I had been a member of Actor’s Equity for over a decade before making my Broadway debut. The opportunity finally arose in 1995 with a revival of Philip Barry’s Holiday, directed by David Warren at the Circle in the Square. Laura Linney played Linda Seton opposite my Johnny Case. Also in the cast were Reg Rogers as Ned Seton and Kim Raver as Julia Seton. From the first day of rehearsal, I was in a state of euphoria. I had done a number of plays Off-Broadway, as well as in regional theater. But Broadway really did feel different.
Unlike most kids who grow up in Los Angeles, my parents took me to the theater a lot and I can recite every show I ever saw — don’t worry, I won’t. My first was Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel. I was 4 years old and spent most of the play under my seat convinced that the ghost of Golde’s grandmother Tzeitel would reappear to pluck me out of the audience. Despite my terror, I was hooked.
David Warren’s production of Holiday was excellent and, from what I was told, received rave notices. I learned early on in my career to avoid reading reviews like the plague — which is exactly how I view them. Reviews are totally debilitating to an actor. Read a bad one and you can quote it word for word until the day you die. Read a good one and your performance is forever cursed with a voice in your brain saying, “Oh, this is the bit they liked.” I find it much healthier to glean a general “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” from the degree of elation or awkwardness on everyone’s faces the day after Opening Night.
During the run of Holiday, I will admit to a bit of a hitch in my “critical discipline.” One night, a couple of old friends who were not in the business came to see the show. As we walked to grab a late bite at B. Smith, one of them said, “How do you handle bad reviews?” “I don’t read them.” “Yeah, but what about the really bad ones?” Gulp. She didn’t stop there. “Like the one in New York Magazine?” Apparently, the raves were not unanimous. Another life lesson: they never are. John Simon, the legendary chief critic for New York Magazine, was universally loathed in the theater community for his viciously clever eviscerations of actors, invidiously centering on references to their physical attributes — or lack thereof. My first stop after supper was the late night newsstand on 8th Avenue to rip through the current issue of New York. I had to laugh out loud when I saw that Laura Linney was a “goddess” (which she is) but that “Tony Goldwyn with his raw, somehow unfinished face, was sadly miscast in the role of Johnny Case.” I have no idea what a “raw, somehow unfinished face” actually is. But that’s what I looked like to Mr. Simon. Like I said, you remember ever word of the bad ones.
John Simon’s snark notwithstanding, the run of Holiday was pure joy. Laura, of course, was magic and so was Kim in her New York debut. Reg Rogers gave a hilarious and heartbreaking performance as their alcoholic brother, Ned.
One night about three months into the run, Reg and I were doing one of our favorite scenes. The entire second act of the play is set in the attic gymnasium of the Seton mansion. My character, Johnny, never leaves the stage while the others enter and exit in rapid-fire succession. We had played the scene a hundred times but, as can happen to the best of us, my mind inexplicably went blank. In theater parlance, I “went up.” Badly. Pace is everything in a Philip Barry play, so my brain freeze gave me the sensation of being shoved off a cliff. Fortunately, what seemed like five minutes probably lasted less than five seconds. Reg saw the panic in my face and looked at me like, “Don’t worry, I got you.” The calm confidence in his eyes somehow coaxed the words to start firing out of my mouth again, as Mr. Barry had written them.
Crisis averted. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the body has some unpredictable reactions to stress; one of them is commonly known as a “flop sweat.” Not a pleasant experience for an actor decked out in white tie and tails. About thirty seconds after getting the train back on the rails, a surge of heat flooded my face and my fancy suit was instantly drenched in sweat. As each new actor entered the stage, I watched their faces go from puzzled to concerned to horrified. When the lights came down at the end of the act, I descended through a trap door in the stage to the basement below, where the entire company was gathered, along with two paramedics ready to wheel me into an ambulance. Everyone thought I’d had a heart attack. The EMT’s made me lie down on a stretcher and it was no small task to convince them that the only thing I needed was a change of clothes.
And, as they say, the show went on.