June 22, 1967, the day of our first performance arrived. My photo had been in the local paper the day before along with a nice write-up as publicity for the play, and one of my co-workers had spotted it. His name was Pyles; I don’t recall his first name, but I’m sure it wasn’t Gomer.
Then late in the afternoon I received a call from Western Union. Debbie Miller, my former classmate who had moved to NYC, had sent me a telegram:
WISH I COULD SEE YOU BREAK A LEG LOVE
Did I want them to mail me a copy? I did. That lifted my spirits, which needed a lift after the events of the previous evening.
To tell the truth, I really don’t recall much more about that day. I’m sure I was tired, but I’m also sure I was pumped. We were finally going to perform before a paying audience.
I do recall that when I got to the Lebanon Catholic High School auditorium and saw our Jess (Molly), her new hairdo no longer looked weird. It had just been the shock of the newness of it the evening before that made it seem strange.
The other thing I recall about that first performance is that our director, John Osborne, made a last minute decision not to have an intermission after the first act. This was not mentioned in the program, nor was it announced before the performance, and the auditorium was not air conditioned, and it was a warm evening, and the audience expected and really could have used a break after the first act. In fact, a good many of them were out of their seats and halfway toward the exits when the curtain rose for Act II.
But still the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. They were laughing at a lot of the funny business, and they were applauding warmly at the end of each scene and act. Now they weren’t necessarily laughing at all the places we had expected them to. Some lines where we expected a big laugh received little or no laughter, while other places that we, or at least I, had not thought of as laugh lines drew hearty guffaws. I can’t recall specifically, but I believe Betts was right that the “concubine” line didn’t receive much of a laugh. And each audience over the course of the three performance nights was different; they all laughed at different places and were quite unpredictable.
Frankly the three performances pretty much blend together in my mind. Except for the final one where I did something stupid. John Roberts, our Gil, had been frequently ad libbing his way through his part all along. This had not been a problem because his ad libs were close enough to the script, often just a word or two here and there, that it never broke the flow. But I resolved to insert my own ad lib in the last performance. Since I planned it, it really wasn’t an ad lib. I thought I could inject a laugh into what was otherwise a dramatic moment of Act III. I didn’t. My “ad lib” totally bombed. Another lesson learned.
As I said, the audiences seemed to be enjoying themselves, although because the tickets had been late in arriving, we had not been able to sell as many as we might otherwise have, so the audiences were a bit on the lean side.
But for me the good news was that Randy had relented and decided to attend the Thursday performance after all. Or perhaps Pam had insisted. And they both enjoyed it, as Randy relayed to me the next morning when we drove to work. And Randy’s verdict on the other actors had improved, particularly Molly as Jess. He now thought she had done a terrific job. Perhaps it makes a difference seeing a performance without a lot of interruptions and with an audience.
The Lebanon Daily News review arrived on Friday. Since we were an amateur group, as well as an advertiser, I think their reviewer tended to go easy on LCTI performances, and his review was quite positive, though I thought he gave rather short shrift to Molly Costello and John Roberts. In any case we all had a good laugh over it before the Friday performance. In particular the reviewer claimed that my part required ”mainly a Wally Cox delivery and the smooth handling of some $10 words.”
But the reviewer made another claim, and I’d just like to set the record straight. I was not then, nor have I ever been “chicken chested”.
I think the reviewer was unfair to the character of Jess. Although he admitted that she’s on stage for almost the entire play, he did’t seem to realize that she is the protagonist. And he claimed she is “unlearned, has foolish, even impossible ideas, with no concept of reality.” Perhaps his reality just didn’t admit the possibility of a woman having more than one lover.
And this seems like the place to mention what I had originally thought would be problematic about the play for Lebanon County audiences: that Jess ends up keeping both her husband and her lover. Once we began rehearsing the play I never thought about it again, and there was never any discussion of it. Nor did anyone else on the LCTI crew ever raise the issue. One woman did object to some of the language in the play (there is at least one goddammit and a few other epithets), but she voiced her concern only to me as far as I know. If the Catholic school administrators ever objected, if they even knew about it, I never heard of it. The reviewer raises the issue and concludes the play must be judged on a purely entertainment level. And certainly there was never a problem with the audiences.
I’ll hazard a guess as to why. The issue of adultery was discussed candidly over the course of the play, and several times it was stressed that Jessica believed in the institution of marriage and thought both her marriage and Denny’s were strong ones. And I think all three main characters came across as sympathetic and likable, so in the end the audience was rooting for a resolution that would provide a happy ending for all of them. And the resolution came in the final moments followed immediately by the realization that this was no resolution but only the beginning of more complications as the curtain fell on a new but familiar comic situation.
When my parents and other relatives saw it, I think at the final performance on Saturday, they all seemed to enjoy it as well, and complimented me on my performance. Of course, I’d expect family members to be supportive, though I did like that my mother thought I sounded “natural” on the stage.
The comment that I appreciated most of all, however, came when I went to the Lebanon Community Library the following Friday. At the checkout desk was a young woman whose name I’ve long since forgotten, but she was about my age, a recent graduate of one of the local high schools, and someone that I usually chatted with whenever I checked out books.
“I want to talk to you!” she cried as I approached the desk. ”You were great in that play!”
I hadn’t even realized she had been in the audience, and she hadn’t realized in advance that I would be in it. She had thoroughly enjoyed the performance. This was a real ego boost. We chatted about the play and my experience with it for a few minutes, and we were still chatting when who should appear, but John Roberts, our Gil.
And it was clear that she didn’t recognize him.
When I introduced him and explained that he had played Gil, she blurted out without thinking: “But you were so good-looking on the stage!”
John turned and gave me one of his patented deadpan looks.
At the final performance of Janus, we brought our director John Osborne out for a well deserved bow. He had been tough on us, but it had all paid off in the end. John was a genuinely multi-talented fellow, and LCTI was lucky to have him. Alas, this was to be his last production with LCTI as he had just gotten a job at, of all places, Andover, Massachusetts—the city where Denny, my character in the play, taught French.
As it happened we were losing Mary Ann Schlegel (our Miss Addy) as well. She and I had had several long talks during breaks in the rehearsals, and she told me that she was planning to join the Peace Corps.
The final performance was something of a downer for me, and not just because I’d be saying goodbye to a great group of people whom I’d grown to like over the course of the past month. As it turned out the cast party was being held in a bar, and since I was underage, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend—unless accompanied by my parents. I decided that being accompanied by my parents might be even more of a downer than simply not going, so that was that.
(In retrospect, and I might be mis-remembering here, but I think the fact of the cast party and that I would need my parents to attend was sprung on me at the last moment, and my decision was a snap one. Perhaps if I had been given a little more warning I may have decided to attend at least for a short time in order to say a proper goodbye to my cast-mates. Or maybe my 70-year-old self is just wishing my 18-year-old self had handled things differently.)
But all in all this had been the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I had enjoyed practically everything about it, and I resolved to stick with it, as John had advised when I first auditioned for the part.
And I’ll describe the result of that resolution in the thrilling conclusion of this series of posts on Janus.