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: