JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

The Signed Playbill

The Playbill signed by the entire cast of the Walnut Street’s Legally Blonde

As I wrote a couple months ago, I went to see the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical after meeting my neighbor’s future daughter in law, Lindsey Bliven, who was appearing as “the mean one” in the show.

Well, Lindsey got the entire cast to sign a Playbill for me, and just a little while ago as I was walking back from an ATM, I ran into her and her future husband, Ryan. They were on their way to make arrangements for their wedding, but as we were only a few steps away from the house where the Playbill currently resided (that would be the home of my neighbor Georgia, Ryan’s mother), she suggested that Ryan could get the Playbill for me and meet up with her in a few minutes. Which he did.

I told Ryan that his future wife, although she seems so sweet in person, does play “mean” very well. She was terrific in the show.

That’s when he told me that they were on their way to pick out tablecloths (I think) for the wedding and trying to decide between white or ivory.

I said ivory, no question. He said he would pass that on to Lindsey.

Then I asked him about their wedding date.

When he replied, I told him that was an absolutely great day for a wedding. It happens to be my birthday.

Legally Musical?

Yesterday I saw the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical and I enjoyed it.

It’s a genuine musical comedy, filled with likeable characters, high voltage dance numbers, and committed performances; the only thing it lacks is music—but I’ll get to that.

Last week when I saw my neighbor Georgia, she introduced me to her future daughter-in-law, whom, she said, was appearing in the Walnut’s Legally Blonde. So I ordered a ticket for yesterday’s performance.

And then I realized that I didn’t remember Georgia’s future DIL’s name. What if I didn’t recognize her under her stage makeup? Or worse, what if I mis-identified her? I checked the production’s web site to see if I could pick her out from the publicity photos, and I thought I could, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.

That’s Lindsey Bliven as Vivienne in the center

So I did the sensible thing and knocked on Georgia’s door to ask. As it turned out Georgia’s future DIL was there, and her name is Lindsey Bliven (check out her web site), and she showed me a picture of herself in her stage makeup (and yes, it was the same one that I had tentatively picked out). Furthermore, she said she plays the mean one.

And although I’ve only met Lindsey for a total of about four minutes, she seems to have a sweet, outgoing disposition, but she absolutely plays mean very well. Really the whole cast is outstanding. As I said I enjoyed myself.

The plot is pretty simple and fairly predictable in its broad outline: The protagonist Elle Woods is dumped by her boyfriend because she, a sorority girl, isn’t “serious” enough for him as he plans to go to Harvard Law School and become a Very Important Person. So Elle resolves to follow him to law school in order to win him back.

One of the sub-plots features a UPS driver, a hair stylist, and a dog

The book of the show was written by Heather Hach (it’s based on a novel and a movie), and I think it’s one of the strongest books for a musical that I’ve seen. It completely avoids the second act problem that plagues so many shows where they get bogged down working out the plot trying to wrap things up and keep the audience engaged. If anything, the second act is stronger than the first.

Alas, the songs by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin are, how shall I put this? They stink.

If a cat had stepped in spilled ink and randomly scattered some notes on a musical staff, it could have come up with more memorable tunes than these two people did. I don’t seem to be alone in my assessment; Clive Barnes in his review of the original Broadway production referred to the “amorphous, synthetic, and maniacally empty-headed music”. As to the lyrics, I barely understood a word during the ensemble numbers. The solo (dare I call them) “songs” fared better as I was able to make out about 80% of the words, and they were serviceable, no more.

As to the intelligibility of the words, I don’t blame that on the cast, I blame that on the sound crew who had the amplified volume turned up so high it was actually distorting the sound.

But enough negativity. Despite the fact that this was a musical where there was no music, only amplified noise, I did enjoy it and get involved in the story. That is a tribute to the well written book and the excellent performances by a large cast of humans and two dogs (who steal every scene they appear in).

Janus—The Resolution

Pavilion Theatre at Penn State

I had resolved to stick with it (acting, theatre, whatever you want to call it), and that fall I started my freshman year at Penn State. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of meeting new people, getting oriented to the campus, attending classes, and being waylaid by Philip Klopp, Randy’s cousin, for whatever his latest cause was, and Philip always seemed to have a cause.

Then at some point I attended the first theatrical production, which I believe was Stop the World – I Want to Get Off at the Pavilion Theatre.

And it was superb. The only thing not fully professional about it was that it was being performed on a university campus.

And I realized that I was not in the same league as these Theatre Arts students, so I decided not to embarrass myself by auditioning for any of their productions.

(By the way, the actor who played Littlechap in that production, whose name I can’t recall right now, did go on to have a professional career. I saw that he appeared in New York City Off-Broadway productions in the 1970s before I lost track of him.)

I took a play writing course during the spring term of my first year, thinking that might be a way to ease myself into the Theatre Arts community as well as get myself started on a possible career in writing, which was one of the things I thought I might want to do. But I discovered that although the theatre people were friendly enough, they were also pretty much a closed group, and I was most definitely not one of them. I also discovered that although I did have a little bit of a talent for writing dialog, I had absolutely no gift for developing a plot or fleshing out characters. Good to know. That being said, I did better in that course than most of the actual Theatre Arts students did, as practically none of them seemed to have any aptitude for writing at all.

Now State College had a thriving community theatre, but I wasn’t aware of it until several years later. And when I attended one of their productions, Hello, Dolly!, performed in the round, I decided they didn’t need whatever talents I might have to offer.

Flash forward a few years to the mid 1970s, and I was living in Richland again. In the fall of 1975 I went to auditions for the LCTI’s production of Night Must Fall, Emlyn Williams’s thriller about a psychotic killer. In the intervening years, LCTI had finished refurbishing their barn, and after a few years that barn had burned to the ground. Then they managed to get financing for a theater at Stoever’s (pronounced “stay-vers”) Dam, where they remain to this day.

Despite not having Arlene and Maryann to push me up to the stage, I summoned up the courage to read for a couple of the parts, and I must not have done too badly, as the director had me read with a few of the other people trying out.

But in the end the part of the killer went to George Smith, a psychiatrist from Harrisburg, and one of the other male parts also went to someone from Harrisburg. The director was from Harrisburg. Hmmm.

But I had mixed feelings about the auditions. On the one hand, Betts was there, and she remembered me as the fellow who had been in Janus. On the other hand, a couple other people that I had known were there but they didn’t seem to remember me. And the auditioning process was truly anxiety ridden. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole time I was on the stage.

I went to see the production and it was terrific. George Smith was great as the psychotic killer. And really the whole cast was fine. It seemed as if with the new performance space, LCTI had leaped to a new level of quality.

Allie was in the lobby, and we greeted each other warmly. It was great to see her again.

But for some reason, I never went back. Never rejoined LCTI. Never went to the meetings. Never went to another production. It just wasn’t the same. Not without Maryann and Gary and Arlene and the rest of the gang from high school.

Someone asked me once why I found auditioning so anxiety ridden, and I had a few ideas, but as I was getting ready to write this post a thought occurred to me.

I’ve mentioned that I have no problem getting up in front of a large group of people to perform or give a speech or whatever, but it’s just the auditioning process that makes me nervous. On the other hand, I’ve often interviewed for jobs, and I don’t recall ever being particularly nervous during those interviews, and aren’t job interviews like auditions?

The set design for Janus from the script

Yes, they are, but there’s one big difference. I’ve never interviewed for a job that I didn’t think I was fully qualified for, so I was always confident during the interviews. But I didn’t have that same confidence when I auditioned for a role in a play. Plus it had been years since the Janus production, so whatever momentum I might have felt from that had long since dissipated. And even though people had been telling me for years that I have a great speaking voice, I didn’t hear it myself, so I never fully believed it.

As technology has evolved, in recent years I’ve discovered something that I enjoy far more than performing, and that is editing. As in editing videos. I don’t think I could have ever made a career as a film editor when that meant working with actual film, because I recall the days of working with audio tape and I always hated having to splice the physical tape. But now that video or movie editing involves working with digital media—if I had been born a mere 50 years later I could well imagine pursuing such a career.


I dwelled on my Janus memories much longer than I had anticipated (though I have some memories that I wasn’t able to work into any of the posts), mainly because I’ve enjoyed reliving that period in my life, and I hope I communicated some of the joy of the experience. If I could literally relive just one period in my life, that’s probably the one I would choose. It’s a shame that I don’t have any photos of the production or of my fellow cast members or crew. It’s sobering to reflect on the fact that I never saw any of my fellow cast mates after our final performance (save briefly John Roberts the following week in the library), and that barring something unexpected, I’m unlikely to ever see any of them again. Assuming they are still with us, and I fervently hope they are, Molly would be about 80 years old, John about 90, and Chet somewhat older. Mary Ann would be in her early 70s, and our director, John, would be, I think, close to 90.

As I don’t believe in an afterlife (actually, I’m as certain as it’s possible to be that this is the only life we get), I’m not expecting any kind of reunion in the great hereafter. But if I turn out to be wrong, and we all find ourselves together again in some version of the Good or the Bad Place, I can visualize John gathering us together for an encore performance as he whips us back into shape.

“Hold it! Denny, repeat that last line. And this time say it as if you mean it!”

Janus—The Show Goes On

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.

Cover of the program

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:



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.

The telegram from Debbie

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”.

The local paper’s review of Janus. Click to enlarge

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.

One of the souvenirs I kept from the show. Jess and Denny signed a receipt for cash from Miss Addy as “Jessica Rousseau” and “Dennis Rousseau” because Miss Addy believes we’re married at this point in the play, but we’re speaking about Ben Franklin while signing, so Jess initially signs it “Ben Franklin"

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.

Janus—A Synopsis

In the February 13, 1956 edition of Life magazine there was a feature on Janus, which was then running on Broadway. Here is the first page. Click to enlarge

Some of the initial reviews of the original production attacked Janus for not being realistic. Well, of course, it isn’t terribly believable, one has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief to enjoy it; after all, it is a takeoff on a French bedroom farce. Is it also, as I have come to suspect, a sort of protofeminist shot across the bow? Hey, world, women can have multiple sex partners, too! I don’t know, and information about Carolyn Green is hard to find.

She was from Waverly Township, near Scranton, PA, and Janus was her only play produced on Broadway. It opened on November 24, 1955, and by the time it closed on June 30, 1956, it had earned back its investment of $60,000 and made a net profit of $70,000. What I found especially intriguing is that Janus had two television adaptations in the 1960s in Europe. I’d love to see those if they still exist somewhere.

A second play, A Sign of Affection, premiered at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in April, 1965, after which its subsequent engagements were postponed for rewrites.

Green had three children (see the photo at the end of this post) and she died in 1996.

Here’s my synopsis of the play. See what you think of it.

Act I opens as Jess (“warm, vital, thirty-nine and blissfully unaware of it”) enters her Greenwich Village apartment and proceeds to remove dust covers off the furniture and freshen up what looks like a long unused living room. Then she knocks on the ceiling with a broom (our set didn’t have a ceiling, so our Jess knocked on the dumbwaiter) and goes into the bedroom. Presently a knock is heard from inside the dumbwaiter and Jess rushes to lift the dumbwaiter door, revealing Denny (“on the small side of medium height, about thirty-five years old, is wearing glasses and has a scholarly look”).

They share a passionate kiss, and the first few pages of dialog establish that they come to New York City every summer for two months to write novels and have an affair, that they both have spouses and children (Jess has Gil in Seattle, Washington, and Denny has Gertrude in Andover, Massachusetts), and that although their marriages are happy ones, they very much treasure their time together. Denny gives Jess a geranium plant, and Jess, who has taken up knitting, gives Denny a garish pair of argyle socks, which he puts on.

They practice their drill of quickly racing around the apartment to hide all evidence of Denny’s presence or their work together in case they should get an unexpected visitor (they manage to do it in 33 seconds), and then the buzzer to the outside door sounds.

After a brief moment of panic, it turns out to be their agent Miss Addy who has good news and bad news for them. She has brought them the proofs for their latest novel, and the good news is that it has just been accepted by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and she gives them an advance of $10,000 in cash. They do all their business in cash because they never spend it on anything and keep it all in the pot-bellied stove, which they never use because they are never there in the winter. We learn that Denny is a French teacher in Andover who earns $4,900 a year, and if he bought an extra pair of socks the whole faculty would know in half an hour. Miss Addy’s bad news is that a Mr. Harper from the Internal Revenue Service wants to see them, and he’ll be coming tomorrow morning.

Second page of the Life feature

When Miss Addy leaves they start to work on their new historical novel. Denny provides all the research, which his wife Gertrude, a librarian, helps him with over the course of the winter. Jess spices things up for a modern readership. These are “lusty, busty” historical novels, written under the pen name Janus, taken from the two-headed Roman god. As one reviewer of their novels stated, “One head of Janus sees the bare bones of history. The other head sees its far more seductive flesh.”

They decide they are hungry so Denny leaves by the dumbwaiter to go to the deli to restock the refrigerator, while Jess goes to the kitchen to retrieve plates, silverware, and a tablecloth. While her back is turned, the center door opens and a man enters. “He is big, good-looking, and wears forty successful years very well.”

Jess turns and screams.

It turns out to be her husband Gil, whose trip to South America was canceled at the last minute, and who decided to come see what his wife does on her vacations in NYC. How did he get in? Some little guy held the front door open for him. Jess tries to get him out of the apartment. She writes a quick note, wraps it around the geranium, and tosses it out the window. She finally gets Gil to agree to go out to dinner when there is a knock from the inside of the dumbwaiter. Gil thinks it’s a thief, as he flattens himself against the wall while opening the dumbwaiter door to reveal Denny, bringing Act I Scene i to an end.

Scene ii opens 15 minutes later as Jess and Denny are explaining how they write their lusty, busty historical novels, which are best sellers, etc. Gil is shocked, but also amused. He finally sizes Denny up and decides that he’s not a threat to his marriage, so Denny leaves by the dumbwaiter. But Jess has second thoughts and tries to tell Gil the truth. As she does, Gil doesn’t quite get it, but he begins to lose his temper and starts yelling at Jess.

The center door opens, and Denny rushes in, having heard the shouting. He sits down and tries to placate Gil, but when he crosses his legs, Gil sees the argyle sock and goes off like a bomb. He lifts Denny’s leg and roars: “Jess, goddammit, you were making those socks for him!


Final page of the Life feature

Act II takes place the next morning as Jess and Gil continue the argument they apparently had most of the night. Jess is sorry that Gil found out. Gil is outraged at her attitude, especially when he realizes she wants to continue her marriage and the affair. They are interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Harper, so Gil retreats to the bedroom, and Denny comes down for the meeting.

Mr. Harper explains that the tax returns Denny has filed are all wrong because he hasn’t taken any deductions. Jess says that’s because Denny is so honest, but Mr. Harper says it is simply incorrect. They eventually seem to get things settled, and Mr. Harper fills out a new return for them taking the standard deduction. Then Gil enters and says he wants to talk to his wife. Mr. Harper was under the impression that Jess was Denny’s wife, and when he finds out that Gil, who makes upwards of a hundred thousand a year, has not declared his wife’s earnings, he says he can make things very difficult for him. He gives both Denny and Gil subpoenas, and leaves, seemingly happy to have discovered two big tax cheats.

Meanwhile, Denny asks Jess to leave Gil and marry him. Jess refuses because she says she believes in marriage, both hers and Denny’s, and that Denny really doesn’t want to leave his wife Gertrude. Jess and Gil have another argument, and she runs out of the apartment, slamming the door.


Act III opens the following morning as Denny and Gil are weary and disheveled, having been up all night worrying about Jess. After they argue a bit, Mr. Harper arrives in a cheerful mood, tears up the subpoenas, and says they will be billed for the additional taxes, but there will be no penalties and no prison time.

When he leaves, Jess arrives looking radiant in a new dress. Gil and Denny finally get her to explain what happened. Jess and Miss Addy paid a call on Mr. Harper the previous evening, and through some clever detective work on Jess’s part, Jess figured out that Mr. Harper was having an affair of his own. One problem solved.

They send Denny upstairs to make breakfast so Jess and Gil can talk. Jess says she has a reservation on the noon plane for Seattle and that she’ll give Gil his divorce. But Gil no longer wants a divorce. She goes to pack as Miss Addy arrives. When she realizes that Jess is leaving Gil, she assumes that Denny has won, so she goes upstairs to tell him the good news.

Denny comes down hoping to hear it from Jess, but he takes one look at her and realizes she’s leaving him as well. She says he can write the novels by himself and sits him down at the typewriter to get him started. And leaves.

Leaving Gil alone with Denny. Denny can’t understand why she’s leaving them both until Gil explains that she’s leaving Gil because she won’t give Denny up. This gets Denny to start thinking out loud that all this time he, Denny, has helped to save their marriage. Gil doesn’t understand, gets angry, and starts to lift Denny by the lapels to punch him out, but Denny makes him realize that Jess needs them both. If Gil leaves now, he can still catch up to her. And Gil rushes out.


Scene ii takes place a few days later, and although it’s the same set, we are meant to assume that it’s actually Denny’s apartment. Denny is alone when he hears a knock inside the dumbwaiter. It’s Jess, of course. She tells him Gil has gone to South America and “He told me to tell you he was joining the Book-of-the-Month Club.”

They start to embrace when the buzzer rings. Who can it be? It’s not Gil. Miss Addy’s away.

They look at each other, and then simultaneously both are struck by the same thought.


They rush to hide all traces of their work and they are setting a new record as


Playwright Carolyn Green with her children (from left) Nicholas, Loring, and Lynn.

The Bard's #MeToo Comedy

After I saw a production of the Scottish play a few years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to go to see any more Shakespeare plays because the language was too much of a barrier for me to enjoy them in live performance.

Then a few weeks ago I noticed that the Lantern Theater Company was doing Measure for Measure, and I broke that rule because I’ve never seen that particular play in performance and it’s a special favorite of mine because Shakespeare, or whoever was writing under that name, reveals what he believes true justice and mercy entails.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, here is a quick summary. The Duke of Vienna, realizing that he’s been lax in enforcing the laws decides to leave the city in the charge of Angelo, a stern, puritanical man of impeccable character. Angelo immediately sets an example of Claudio, a nobleman who has impregnated his fiancé before their wedding, by sentencing him to death. Claudio’s sister Isabella pleads her brother’s case, and Angelo agrees to free Claudio—if Isabella will have sex with Angelo. Isabella, who was about to become a nun, refuses.

Meanwhile, the Duke returns disguised as a friar in order to see how Angelo is doing. He tells Isabella that Angelo had been betrothed to Mariana, but he dumped her when she lost her dowry. Mariana for some inexplicable reason is still in love with Angelo, and the disguised Duke suggests that Isabella agree to sleep with Angelo on condition it be done in the dark, and Mariana will swap places with her.

A scene from Measure for Measure at the Lantern

The deal is made, and Angelo reneges on his side of the bargain and commands that Claudio be beheaded anyway. Does Angelo sound like anyone you’ve heard of? The Duke tells Isabella her brother is dead, but secretly arranges to spare Claudio. In the final scene the Duke returns as himself, and Isabella reveals Angelo’s treachery and duplicity and debauchery. The Duke decrees that Angelo must marry Mariana, and then leaves Angelo’s fate in Isabella’s hands. Should Angelo be executed for his crimes as he had her brother killed, or should his life be spared and he be allowed to be Mariana’s husband?

Isabella shows Angelo the mercy that he never showed her brother. Then the Duke reveals that her brother Claudio lives, and the Duke declares his intention to marry Isabella. Shakespeare doesn’t give Isabella’s reply to this declaration, but the implication is, because this is a comedy, that of course she will marry him. Curtain.

There are several other characters and several other plot complications, but that’s the gist. And the point seems to be that for the word mercy to have any meaning at all, we must show it to those we hate, not just to those we are sympathetic to.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed a Shakespeare play as much as I enjoyed the Lantern’s Measure for Measure. All the actors were top notch, and most of them doubled in more than one role. The theater is a small one with a thrust stage, so the audience sits on three sides of it, right in the middle of the action. And very unusually for me, I understood enough of the dialog to follow the action, even if I hadn’t refreshed myself on the details yesterday.

The cast at the Q and A after the performance

For a comedy, there weren’t that many laughs—until the final scene when all hell broke loose, and the audience was really enjoying themselves as one revelation followed another. There is a secondary character, Lucio, a friend of Claudio’s who helps Isabella and then later gets himself into hot water by dissing the Duke to the friar (who is actually the Duke in disguise). I don’t know if the actor intended it, but he was made up to look a little bit like Randy Rainbow. He acted a little bit like him too. As I say, I don’t know if that was intentional.

After the performance, there was an Artists in Conversation with the actors, who looked very different without their makeup. We found out that this play was scheduled a couple years ago, long before the #MeToo movement exploded. Among the other questions they were asked was why stay in Philadelphia rather than New York, to which the answer was they don’t need an agent in Philly, thus saving money, and the atmosphere is very friendly and collegial here.

Oh, I almost forgot. They changed the ending.


Directors have been tinkering with Shakespeare’s plays since—well, probably ever since they were written. Sometimes the tinkering works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time I thought it worked brilliantly, and judging by the audience’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one.

When Claudio is revealed to have escaped the the executioner, the Duke says this to Isabella: “Give me your hand and say you will be mine.” Shakespeare gives Isabella no reply and in this production she ignores the Duke and goes to hug her brother.

Then at the end the Duke says to her:

“Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto if you'll a willing ear incline,
What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine.”

To which this Isabel replied: “What the f—” [GONG]

Janus—Rehearsals Move To the Set

Mary Finney and Robert Preston as Miss Addy and Gil in a scene from the original production of Janus

In those days LCTI didn’t have its own permanent performance space. It did have the barn which it had just bought, but it was still undergoing massive rehabilitation, so it wasn’t suitable for rehearsing. The company used the auditorium of the Lebanon Catholic High School to actually stage its performances, but it could only have access to that space for about a week or so before the scheduled premiere. So we had to make do with what we could find, which as I recall was usually somebody’s house. The first rehearsal was in John’s living room, but that was much too small to permit any blocking of our movements, so we found other homes to use. I can’t recall whose.

One of the things that I learned to my great surprise in those early weeks is that I was a very quick study. I came to every rehearsal of a new scene having learned my lines down pat. I didn’t use any special technique for this; I found that by just reading through the scene a few times the lines stayed with me. I doubt that that would be the case today.

Notice that my classmate Dennis Keener was in charge of Lighting

My fellow cast members were not so adept. Jess (Molly) was mostly up to speed but needed her script as a reference, but Gil (John) only approximately knew his lines. He was a good ad libber though, so he could often keep the scene flowing even in rehearsal.

After a couple weeks of this, they all, especially John the director, began to gently kid me about my never forgetting a line. It was all good-natured, but I thought maybe if I flubbed a line or two I could make it stop. In one scene Denny impresses Gil with his knowledge of nautical terms by using the expression “With the sprit tops’l”. So one evening I flubbed this by saying “With the top sprits’l”. Big mistake. The ribbing I got after that was even worse. Live and learn.

Although the script had detailed stage directions for character movements, John decided to ignore all of those and develop all the blocking on his own. Sometimes he would change the blocking several times over the course of an evening as he watched how we interacted with each other. That I had a problem remembering.

Another problem I had was I just wasn’t John. He often tried to direct me in a scene in the way he would do it, and his way was certainly good, but I wasn’t him. I didn’t have his British accent for one thing. Nor did I have his range of experience. And just trying to mimic him didn’t work. So we often had to compromise on an alternative. He didn’t have this problem with the other cast members, I think, partly because they were more experienced and hence, more versatile, but also, I think he could see himself performing the role of Denny but not the others. So he could be more objective with the other roles. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it.

There was one paragraph-length speech towards the end of the play that proved problematic for me. It was a dramatic moment where I realized that Jess was really leaving me, and the words were just a tad flowery and wouldn’t come naturally to me. John finally solved the problem by rewriting it into a single sentence: “All I have to do is look at your face and see the answer.” That I could manage with conviction.

The cover for the Playbill for the original production of Janus

I’m not sure just when we got to see the set for the first time, but my sense is we had at least a full week to rehearse in it. I do know when I first saw it, after all those weeks of rehearsing in cramped living rooms, I was ecstatic. The LCTI set designers and everyone who had worked on building it had done a bang up job of creating a New York City apartment living room on the sprawling Lebanon Catholic stage. I was oohing and aahing as I made my initial walk through.

Shortly after that John arrived, and we began our first rehearsal of the full play in the actual set. I was finally able to make my initial entrance through the dumbwaiter (Denny always entered and exited Jess’s apartment via the dumbwaiter (his apartment was directly above hers) so that nobody would know they were having an affair). Then when Jess and Denny practice their drill of hiding all evidence of Denny’s presence or their work together, I slipped and fell on the unfamiliar and smooth surface of the stage.

“Do not lose control!” thundered John. Another lesson learned.

After that I thought the rest of the rehearsal went very well. I was really grooving on the huge new set that our wonderful stage hands had provided for us.

“You are obviously in awe of the set!” declared John when we finished the final scene. “You’ll have to get over that.”

Allie, our assistant director, chimed in. “You should have been here earlier. Denny was oohing and aahing all over the place.”

Thanks, Allie.

As the week rolled on, we did get over it. Everything seemed to be falling into place as the Stage Manager and the rest of the backstage crew learned all their cues for lighting and other effects. Yes, we kept getting stronger and more confident in our roles, we felt completely at ease with the set, and the stage was set for our final dress rehearsal.

What a disaster that turned into!

The set plans for our production of Janus. That square marked 3’ by 3 1/4 is the dumbwaiter where as Denny I made most of my entrances and exits.

Janus—Backstage Drama

Our director, John Osborne, was demanding with his actors, and he generally stayed in an upbeat mood with us, but he could be a real terror to deal with if he thought someone wasn’t being straight with him.

Margaret Sullavan and Claude Dauphin as Jessica and Denny in a scene from the original production of Janus

Our initial casting problem occurred at the first rehearsal, which took place at John’s house, where I met his charming wife, whose name, alas, I can’t recall after all these years. Anyway, the actor that John had chosen to play Miss Addy, the 50-something agent of the Janus writing team, had come to realize that she just wouldn’t have the time to devote to the rehearsals and performances of the play, so she asked to be relieved of her duties. Happily this was early enough in the rehearsal period that there was no problem, and John presumably went to his second choice.

Unhappily, his second choice, while a lovely and sweet person, just wasn’t right for the part. Mary Ann Schlegel was a little bit older than I was (the age thing was not a problem with her as Miss Addy’s age was neither mentioned nor implied in the text of the play), and she worked hard to master the role, but Miss Addy was a small part that absolutely required a larger than life personality to do her justice. It was the kind of role that with the right actor in the part could end up stealing the show. John worked hard with her, and Mary Ann in turn worked hard as well, but she just couldn’t pull off the larger than life aspect of the part, but because it was clear that she was working hard and diligently learning her lines, John was extremely patient with her. In the end, she did a fine job, but Miss Addy could have used a little scene chewing, and Mary Ann just wasn’t a chewer.

Bios for the supporting cast

Then there was the actor whom I’ll call Mr. Harper #1. Mr. Harper was the other small but vital role; he was an Internal Revenue Agent who provides the additional plot complications in Act II. Mr. Harper #1 was a middle-aged veteran of LCTI, balding and a right jolly old soul. He was a veritable encyclopedia of LCTI lore and had opinions on everything, which he didn’t mind sharing. And he couldn’t or wouldn’t learn his lines. It was halfway through the rehearsal period, and he still needed to use his script constantly. What’s more, he was totally blasé about it. He claimed that this was normal and he’d know his lines by opening night.

It’s possible that John might have put up with Mr. Harper #1 if he had been a bit contrite about his failure to learn his lines, I don’t know. But his was a small part, he was only in two relatively brief scenes, and by this time the rest of us were well on our way to mastering our much larger parts. Finally John couldn’t take it any more: he fired Mr. Harper #1.

This required, I believe, making a case before the board, which he did. I’m not sure how he selected #1’s replacement because I’m almost certain that Chet Rittle had not been at the auditions, but at our next rehearsal there he was. Chet was another veteran of LCTI, and he turned out to be a splendid addition to the cast and a quick study. That he was an accountant in real life may or may not have helped him bring verisimilitude to the role of an IRS agent.

Meanwhile, back at my high school I was adjusting to real life. As excited as I was to be in the play, there was a natural tendency on my part to want to talk about it. The first time I did so, however, Mary Lou Bliss cut me down to size. “I guess this is all we’re gonna be hearing about from now on until we’re all sick to death of it,” she sighed.

Page 4 of the script of Janus showing the cast of the original production

I realized she had a point, so I vowed to never mention the most exciting thing that had happened to me since, oh, ever, to any of my classmates until tickets went on sale. My thinking was that if I had tickets in hand, that would give me a reasonable excuse to bring it up.

Alas, Mary Jane Beam was in charge of tickets. She was also in the process of getting married, and her wedding planning apparently took precedence because tickets for the production weren’t available until after my graduation. Which meant that not only didn’t I have ready access to my classmates to attempt to sell them tickets, but because of my vow of silence, only a very few of them even knew I was in the play.

This is probably as good a place as any to mention a little bit about the play itself. Despite the fact that I thought LCTI shouldn’t produce it because its modern attitude to sex might conflict with local mores, I grew to love the play more and more as we worked on it.

Janus was the only play of Carolyn Green to be produced on Broadway; it opened on November 24, 1955, and ran for 251 performances, making back its investment and a modest profit. Its original cast featured Margaret Sullavan as Jessica, Claude Dauphin as Denny, Mary Finney as Miss Addy, Robert Preston as Gil, and Robert Emhardt as Mr. Harper.

