Theatre Mirror - A Backstage Journal

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'TIS THE SEASON.....
to do theater!

In Vermont the hills are alive with the sounds of theater. Among other presentations, the Center Stage Theatre Company is touring a pair of plays from the pen of Vermont poet David Budbill that unites the alpha and omega of western theater. They'll be doing the show in the City Hall in Montpelier through the 15th, then moving to the Flynn Theatre in Burlington from the 20th to the 22nd, and they'll finish up on 27 - 28 December at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

Act one is a translation of THE SECOND SHEPHERDS' STORY that was written in 1479 by "The Wakefield Master"; Act two, THE PULPCUTTERS' NATIVITY is the same story, but set in contemporary Vermont.

Rosann Hickey is part of the cast, and she has been keeping a backstage diary of the rehearsals and performances for The Theater Mirror. This is how her very first entry ended:


In spite of the plot parallels, these are two very different plays. The characters in SHEPHERDS STORY, in 1479, are none too bright, sometimes bawdy or unattractive --- but with a basic innocence or hope. By 1979 they really have a hard edge, a meanness that came with the era. I suspect the transformation will be harder to pull off.

I am feeling a bit intimidated by all these words. This is not like doing some classic piece that you've seen scores of times. You can't rent the video to see how the movies did it. I have never worked with this director, Andy Doe, before although I have seen his work and loved it. My great comfort is that at the auditions the pieces we read made me laugh and cry. Surely we can make audiences do the same.


Roseann Hickey's "Backstage Journal"

October 8 --- The official script for TWO FOR CHRISTMAS arrived in the mail and, on first reading, it's a bit daunting. Act I is THE SECOND SHEPHERDS' STORY --- written in England by an author known only as "the Wakefield Master" in 1479 --- an interesting time.

The "working classes" -- serfs and peasants-- had begun to have some sense of the inequalities of their lot, but their masters did not yet consider these ideas as dangerous, only comical. Thus this playwright was able to use the framework of the play to make some incisive social commentary, and to do so using distinctive characters with unique voices.

The actual plot is familiar to this day, frequently seen in the traditional Church Nativity Play. The shepherds are out on the hillside, watching their sheep. Mak, the thief, shows up and steals a lamb. The shepherds go to his hovel to retrieve it. To escape detection, Mak and his wife wrap the lamb up and put it in their bed telling the shepherds she has just given birth. The shepherds discover the ruse, but instead of killing or beating Mak they toss him in a canvas and depart.

On their way they are met by an angel who announces the birth of Christ and sends the shepherds back to the hovel where Mak & Gil are transformed into Mary and Joseph --- the miracle.

David Budbill has reworked this text to make it accessible to our modern understanding of English, but has retained the rhyming form and much of the archaic language.

Act II is THE PULPCUTTERS' NATIVITY --- the same plot, except the time is 1979 in Vermont. (This is a part of a larger work, "Jeudevine", written by Budbill originally as poetry.) The peasants are now pulpcutters, the thief steals a chain saw, and the Angel of the Lord is a waitress at the Come & Eat Diner.

In spite of the plot parallels, these are two very different plays. The characters in SHEPHERDS STORY are none too bright, sometimes bawdy or unattractive --- but with a basic innocence or hope. By 1979 they really have a hard edge, a meanness that came with the era. I suspect the transformation will be harder to pull off.

I am feeling a bit intimidated by all these words. This is not like doing some classic piece that you've seen scores of times. You can't rent the video to see how the movies did it. I have never worked with this director, Andy Doe, before although I have seen his work and loved it. My great comfort is that at the auditions the pieces we read made me laugh and cry. Surely we can make audiences do the same.


Notes from the playwright, David Budbill

A WORD ABOUT TWO FOR CHRISTMAS
"The Second Shepherds' Play" is one in a cycle of thirty-two Biblical plays, from creation to apocalypse, written and performed in and around Wakefield England, in the middle of the 15th Century. The church created these plays in order to teach the peasantry the literature of the Bible. Members of the various medieval guilds wrote, produced and performed most of these plays communally.

"The Second Shepherds' Play" however is so distinctive, has about it so much the stamp of an individual author, that the play has come down to us as written by a particular person known only as "the Wakefield Master".

Miracle plays are devout, often humorous, and always entertaining. "The Second Sheperds' Play" is that and more. The whole play, except for a short and orthodox scene at the very end, is an outrageous and warm-hearted parody of the nativity, in which a sheep thief, his cantankerous wife and a stolen lamb comprise the unholy family.

For his play the Wakefield Master invented a complex and daunting stanza full of internal as well as end rhymes. The form, by the way, is similar to the stanza in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" --- the second, after "Beowulf" great work in English literature.

Here are two examples of the original, each stanza followed by my translation; the first somewhat free, the second more literal.

    III PASTOR
    Sich servandys as I,   that swettys and swynkys,
    Etys oure brede full dry,   and that me forthynkys;
    We ar oft wytt and wery    when master-men wynkys;
    Yit commys full lately    both dyners and drynkys,
    Bot nately.
    Both oure dame and our syre,
    When we have ryn in the myre,
    Thay can nyp at oure hyre,
    And pay us full lately.

    THIRD SHEPHERD
    Such a servant as I   who works and who sweats
    Yet must eat his bread dry   is aggrieved and bereft.
    Still at work and bone tired   while the rich are asleep
    I come home tardy and weary   to my dinner and drink--
    Such as it is.
    Should perhaps I blunder or miss even one day
    The Sire will be happy to interrupt his play
    To upbraid me, insult me and dock me my pay--
    Such as it is.

    III PASTOR
    Hayll, derlyng dere,  full of Godhede!
    I pray the be nere   when that I have nede.
    Hayll, swete is thy chere!   My hart wold bede
    To se the sitt here   in so poore wede,
    With no pennys.
    Hayll, put forth thy dall!
    I bring bot a ball:
    Have and play the with all,
    And go to the tenys.

    THIRD SHEPHERD
    Hail, darling dear   full of God's seed.
    I pray thee be near   when I have need.
    Hail! Hail! sweet is Thy cheer!  But my heart bleeds
    To see Thee lie here   so much in need,
    With no pennies.
    Put forth thy hand so small!
    The gift I bring is but a ball:
    Have it and play Thee withal
    At the tennis.
    

It is clear that the Wakefield Master had a well developed political and social conscience; he understood the nature of his society's injustices. He knew the poor man's condition, and he was not afraid to let his characters speak of it acrimoniously. But in addition to his sharp tongue, the writer also had a bubbling and irrepressible sense of humour. Although the play is a parody and has ironic moments, it is never bitter; it is lighthearted, joyful and extremely funny. The Wakefield Master was a good-natured fellow and it was impossible for him to speak critically wihtout at the same time seeing the human warmth and humor inherent in the situation.

Sitting at my desk making my translation of "The Second Shepherds' Play" and again in the rehearsal hall as I saw the play come to life, I have been awed by its greatness. The characters are real people, finely drawn, distinct from each other; the author is in absolute control of the mood shifts; the scenes develop carefully and subtly, and the author's heartfelt and committed engagement with his subject is obvious.

"The Pulp Cutters' Nativity" follows the original play very closely, almost speech for speech, and witthin those speeches there is great similarity in content; in fact, in a number of places, where it worked, I used direct translations of the original lines--"My feet froze to my shoes." "If I had the money I'd buy her a funeral."

I have however, tampered with the original in a few places. I altered slightly the personalities of some of the characters. I gave the angel the nativity narrative as she has it in the original, then added a portion of the jubilee year, because I think it is the penultimate message of the Christian gospel. I've moved the shepherds' final singing forward a bit and written new lyrics. And I changed the mood at the end. My version ends with fear and foreboding; this is the modern age. I made up my own jokes, inserted an outburst about racism, because I think it is one of the most pressing issues of our time, added a second --- more positive --- view of marriage, and changed time, place, characters and dialect.

What amazed me as I wrote "A Pulp Cutters' Nativity" was how easily and simply the original transferred from 15th Century England to 20th Century New England, which must be, I am afraid, a commentary on the changelessness of the human condition.

