Wednesday, August 15, 2007

For Tonight's Performance, the Role of ...

Posted by Bruce Miller

Few things are more disappointing in the world of theatre attendance than sitting down for a show you’ve been looking forward to, and discovering that little slip of paper in your playbill, or hearing that dreaded announcement over the loud speaker – “For tonight’s performance, the role of (insert the name of a pivotal role here), usually played by (insert the name of the actor you’ve been waiting six weeks to see here), will be played by (insert the name of an actor you’ve never heard of here).”

There’s a very funny section in Scrambled Feet, the hit Off Broadway satirical revue from 1979, that goes like this: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. At tonight’s performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the part of Martha, usually played by Kathryn Hepburn, will be performed tonight by our lovely stage manager, Carla Agump. The part of Nick, usually played by Al Pacino, will be performed tonight by Shlomo Pincus. The part of Honey, usually played by Madelyn Kahn, will be deleted from the script for this evening’s performance. And the part of George, normally played by George C. Scott, will be performed tonight by our talented lighting designer, Yoshitero Nakamura. Enjoy the show!”

There I sat at Hanover Tavern last Saturday evening, knowing what I was about to hear, but still not quite prepared for the enormity of it when it finally came. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Barksdale Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. At tonight’s performance, the role of Roy normally played by Steve Moore will be played by Joe Pabst. The role of Cecily Pigeon normally played by Jennifer Meharg will be played by Vickie McLeod. And the role of Felix Unger, normally played by Scott Wichmann, will be played this evening by Richard Koch.”

Now I’m not meaning to equate Richard Koch with “an actor you’ve never heard of” or “our talented lighting designer, Yoshitero Nakamura.” Richard, Vickie and Joe are all stars in their own right. Nonetheless, hearing that there will be three replacements, one of them a lead, in a cast of only seven, sounds daunting. It gives one pause.

But then the show started. Joe Pabst was up first, filling in for Steve who needed to be with his family in Danville. And Joe was great! The poker scene just pinged right along. If anything, it was tighter and funnier than when I last saw it five weeks ago. Then Richard had his big entrance as Felix Unger. He started out slow, as the character is meant to, but after only ten minutes, he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

By the time Vickie entered, no one even remembered that there were understudies performing in that evening's show. Vickie, just like Richard and Joe, was perfection, and the entire show was an absolute delight. I missed the original cast, of course. They also are terrific. But I can’t tell you how proud I was of the three temporary replacements.

It says a lot about the depth of talent that exists in Richmond that three new actors can step into a show without missing a beat. They brought their own charms and talents to the roles, found new and exciting moments, and honored the original production just enough so that no one in the rest of the cast was thrown at all. It was a joy to watch. I was glad I came home early from vacation just to catch this performance.

On behalf of all the audience members who laughed themselves silly, thanks to Richard, Vickie, Joe, and everyone else involved. As Scott, Jen and Steve all return to the show this week, they can rest assured that their standby's did them proud!

--Bruce Miller


Bill Southwark said...

I don't remember three understudies ever appearing in a Richmond show before. Is this a first? Do you have understudies for every actor all the time?

Bruce Miller said...

This is my first memory of three understudies as well. No, we don't have understudies for most roles. In this case, we knew that Scott and Jen could not be here this week from the beginning, and so we arranged for Richard and Vickie to take their place. Joe Pabst directed the show, and he is Richmond's foremost emergency understudy. When Steve Moore had a family emergency, Joe was able to step in.

Vicki McLeod said...

Bruce, Richard and I would like to send a big "thank you" for your glowing comments on our performances for "The OC". Such kind words coming from a friend/employer (and, oh yeah, company founder) of the past twenty years means a great deal to us. We are grateful and honored that Joe offered us the opportunity to pinch hit for our theatre buds. We are astounded and relieved (especially Richard!) that it went so well. And, we had a terrific time getting to work with some of our fun, talented, warped partners in crime. Definitely odd. Every last one of us. That's what made it so much fun!

Anonymous said...

Vickie and Richard, I wish you could have read my compliment as well. But unfortunately the "blog master" chose not to publish it. I assume because my post went on to ask a question and give an opinion/a genuine reaction about the director's choice of voice for Oscar. Apparently we can't share all questions here, only bravos. So be it, I will no longer be contributing to this not-so-open forum.

Bruce Miller said...

To the previous anonymous commenter --

I'm sorry that your comment wasn't published. We're trying to learn all this blog business as we go along. Here are the guidelines that we have discussed informally with each other.

We don't censor or refuse to publish comments that contain constructive criticism of Barksdale or Theatre IV productions. To the contrary, we encourage constructive criticism of the shows we produce. That's part of what this blog is all about.

We DO censor and/or refuse to publish mean-spirited or nasty criticsm of Barksdale or Theatre IV productions, particularly if it is submitted anonymously. We will not knowingly disrespect our artists, and we believe that harsh anonymous critism puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

We also censor ANY comments that are critical of other theatres. It's not our place to be critical of colleague companies.

But it sounds like your criticism was constructive and not mean-spirited. If so, one of two things could have happened. I honestly don't know which one it was.

1. Several people have mentioned to me that they submitted glowing comments that were never posted. My pal Jody Strickler, for example, told me she submitted a comment about how great is was that old-timers like Phil and me were still going to continuing education programs like the one I wrote about at the Kennedy Center. We never received Jody's comment. All I can guess is that a certain percentage of the comments that are submitted never reach us. I have no idea why.

2. There are five of us, I think, who have the ability to review comments that are submitted and decide whether or not to post them. I, Bruce Miller, am one of the five. The other four, I think, are Jessica Daugherty, our IT manager in New Zealand; Catherine Dudley from our Marketing Dept.; Billy Christopher Maupin from our Marketing Dept; and Sara Marsden, our Director of Marketing. Russell Rowland used to be a sixth, but Russell left our Marketing Dept. a couple of weeks ago for a higher-paying job waiting tables.

It could be that Jessica, Catherine, Billy Christopher or Sara read your comment and decided that, from her or his perspective, it was more disrespectful and respectful of the artists involved in the criticism. In some instances, that's a tough call.

I'll try to contact each of my co-workers to see.

Having said all this, and I'm sorry if it's "BORING!!", I encourage you and anyone else to submit constructive criticism whenever the spirit moves you. I honestly believe that, if we receive it, we're more likely to publish than not publish.

Thanks for your input. Don't give up on us yet.

Sara Marsden said...

The comment was removed because it was "mean-spirited" and did not at all seem to be intended as constructive.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sara for the further insight. As a Barksdale artist who will choose to remain anonymous, I'm glad you don't publish nasty comments about any one of us. We get enough of that in the papers for the world to see--at least when our luck's not running. I like the fact that the Barksdale blog is supportive of everybody. But, as you, Bruce, say, constructive criticism is fine. But thanks for keeping the nasty anonymous stuff off of the blog. It creeps me out.