Thursday, October 25, 2007

Enter.....Laughing! (Part 1 of 2)

There's nothing quite like an opening night, and the occasion was doubly special last Friday as George Street pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Artistic Director (and our director) David Saint. That meant lights, a red carpet, special guests, champagne and a packed house -- all creating an evening to remember. But with opening night comes the realization that my work is done, along with that of the director. That's always a bittersweet moment; it's thrilling to know that what you've worked long and hard on is now ready to be enjoyed by 400 people nightly, but a little wistful, too. The daily excitement of rehearsal is through, and it's time to move on. Your child, the show, is off to find its place in the world...It's a bit like empty nest syndrome, I'd imagine! So when the GSP Blog Team asked me to reflect a little on The Sunshine Boys, I thought of some of my favorite moments from rehearsals through performances.

  • Working with GSP vet Michael Mastro. Mastro basically jumped onto a moving train when he joined our company late in the game. The train never stopped speeding along, but Michael quickly caught up with it, and created his indelible portrayal of Willie's harried nephew Ben. Michael's rampant creativity and inquisitive nature, not to mention round-the-clock striving for the best, brought a number of humorous flourishes to the production, while his sensitivity as Ben underlined one of the important themes of the play: the exploration of the bonds and responsibilities of family, especially in the face of aging. Which brings me to...
  • Our discovery of what's just underneath the text of this fabled comedy. The Sunshine Boys may be one of the funniest of all plays written by Neil Simon, or anybody else for that matter, but there's also an emotional core honed by David Saint and the company that I'm proud to see explored nightly. The play truthfully addresses the meaning of family and true friendship; the harsh reality of aging; and the passing of an era. Watching the GSP audience really listen shows how much they're "getting" it, too.
  • Stories, stories, stories! Paul Dooley really is King Raconteur, and Storyteller Supreme. I can't believe there was a more fun lunch table in all of New Jersey than the one presided over daily by Dooley, aided and abetted by Klugman & company. Who needs the Friar's Club? Stories of persons familiar and unfamiliar, onstage and behind the scenes, all inspired gales of laughter one minute and wistful remembrance the next. There's not a topic in show business Dooley and Klugman can't address with stories of their years in the "biz".- The day the Vaudeville Players (Peggy Crosby, Paul Stolarsky, Joe O'Brien) joined the cast. Never have I seen so much done with so little, as these actors created full, rich characterizations from a small number of lines. Peggy brings a fantasy to life in her turn as dream nurse Miss MacKintosh ("You know, like the apples!"), while Paul's befuddled patient finds laughs where even Neil Simon couldn't have imagined them. Joe keeps the whole vaudeville scene rooted in reality in a role near and dear to me, that of Eddie, the Assistant Director! When these troupers joined the company, nearly doubling the number of actors we had been working with, it finally felt like a really big shew, as Ed Sullivan used to say!!
  • The day Jack came into rehearsal and announced his & Peggy's engagement. Jack just beamed sharing the news of their engagement with the company, despite his great, ever-present modesty. Peggy is as beautiful as she is kind and talented, and she & Jack deserve every moment of the happiness they share together in life. Onstage, they enjoy their double entendre-laden scene with big smiles and evident pride nightly. I particularly enjoy the evenings when Nurse MacKintosh is greeted by catcalls from ardent audience members -- she deserves each one!
  • Tech Rehearsals. Tech rehearsals, during which time actors first take the actual stage, and finished costumes, sets, props, lights and sound first enter the picture, may be my favorite time in the rehearsal process. Unusual? Definitely. Tech is known as a time of high stress as the creative team races around the clock to get the show ready, and cast members may get lost in the shuffle of the physical production. (After all, the preceding weeks have been spent just with them in a bare rehearsal studio.) But tech is also the time when the backstage folk work together and define the art of collaboration -- a number of individuals working together on a common goal, all with aims of excellence. During tech, David and stage manager supreme Tom Clewell remained the epitome of "grace under fire", and worked with each department head to refine the show until a number of disparate elements came together as one. That, to me, is what theatre is all about.

posted by Joe Marchese, Assistant Director for The Sunshine Boys

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