The central message of the Christian gospel is, in my opinion, that Christ came to give people hope. This gift was given originally, and must remain a special gift, to the poor, because to be poor, especially in America, is to be told every time you turn around that you should be ashamed, that you are hope-less.

The message of the Christian gospel is a denial of all that; it is an affirmation of self-respect, and that is something the poor have never, nor will they ever, get from the societies of Caesar.
David Budbill
Advent 1996


Oct 20 -- We had our first read through with the entire cast and it was really exciting to hear all of our different voices. We are a diverse lot, ranging in age from 22 to 49 and with varying backgrounds and training.

The "star" of the show--i.e., our most promotable talent --- is Rusty DeWees. He's a local boy who made it to the Big Apple and has appeared in many commercials --- Wendy's, Kellogg's Cornflakes, etc. --- and as a supporting actor in several movies. He is available because he is shooting a movie in this area and because he loves the author's work. He was the first Vermonter to play the character "Antoine", who appears in this and other Budbill plays, and for people in this area he IS the point of the show. He truly is tremendously talented and pleasant, always behaving like just another member of the company.

I already know Monica Callan (The Angel) and Mark Roberts (Gib/Doug) from previous local productions and from working as extras on the movie "Spitfire Grill".

The youngest of our group, Isaac Leader, turns out to be the son of someone I've done several shows with. Isaac, like the character he plays in "Pulpcutters", is a veteran although he never saw the kind of combat in South Korea that Tommy was exposed to in Viet Nam.

We are asked to write bio material for the program and I learn that Bob Nuner (Mak/Arnie) and I took classes at HB Studios in NY at the same time, although we never ran into each other there.

Our musician, Heidi Bronner, has done a lot of work with Bread & Puppet Theatre and a brief stint with Uncle Walt at Epcot --- which she describes as "a bit bizarre". She has an extensive Midieval music repertoire and a home made hurdy-gurdy, which makes a unique and interesting sound.

I am really happy with Andy's casting choices and looking forward to beginning rehearsal work.


Nov. 4 --- It has become clear we have pretty wildly varying styles of working and this makes it hard to see how we will fit together. Rusty is very physical, wanting to do all kinds of lifts, jumps and rolls, but at the same time not giving much projection vocally. I know from seeing his work that he is always audible in actual performance, but right now I can barely hear him sometimes and I'm on stage with him.

Mark and Monica are more cerebral types; both of them want to have long discussions about what their character is like and why. Nuner and I both seem to be more vocally oriented --- I'm struggling to find the right voices for my characters. Somehow in 10 years here I've never mastered what is known locally as "the woodchuck dialect." Luckily Isaac and Nuner are both really good at it and are willing to help me out. I do have a pretty good range of rustic English accents that I could use in "Shepherds'", but Andy wants to avoid the problem of creating a uniform sound from scratch. I don't blame him --- not everyone has the same ear and getting us all up to speed would consume the kind of time we don't really have.

As it is we only have Rusty for a limited amount of time, working around his movie shoot commitments, which sometimes change unexpectedly. Right now we work on duets and solos in bits and pieces. Andy has a very interesting directoral style. He is quite relaxed and low key, letting us try out various options and combinations and then suggesting new meanings or movements. In some ways its a bit like opening box after box after box, always finding something slightly different inside.


Nov. 18th-When we signed on for this piece we knew we would be performing in at least 3 or 4 different venues. No one mentioned how many different places we would rehearse! The Center Stage Theatre company has no home theater so we wander the earth using library basements, church halls, town halls, other theatre's basements and green rooms, a gymnasium and, once, someone's foyer.

Each place has a different shape, different accoustics and different (if any) furniture. This makes things either nicely fluid or a nightmare, depending on where one stands on the spectrum of orientation to detail. I suspect we all thought that when we finally could begin having all remaining rehearsals in Montpelier, that we would achieve nirvana.

Perhaps because we had all been looking forward to it so much, the actual event was a bit of a let down. Yet another space to come to grips with and, since the set pieces aren't done, more folding chairs. Also the stage and seating pattern are to be rearranged for our show but can't be changed until the show now in production there closes. "The 24th of November it becomes ours." the producer promises us. We all mark our calendars hopefully.


November 25- We were supposed to be able to move into the Montpelier site this Sunday and we could, sort of. Unfortunately, the previous company occupying the theatre left a huge mess. So we have lost at least one day which we sorely needed to reset seating, etc. for ourselves. Morgan, our producer, is pretty stressed.

The costumes are here, and although they aren't quite finished, it's good to be able to work in them. The shepherds are a bit self conscious about their tunics, not having worn mini skirts in high school, and the costumer agrees to lengthen them. I have been given a kind of babushka head piece, in which I am supposed to thrash around in bed-- not really very workable.

On the up side, our posters have come and they look great. Also we have been named one of the top ten Xmas events in Vt. by the state tourism board (can't help wondering how they could tell?) And best of all we have gotten a total of $5000 in grant funding, so we can afford to rent the stuff we were going to get whether we could afford it or not.

Ahh, the glamour of the theatah!


Dec 1- This has been a long, long weekend. We have been at the theatre from 9:30 AM to at least 8 PM for three days. We have moved what feel like tons of platforms and curtains and lighting equipment. We have re-blocked, re=worked and re-written. We have been exhilarated, exasperated and exhausted. All entrances and exits have had to be changed because of the shape of the area.

There seem to be hundreds of details left to be seen to. Costumes need to be distressed. We still don't have a viable "tenys" ball. I need a period head piece. Gib needs a cloak.

As we enclose the playing area differently, the acoustics keep changing. The "Players Wagon" with which we enter, and from which we set up the "Shepherds'", keeps coming out of the covering which prevents its wheels from damaging the floor.

I fear I am getting a cold. When Andy offers to let me go at 7 I feel a bit guilty --- I know the shepherds will probably work until 9. I go home anyway.


Dec. 3 --- Amazing what 2 days can do. We are going to be ready. Just when it felt like we would never get there, everything suddenly started to work. We have energy, we have timing and we have each other to depend on. This is going to be a very good show. We have two more nights to polish up and Andy has asked us each to invite a few friends to act as preview audience. Hopefully this will give us a feel for the laughs and energy that real live people out there bring. We all feel like this is a very good sign; he's not embarassed for us to be seen. We're ready!


Dec. 6 --- No matter what else happens, this show is not suffering from any lack of promotion. I started my day with three phone calls from people who had seen the photo of Nuner and me on the cover of the Burlington Free Press Arts & Entertainment supplement. Because they had taken a black and white picture and rendered it in red and green, we were in livid color. I imagine they were trying for a festive touch, but we just look rather tubercular.

Well, as opening nights go, it could have been much worse.

Andy had some wise words for us. "You are now adding a brand new cast-member, one who doesn't even know the show. You have to be very careful to pay great attention to this new entity in your midst."

A lot of this new entity were many family and friends and, oh yes! --- don't worry about it, but all three papers sent critics. Morgan and Dorcas were backstage scrounging up any available chairs for overflow seating. The basic setup is for 122 people, so we must have come close to 130.

When you are in a production its really hard to know how good or bad it actually is. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that we were tighter, smoother last night in the final dress. This could have something to do with the 14 hour days we have been putting in for the last week. I felt like my energy was down and so did several others.

Of course all our friends came back and told us we were wonderful. Then Andy gave us 5 pages of notes. And we have a few days before the reviews actually come out.

Oh, well, tomorrow is another day.


Dec. 7 -- The radio was full of winter storm advisories for this evening, so naturally we all expected a poor house. We kept telling each other that who ever did come out would be well worth working for since they obviously loved theatre enough to risk a big, sloppy, wet snow.

Then we had to hold the curtain because people just kept coming and coming.

For the first act we enter with the players' wagon singing "Wassail, Wassail all through the town" as we set up. It was interesting trying to thread our way through the extra chairs set up in the thrust aisles. I don't know if we were just better rested and more relaxed, or the audience was just determined to have a great time, or both, but it was a lovely night.

We had talked about how to do a restrained curtain call at the end of "Pulpcutters'" in keeping with the rather somber tone. We were told to stay in tableau for the first "lights up" and then to come downstage a few steps for a second company bow. We did that in pretty good order and went off to have a little triumphal group hug. But this audience just didn't want to leave, so we had to scurry out front again for another ragged -- but happy -- bow.

If this keeps up we will have to add a matinee next Saturday.

I am thrilled.


Dec.11 -- On Sunday we had more snow and a tiny -- 28 person -- house. This felt odd after the first two packed houses. Somehow the scarcity of audience and the daylight (matinee) made it all seem a bit like being back in rehearsal. Our energy was high though and, for a small group, they were quite responsive, gave us a standing ovation at the end.

Today we learned that the reviews had come out, so we all scurried about trying to find the papers. The TIMES ARGUS' Jim Lowe thought we were "endearing, entertaining, often funny and sometimes touching" with "an excellent cast". Jim Higgins of the GAZETTE called the show "an unusual and quite moving theatrical experience" and called us "an amazing collection of talent." Can't ask for much more than that.

My favorite line from Higgins' review is the one where he refers to Nuner and me as "two performers whose on-stage marital bond is so deliciously prickly it could turn "Honeymooners" Ralph and Alice Kramden into a national poster couple on behalf of civility." Both pieces give well deserved credit to our musician Heidi, both for the choice of music and its "haunting " delivery.

Morgan calls to tell us that the Flynn has sold out all of its shows and wants us to add a matinee on Sunday. Well, all right!


Dec.13 -- A FRIDAY!

Mark now has the "company cold" and Nuner is coughing a bit; other than that we seem to escape the superstition. We have full houses booked in advance through Sunday. The Burlington arts weekly "Seven Days" has a lovely literate review, full of nice things about the show.

On Sunday we have to strike everything from the Montpelier house and pack it to go to Burlington. Some of us are already feeling a bit apprehensive about the move. Andy tells us the space is "very different" from this one, probably smaller, which may mean we have to change our opening routine of rolling the players' wagon in. I honestly don't want to think about any of this until I have to --- "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof".


Dec. 14 --- David, the author has been at virtually every rehearsal and show with us throughout. This has been a somewhat mixed blessing.

Frequently, when we ask him for an interpretation of a line he will say, "Well, what do you think it means?" On the other hand he has been there to spot problems and awkward phrasings and to fix them. We are not quite so glad when he decides to change wordings or lines that we thought were okay, or we have just become used to.

Since we first read the show the director, Andy, has been worried over the lack of a "birth of Christ" speech for Mary in PULPCUTTERS' to parallel the one in SHEPHERDS'. Because David had so carefully tried to maintain a kind of symmetry, this lack seems somewhat surprising. I think he felt that the Angel's speech in the second Act was so much longer and so all-encompassing that for Mary to say anything more seemed redundant.

Either Andy's requests, or something about how the show is playing changed his mind apparantly, because tonight he brought in a new speech for me to insert after the pulp cutters' song. I don't mind adding a few lines, and I like the speech, feel good about saying it. Andy wants us to try it out a bit tomorrow, before the show. I'm game--"Try anything once!"


Dec. 15 --- Well, the monster strike is done and,I think we all feel a bit sad to leave Montpelier. It was a good place for us -- good houses, nice space, easy parking.

The theatre in Burlington, The Flynn, was an Art Deco movie hall, now converted for live performances. Like many such conversions, the acoustics are not the best, and the stage is pretty removed from the audience. We however will be presented as an "On Stage" production, which means that the audience will be seated on the stage around us and we will have a pretty small playing area.

In spite of its drawbacks, this is probably the most prestigious theatre site in Vermont, the place all the big touring shows play and where Garrison Kiellor's "Prairie Home Companion" radio show performed two years ago. For Vermont, it is the Big Time.

The tech people will be meeting at noon; actors are called for 1 PM on Friday. The theatre has a computerized light board which is supposed to be pre-programmed for us, although we will have to set levels and make various adjustments to the blocking.

Next we have a speed-through --- and hopefully set the added Mary speech in PULPCUTTERS' --- a brief dinner break, and then --- Hello Burlington!


Dec. 20 -- First performance in Burlington. The Flynn has a "real" theatre feel. Loads of union help on hand, beautiful new lighting instruments, 2 levels of dressing rooms -- toilets, showers, a microwave oven, oh my!

The stage area is about 6 or 8 feet wider and 10 feet shallower than Montpelier. All of the audience (+/-140) is strung out in front of this wide, relatively narrow stage.

We arrived at noon to do lots of repositioning of set pieces and a loonngg cue-to-cue lighting rehearsal. Because Mark had an exam in the morning and Isaac had one in the afternoon, we never did the speed-through. This meant that some blocking changes had to be worked out in performance -- when you enter and there is no space to cross down-stage, you have to improvise. Nuner and I came up with some totally new moves. Several times I caught myself having to re-adjust bits that had worked when we had audience on all three sides.

The audience is very close. And they seemed different somehow from the Montpelier houses -- not better or worse, just subtly different.

It was as if they had a whole different texture and rhythm. They seemed to like the play. Many of them stayed for a post show chat with Andy & David, director and writer. David loves these sessions and is in his element, challenging and interacting with people; Andy is amiable but restrained, rarely doing more than answer direct questions. Having put in a good 10 hours, we actors were happy to change and go home. With a little extra rest we should do well on Saturday.


Dec. 21 -- The distance of the dressing rooms from the stage took its toll tonight in the typical actors' nightmare -- the Angel was downstairs and missed her cue. Morgan tried to summon her by intercom but, not wanting to alert the audience (which is on stage with us) that something was amiss, she used a sort of sotto voce/whisper that Monica dismissed as crackle.

Then Andy, who had been watching from the wings, got a bit exercised and went charging down to find her -- loudish footfalls off. Meanwhile the loggers -- this was during PULPCUTTERS' -- are merrily ad-libbing away on stage. This was quite upsetting to David who suspected they were taking liberties with his work. He had notes for them later.

Meanwhile, the audience was pretty oblivious to our plight. There was no dead air and she did make her entrance with a good deal of energy. In fact I have been enjoying the built-in sense of "for the first time" that this new playing space has given each of us. What we lose in polish we make up for in that sense of discovery that keeps a show fresh.

We've been analysing the differences between this city's audiences and the Montpelier houses. Montpelier, although it is the capitol, is barely big enough to be a courtesy city. It has a huge granola, craftwork, and New Age liberalism contingent. People come to the theatre in sweaters and jeans and Sorrels. Many of them are longtime fans of Bread & Puppet and/or Unadilla Theatre--companies known more for funk than ambiance.

Burlington really is a city, and its citizens dress up to go to the theatre. The Burlington houses are more restrained, but also more erudite. They laugh less at the rude physical comedy but they "get" all the Latin tag jokes in SHEPHERDS' -- before we translate them. At the end they hold for just a bit longer before breaking into applause -- but they stand up right away when the lights come up for the bows. That's not bad.


Dec 22 -- We did the last two shows at the Flynn today at 3 and 7 PM. I had been feeling a bit apprehensive about doing these two back-to-back so tightly, fearing I'd lack the energy to do justice to both. In fact I found it very satisfying to be able to rework/reinterpret little bits that were still fresh in my mind.

The 3 o'clock audience contained an infant in the back row and a seeing-eye dog in the front. After some initial reaction the dog got so relaxed it went to sleep; the baby did not. "Why, oh why do the wrong people travel when the right people stay at home???"

At the end of the second show we completed our packing-out in just 27 minutes, partly because the Flynn staff was anxious to go off to their Christmas party. And partly because we had only our few set pieces, costumes and props to dispose of -- unlike our situation in Montpelier where we had to strike all our seating, masking, lights and staging.

We had our own little cast party which basically meant having supper and a few drinks together at a nearby restaurant. We are not a wild and crazy party group and most of us have to be at work tomorrow morning. We set a time to meet in White River Junction next week and Andy warned us that we would be having another, entirely different, stage to adapt to. Considering how quickly we got used to the Flynn, we don't feel too worried about this.

