in 1963 during the first season of Center Stage, which was then housed in a building at Preston and Cathedral streets. She later joined Everyman and once shot a commercial with rock star Alice Cooper. She also had roles in films.

Born Vivienne Slovin in Baltimore, she was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Slovin, a dentist whose poetry and writings inspired her as a child. Her mother was Rose Rochkind Slovin, a homemaker. Ms. Shub often recalled the artistic environment of that household on Shelburne Road near Pikesville, among the places the family lived.

She was a 1936 graduate of Forest Park High School. Relatives said she did family impersonations as an 8-year-old. At Forest Park, a drama teacher saw her talent and starred her in school plays.

She studied for a year at what is now Towson University, where she later taught drama and was awarded an honorary degree. In the 1930s she studied in New York at the Ramsey Street Theater Conservatory but had trouble finding work. She later appeared in Vagabonds and Jewish Community Center productions, where she met Edward Golden, who went on to found Center Stage. She appeared in his production of "Tartuffe" and in the first season's final production, Eugene Ionesco's "The Lesson" and "The Chairs."

She also ran Center Stage's Children's Theater in the 1960s and taught children at the Creative Arts Workshop, the YMCA and her own Children's Drama Center.

Critics hailed her 1982 performance in "Dear World," a musical based on "The Madwoman of Chaillot" at Towson University. Baltimore Sun critic R.H. Gardner said "her performance would excite admiration anywhere. ... She has style. ... She also has uncanny insight."

An Evening Sun article published at that time said, "Interpreting a complex characterization is nothing new to Shub." Reviews also praised her singing of the Jerry Herman score.

"She was very, very good," said Baltimore casting director Pat Moran. "She was a fine actress with vast theatrical credits. All the great roles Vivienne played at one time in her life. In John Waters' film "Cry-Baby," she knocked it out of the park. She made you believe she was the character she was portraying. Nothing was ever too small or too large for her to undertake."

"And as for Shub herself, she demonstrates again why she has become a Baltimore treasure," said a Baltimore Sun article in 2008 about her last stage vehicle, "Viva La Vivienne." "She might be telling her own story, but make no mistake, she delivers a performance of immense skill and warmth. She seems utterly poised and relaxed on stage. She never stumbles over a word, or makes a nervous, wasted gesture. She radiates charisma."

A memorial tribute is planned for 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Everyman Theatre, Fayette near Eutaw streets.

Survivors include a son, Daniel Shub of Baltimore; two daughters, Amy Shub-Rothstein of McLean, Va., and Judith Shub-Condliffe of Timonium; sister Naomi Greenberg-Slovin of Towson; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. In 1941. she married Louis Shub, a concert pianist. He died in 1999.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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