Like My Birthday, Christmas Eve & A Calamity All Rolled Into One!
Opening Nights have a mystical power in the world of theater. Participants have rituals they go through; favorite foods, lucky pieces of clothing, music that we have to listen to, to psyche ourselves up or chill us out. It’s a celebration of all the work, weeks and sometimes months, that has gone into producing a show among dozens of people. It’s a holiday. I’m rather blasé about my birthday and Christmas. How can you get excited about store-bought gifts when a few times a year you’ve got a full house laughing and applauding at opening nights? I’ve treated myself to great embarrassment and regret when I’ve missed friend’s and family’s weddings because I’ve had a show opening.
Favorite openings have included laughs that happened in places you never expected, applause and ovations that promise a long, healthy run that would become a nightly party, dead silence during tense moments which garnered the greatest prize of all-the absolute stillness of an audience listening. There was my scooping up spilled shaving cream with my foot as I hopped around in “Bedroom Farce,” the gale force yawping laughter that assaulted the silly sex farce “Out of Order” after Trump’s election and the first time my character introduced himself in a direct address to the audience in “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” and the response by what felt like the entire opening night audience with “Hi Bill.”
On Monday, 6/6/21, it had been exactly 500 days since my last opening night in a theater, “Ben Butler” at Curtain Call Theatre, 1/24/20.
We were on our morning walk through Pine Hills when we took a break at Buckingham Pond to appreciate the families of ducks and I popped open my emails. One of my cast members, Debby Bercier, was unable to go on with the show. All those hours, days, weeks and months led to this. There would be no Opening Night for Debby…or for the production that we had all built as a team.
I met Debby over six years ago when her friend Jane brought her into my acting class. Debby had taken her daughter to a “Wizard of Oz” audition 25 years ago and ended up getting cast as the Wicked Witch. She never forgot how powerful she felt onstage and used my class to reclaim her imaginative primacy in powerhouse scenes from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and just this past Sunday in “August: Osage County.” I can still hear her voice coming up from the soles of her shoes as the Polish immigrant in “Ironbound” asserting “WE ARE NOT HAVING NICE CONVERSATION NOW. I SPEAK NOW!” “Death Tax” was our third collaboration together and she was becoming more supple, strong and inventive with every role. I can’t wait to collaborate with her again as soon as possible. She’s my hero.
Everyone has lost something or someone in the pandemic. There are nearly 600,000 Americans dead from the plague. Inconsequential as it may be, theater friends have posted memories of past productions and reminders of what had been cancelled for 15 months. Did I think that we would stop suffering losses?
I had a lot of decisions to make quickly. The first was to draft my great friend and assistant director Dennis Skiba to cover the role of Maxine for the night. Sara Paupini (the best cold reader in the Capital Region!) would walk and read the role Tuesday and finally Wednesday night, 6/9, our new closing night. I made the decision to close early because I just didn’t have it in me to ask myself, my cast, our audiences to work feverishly again over the weekend trying to construct something it took us months to craft in the first place. I felt it was unfair to everyone, which it was. So much lately has seemed unfair.
There may not have been an opening night of the show we rehearsed but there was a preview. There was the first run-thru for the tech crew. In theater, we are always skywriting, sculpting sand castles, chalking portraits on the sidewalk to be washed away with the next rain. Everything we do is created in the moment and gone. You had to be there. We take what we worked on, file it in our memories of favorite moments or shows or mishaps or stand-ins…and move on.
But tonight, 6/9 there is one last chance to see “Death Tax” by Lucas Hnath with my brilliant cast of Monet Thompson, Dmitriy Kogan, Lisa Bryk and Sara Paupini reading Maxine. Tickets are $15. at the door of Albany Barn, 56 2nd Street. 7pm.