Mark, who started the show as a raving atheist, remarked as we were leaving that he had an entirely different feeling about celebrating Christmas this year.

"Certainly, this sight I saw, this song I heard sung,
as I lay this Christmas night, alone in my longing."
Closing Song from TWO FOR CHRISTMAS.

Dec. 27 -- White River Junction is the quintessential railroad town. The surest indication that the rails are still alive and well is not that every third business somehow works "train", or "station", or "junction" into their sign, but the continued existance of a huge, rambling brick building that houses both the Hotel Coolidge and the Briggs Opera House. Dating from some time around the middle of the 19th century, both establishments have had their ups and downs, but somehow manage to keep going.

Dorcas and I climb the stairs (yes, like so many performance areas in Vermont, this one is on the second floor) to find our tech crew working away feverishly trying to be ready for a tech run at 2:30.

This huge room has clearly been chopped and changed many times over the years. In its latest incarnation one enters a foyer with coat racks, box office and concession areas, then enters the house which has a raised seating area around three sides of the thrust stage. A narrow but passable corridor reaches around the back of the house, and circles around behind the back black curtain on the stage.

Either arc takes you to the dressing area which is surprisingly deluxe. Seven little cubicles for one or two, each with its own thermostat(!), lots of hanging hooks, completely lighted mirrors, and, amazingly, counters that are wide enough to hold all the bits and pieces, but narrow enough to let nearsighted actors get a good close squint at their makeup.

When we get to the tech run we rework all the entrances and exits Again, this time combining the best from Montpelier and the Flynn, with a final exit through the voms -- always a new wrinkle. This house actually has the largest seating capacity (245) of any of the spaces we have played, and Andy is concerned that we get out and into, or at least up to, the audience whenever possible to maintain that intimacy that is so central to this piece. The acoustics of this house are the sweetest yet; the sound just floats out and lands right on them, so that's no problem.

When the time comes, we don't fill the hall, only the large, center section -- about 150 seats, plus a few on the sides. So, although this is the largest number of people we have played to yet, there is an oddly diminished feel to the house when we first come out. Not to worry, they are a very warm and intelligent group. Later we learn that poet Donald Hall and short story writer Grace Paley were there, guests of David's; no wonder they liked us.


Dec. 28 -- Dorcas and I had decided weeks ago to stay over in White River Junction rather than do two long drives back to back. Mostly because of its proximity (you can actually get across to the Opera House without going outdoors) we chose the Hotel Coolidge. This turns out to be a bit funkier than the name suggests, but perfectly clean and pleasant.

Just when I am beginning to remember all the things I love about touring we are ending the run -- oh, well. We are all aware of a tinge of last-time melancholy; this has been a happy show. I'm really going to miss Rusty's energy and Nuner's wit and Isaac's sweetness and Heidi's beautiful voice floating through the dressing rooms with odd and haunting bits of music from baroque to blues.

There are some things I won't miss. This is the last time I'll have to spray and mousse and backcomb my hair into dull greasy strings. This is the last time I'll be using this "swarthy" Ben Nye. This is the last time I'll be doing the "Gil manicure" -- charcoal and eyeliner under my nails for that grimy effect. This is the last time I'll have to worry about getting safely, never mind gracefully, onto the platform for the final nativity tableau. Maybe we are ready to quit now.

We have a very good show. PULPCUTTERS' especially seems to have a juice and energy beyond what we have ever achieved before. We get 3 bows and they are standing and we know that we could have another one -- but Andy is calling us all into the green room where he has already opened the champagne.

It takes us an hour to pack out -- we could probably have done it in less time, but we keep stopping to talk to each other and try to reach some kind of closure. At 11:15 we are all standing around on the sidewalk, still talking. No one wants to be the first to leave, but finally Andy makes the first break and then we disperse. I wonder when I will see each of these people again, and hope it will be on a stage.

"These nights are so long,
I wish we had some entertainment."

===Coll, "Second Shepherds' Story," sc.1

=END=


THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

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