This was Robert Preston in his pre-Music Man days, so he was only a moderate star at this point, and I’m sure you’ll recognize character actor Robert Emhardt from the photo. Both Margaret Sullavan and Claude Dauphin had enjoyed some success in motion pictures, and they were probably the marquee names in the production.

I would love to be able to see that production, but that was long before Broadway began recording its productions for posterity and placing them in the library at Lincoln Center, which didn’t exist yet.

Robert Emhardt, Robert Preston, and Margaret Sullavan as Mr. Harper, Gil, and Jessica in a scene from the original production of Janus

Janus—Rehearsals Begin

According to the rehearsal schedule, we had just over a month to bring Janus to the stage. Happily two of the three leading parts had been cast with truly outstanding amateur actors, and in another life either or both of them might very well have made choices that would have struck the “amateur” from that description.

The rehearsal schedule for Janus

There was Molly Costello, a bright, late-twenty-something woman from Lancaster playing Jess, one half of the Janus writing team. She had had some experience acting, and she was a delight to be around, both on and off stage. She took direction well, and never had to be told twice what to do in a scene. Sometimes not even once.

And there was John Roberts, a burly, late-thirty-something veteran of the LCTI stage playing Gil, Jess’s husband. He had a commanding stage presence, was a natural comedian with a great sense of timing, and even when he flubbed a line, his ad lib kept the action moving without a break. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a lot of fun to be around.

And then there was me.

I had very limited experience on the stage, I was nearly 20 years too young for the role whereas the other two actors were nearly age appropriate, and then there was the problem of my voice. Now for some time I had been told that my voice was one of my great assets even though I could never hear it myself, but I had come to accept it. There was a problem though: my Pennsylvania Dutch accent. Specifically how I pronounced, well, “how”, for example.

“How now brown cow”, that classic elocution teaching phrase, in my rendering would sound more like “Haw naw brawn caw.” That just would not do for the role of Denny, a public school teacher from Andover, Massachusetts.

A scene from Janus where Jess and Denny start working on a new book. Notice that I’ve highlighted all the “ow” sounds so I could work on pronouncing them correctly. Also note all the detailed stage directions that I’ve penciled in. Click on the image to enlarge

Mrs. Papson, our high school Public Speaking and English teacher, had tried in vain to vanquish those “aw” vowels from my speaking voice. Now the need was more urgent.

Plus, Denny was a teacher of French, and it was implied that he had a slight French accent (the play was intended in part as a variation on a French bedroom farce). The Director, or John as I now felt more comfortable with him, suggested that I only needed to imply a French accent by pronouncing some vowels in the French manner. But I think I would have needed a vocal coach to work with me on that, and neither John nor I really had the time for it with so many other things to work on in that month. It’s my greatest regret about performing in that play. In the end we had to adjust some of the dialog where Denny is referred to as a “Frenchman”. It certainly removed one subtlety from the play, although I don’t think it did it any great harm.

But sometime in that first week of rehearsals, when he saw me interact with Jess and Gil—oh, I should note that during the rehearsal process we were almost always called by our play names. John always called me Denny, for instance. I’m going to do that as well, as I think it will avoid confusion between John Roberts who played Gil and John Osborne who directed.

Betty Schultz

Anyway, once John saw how I interacted with Jess and Gil, he became very concerned about my youth, so he arranged for me to go see Betty Schultz, so she could, as I told my friends at the time, “teach me to act like a man.”

So one evening I went over to Betty Schultz’s house, which as I recall was right on Cumberland Street, and we spent an hour or so talking about the play, my character, and various other theatre-related topics.

She revealed that she thought that the funniest line in the play would probably not get a laugh because most audience members would probably not know the meaning of the word “concubine”. And she described how she would direct the opening pages of the play as a very cozy, intimate scene between Jess and Denny to emphasize the closeness of their relationship. (This was not how John was directing it, by the way; he was trying to emphasize the comedy and seemed to be downplaying the romance.)

Cast bios from the program for Janus

Since Denny was a pipe smoker, as was Betts’s husband, she found an unused pipe on his pipe rack and gave it to me to use as a prop. Finally, she decided that I had a pretty good grasp on my character and sent me on my way. There was no discussion of acting more like a man.

As I think back to that period, the month that we were rehearsing Janus may very well have been one of the busiest times in my life. I was still attending high school with graduation coming up near the beginning of June, at an LCTI meeting I performed in a repeat of a show that we had previously put on as an exchange assembly for Annville-Cleona High School, and right after graduation I started a job at the VA Hospital in Lebanon, PA.

Meanwhile, not only were we rehearsing a play, but there was some backstage drama going on as well. Isn’t there always?

The One Where I Auditioned

Janus, A Romantic Comedy in Three Acts by Carolyn Green

In these posts about incidents and people from my past, I try to write about things that might be of interest to folks today. So humorous incidents, interesting people I’ve known, surprise endings, the sort of thing I can shape into some semblance of a coherent story or anecdote, all these are fair game. Which is why I’m going to skip over the April, 1967, LCTI production of She Loves Me, even though I loved being involved (even if only via the spotlight) with that gem of a musical.

Except to say that while the entire cast did an outstanding job on that show, F. John Osborne was absolutely brilliant in the small part of the head waiter. He was originally from Great Britain, had lived for awhile in Canada, and had a perfectly charming British accent which automatically lent him an air of sophistication. I wonder why that is?

So I was excited to learn that that very same F. John Osborne was going to be directing the June production of the comedy Janus. Well, excited and scared, because I had decided to audition for a part in the play.

Which was sort of ironic because a few months earlier, not realizing that Janus was already scheduled as the June production, I had recommended against performing it. It was one of two plays that I read as a member of the Play Reading Committee, and because the plot revolved around adultery and because the resolution of the plot seems to celebrate adultery, as the cuckolded husband realizes that his wife needs both him and her lover, so in order to save his marriage he agrees to let her continue with the affair, I thought it might just be a tad too modern for Lebanon, PA. Apparently I underestimated the sophistication of the Lebanon play-going audiences; they weren’t all Edgar Messerschmidts (a frequent and quite conservative contributor to the local paper’s letters section). (For the record, the other play that I read was The Odd Couple, and I rejected that as not being very funny. After that they didn’t give me any more plays to read. I don’t know why.)

I think the auditions were held at the conclusion of one of the regular LCTI member meetings because I remember Maryann Shelhamer being there, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t there to audition for a part. Arlene Herr was there as well, and she was there to audition.

Now I’m not a particularly competitive person, and after watching a few people audition, including Arlene, I got cold feet. I’ve never had a problem with getting up in front of a large group of people and making a speech or performing; that doesn’t bother me at all. In high school I regularly gave speeches, appeared in plays and assemblies, and was part of a group that produced a morning program over the PA system. But auditioning is a different thing. I did have a bad case of nerves when I tried out for the Junior and Senior plays, and I only ended up getting relatively small parts.

I don’t think I would have even considered trying out for a community theatre play except that the previous year, Mike Huber, who was then a senior in our school, had successfully gotten a part in an LCTI show. But, I now reflected, he had played a part that was approximately his own age in the musical The Fantasticks, whereas I was going to be auditioning for the part of a 35 year old man. I was an 18 year old high school senior, short and thin, and if you’ll recall, Betty Schultz didn’t think I looked old enough to pass as a college student. What chance did I have trying to pass myself off as a 35-year-old in a play that would presumably have the other roles cast with more age appropriate actors?

But when I mentioned my decision to Arlene, she wouldn’t have it.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” she cried. “I tried out, and you’re damn well gonna get your skinny ass up there too. Now move!”

And then Maryann chimed in. “You came here to audition, and you’re not leaving until you do!”

And with that, these two determined women, one pushing from behind, the other pulling me by the nose, dragged me kicking and screaming into the tryout area.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

So I read for the part of Denny who, as the script first describes him, “is on the small side of medium height, about thirty-five years old, is wearing glasses and has a scholarly look.”

After I read, The Director (as I now thought of F. John Osborne) came up to me and said that I did well and should consider sticking to the theatre, but he admitted that he didn’t think I looked old enough for the part. I appreciated his forthrightness and figured that was his way of letting me down gently.

But he was as good as his word, because for the rest of the auditions, whenever a woman was reading for the part of Jessica (the character that Denny was having the affair with), he had me read with her. I guess he really did think I had read well.

It also produced an awkward moment, when Rose Marie Barry, who in addition to being a prominent member of LCTI was also a substitute teacher at Elco High School, got up to try out for the part of Jessica, and I had to read with her. I knew her well, but mainly as a faculty member, in other words I knew her as Mrs. Barry. “Wouldn’t this be a switch?” she laughed as she moved into place. I really couldn’t imagine playing the part opposite her.

If I’m not mistaken, that audition night took place on a Tuesday evening early in May. I believe the procedure The Director had to go through to cast the play involved getting the approval of the LCTI board, so the decision wouldn’t be revealed for about a week.

I think it was the following Monday, but I’m hazy on the day, but I do know that when I arrived at school, Arlene sought me out with the news.

“You got the part!” she said.

“Huh? What? How do you— Really? I mean, who told you? That is—” I was a bit incoherent.

It turned out that Rose Marie Barry had found out the evening before. I think she may even have been on the board, I’m not sure. In any case, she had informed Arlene as soon as she saw her that morning. Arlene, alas, had not been so fortunate.

Arlene and I went to see Mrs. Barry and she confirmed the good news. She also explained that casting decisions aren’t necessarily about choosing the best possible person for each part, but finding a balanced cast where there are physical contrasts between the actors, etc. For example, in a play with two female roles, you probably wouldn’t cast two blonde women of the same height (unless the plot called for it).

That evening when The Director himself called to give me the news over the telephone, he was a bit surprised that I didn’t sound more enthusiastic, but I had been living with the news for about eight hours already, although I didn’t tell him that.

My initial reaction was something like Joey’s:

Joey reacts to getting a part

Update 3-23-2019: I just discovered a clip from the Lebanon Daily News of April 14, 1967, which states that open casting will take place on the following Monday the 17th. So that’s when auditions occurred.