|Monday, October 17, 2011|
|Interesting how things turn out. We should all know by now that we should expect the unexpected. This was the case recently with my involvement with the Group Rep’s production of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.|
A year ago, I was tossing out play titles for consideration to the Co-Artistic Directors at Group Rep. They were putting together a subscription season. I mentioned to them that other theater groups had had good luck with obscure Agatha Christie plays and that maybe we should consider producing one. People love mysteries and people love their Agatha. Obscure Christie plays were read and even her most often produced play, The Mousetrap, was considered. But nothing seemed to jump out at anyone saying, “Do this play.” And we already were set on Wait Until Dark, so we had the mystery covered. Then the rights were pulled from another announced play, The Ladies Man, and the decision was to put an Agatha Christie play in that slot as it was fall, pre-Halloween and an opportune time for a mystery.
As a long time Christie fan, I happily did the graphics and was eager to be there on opening night and cheer everyone on. About two weeks before opening, Shira Dubrover (the director), talked to me about possibly understudying the role of Judge Wargrave in And Then There Were None. Evidently, the actor playing the judge was not feeling well, was taking care of an ill wife as well as working full-time. He asked for an understudy. I had understudied before, and actually had enjoyed it. It requires hyper-prep, something akin to doing Summer Rep, which I did while I was in college. The founding artistic director of Group Rep, Lonny Chapman, always encouraged actors to understudy. He felt it was good practice for film work; you have to show up knowing your lines and deliver a full performance with little or no rehearsal. So, I said yes to Shira with the understanding that I would go on for one weekend in the run, actual dates to be determined. I went to a rehearsal on Saturday, September 24th and wrote down all the blocking. Then I was called in for Tuesday night’s rehearsal because the actor playing the judge was not feeling well. I fumbled my way through the rehearsal and the actors kindly bounced me from location to location like a pinball. I was also called in on Wednesday for the same reason. Then on Friday, the actor returned, did Act One and after lengthy discussions with the director, withdrew from the production. So, on Saturday, October 1st, I assumed the role and realized I would open six days later on Friday, October 7th.
For a long time, I had stopped doing plays, preferring to focus on my writing and start-up graphic design business. But I missed that team spirit, camaraderie and challenge. Well, I got what I wanted and then some. I was thrown right into the eye of the hurricane and I really felt support and enjoyed being part of a team with a very steep, uphill climb in front of us. People offered to run lines with me, run scenes with me, whatever was needed. People stayed late, came early; it really was a concerted group effort.
For some reason, the lines went into my memory bank fairly quickly and easily. It may have something to do with the writing. The judge has a very particular cadence to his speech pattern, when we starts a sentence, he usually interrupts himself with a disclaimer. So once I surrendered to that particular idiosyncrasy, things came together. I had the play in me, but it didn’t necessarily always come out in the right order.
I would have loved to have been in the rehearsal process for the entire rehearsal period, but this is just the way things worked out. This is a challenging role (they’re all wonderful roles in this play) and it’s been invigorating taking it on. Shira and all the cast have been incredibly encouraging and supportive. Audiences seem to be liking the play (real audience members, not just friends and family) and the initial critical response has been very strong. So, I think we’re doing Dame Agatha justice.
I could have never predicted that we’d be doing an Agatha Christie play nor would I have ever been able to predict that I’d be playing a significant role in that production. So, the next time a director asks you if you’d like to understudy, think about saying, “yes.”