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The Sound Inside- Mandy Greenfield

By: Mandy Greenfield

The first time I read Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside, I felt like I’d been given access to the inner thoughts and feelings of someone I’d never met but, somehow, knew and wanted to know for the rest of my life; the characters came off the page with such arresting specificity, nuance, complexity and humanity. Reading Adam’s dramatic incantation was deeply intimate—the day of that first read, alone, at home, only I got to delight in the humor, pain, brilliance and pathos of Bella Lee Baird’s relationship with her student, with her own writing, with her student’s writing, with reading, with her body, with the bracing snow that falls each winter on the New Haven Green. I loved this play instantly, and, like Bella herself says about reading a novel, “Loving a book is kind of like having an affair, after all.”

Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman

I marveled as Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman, under the exquisite direction of David Cromer and in the hands of a gifted team of designers, including the brilliant Heather Gilbert and astonishing Daniel Kluger, translated the intimacy and intensity of Adam’s words on the page into three dimensional, theatrical life on our Nikos Stage in the summer of 2018. It was with a mix of elation and jealousy that I listened to one hundred and seventy people exit the theatre after the curtain call of our world premiere production: I was elated that the audience responded so demonstrably, leaping to their feet for the curtain call. I was jealous that I had to let those one hundred and seventy people share in my affair with the play…

In the fall of 2019, nearly one thousand people listened and watched nightly as Mary-Louise and Will spun this most personal, detailed and surprising tale on a platform we, frankly, feared would be too large for so quiet a story:  the stage of Studio 54, part of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s campus of midtown theatres.  Joined by the devoted audiences of Lincoln Center Theatre, the organization which originally commissioned Adam to write the play, and led by the fearless and kind commercial producer Jeffrey Richards, audiences left mesmerized by Mary-Louise’s virtuosic, endlessly gripping and inventive performance; the actors, the design, the production, the words filled that glorious Broadway theatre seemingly effortlessly; David Cromer is, after all, as skilled a magician as directors come. I was, once again, thrilled and inexplicably crushed to share this play — one of the most intimate and beautiful works of theatre I’ve encountered.  For, the play belonged to the vast audience of Broadway now.  Since then, Audible, with whom Williamstown Theatre Festival collaborated on the entirety of our 2020 season, has released The Sound Inside on its platform.  What began as a secret love affair in my apartment, as I read Adam’s haunting, dramatic words, was now as out in the open – and in the ears of audiences world-wide — as a thing can be.

Mandy Greenfield

Writing this, I am put in touch with how far away all of these feelings are; I can recall them but, honestly, I no longer feel them:  the global health pandemic, the year-long shut down of theatres in this country, a renewed movement for social and racial justice, a political insurrection in Washington, focus on vaccine dissemination and endless planning for the reopening of theatres all collude to make The Sound Inside – its critical acclaim, its Broadway life, its Tony accolades — seem irrelevant, meaningless.  And then, I think again – and I listen to the sound inside – and I am reminded by this long-lost lover that a truly great play reminds us that we are alive,  that we’re complexly human, that to live an unexamined life is not to live at all.  The Sound Inside is testament to the ancient power of theatre to provoke, move and transform us.  Just Listen, you’ll remember, too.

Mandy Greenfield is the Artistic Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival, the recipient of the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and was named a 2017 Honoree at The Lilly Awards.

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The Sound Inside: Daniel Kluger

By: Harry Haun

“What I think is so mysterious about this play is that it has the feeling of memory,” proffers Kluger. “The feeling it always gave me was that I don’t know when the text that I’m reading has been written and by whom. It creates a kind of inversion of the vanishing point of memory.” 

Given the abrupt brevity of the 2019-2020 Broadway season and the fact that not one new musical note made it to that marketplace before the pandemic rang the curtain resolutely down on all things theatrical, it’s rather surprising to find a Tony nominee contending for three awards.

No one is more surprised (and a bit embarrassed) by that fact than the guilty party himself: 36-year-old Daniel Kluger. In case it matters, he brought off this near-impossible feat as a hyphenate “These days, most human beings are,” asides the guy who designed the sound and wrote the original music for Adam Rapp’s riveting drama, “The Sound Inside.” He was nominated for both. 

With no Broadway musicals around this semi-season that are brand-new and nominatable, their usually neglected stepchild–incidental scores for plays–stepped up to the plate for consideration. 

Though pleased with the recognition his music has garnered, Kluger counts it a mixed-blessing. “Obviously, it’s sad that we didn’t get to experience all the musicals in the storefront last year,” he readily allows. “Most of the work that I do is on scores for straight plays. It’s actually a very different craft and art form, so I’m glad that some of that will be able to be discussed this year.”

His third Tony bid is for designing the sound for “Sea Wall/A Life,” a double bill of two one-man plays.  Reflecting his skill at this, all three stars–Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Sea Wall/A Life” and Mary-Louise Parker in “The Sound Inside”–came across loud, clear and nominated.

Kluger had his work cut out for him the minute “The Sound Inside” hit town from the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where it lifted off June 27, 2018. It settled in New York Oct. 16, 2019, in that vast barn of a theatre, Studio 54, where two characters command the audience’s attention for 90 minutes. As the show’s composer-sound designer, Kluger’s job was to create and maintain an intensely intimate ambience amid a nonstop torrent of words and literary illusions.

“We worked to amplify the voices in a natural aesthetic so it was really important that we stayed connected to the actor at all times. You need to believe that the resonance of the voice and the clarity of the words are coming directly from the human body. I believe we were able to distribute the amplification evenly around the room and calibrate it so you feel like it’s natural but you’re able to hear all the words. It’s a technique refined by Scott Lehrer. He essentially developed this method of natural amplification a whole generation of sound designers has benefitted from.”

Words are a kind of life force for Parker’s character, Bella Baird–an isolated, tenured, 53-year-old prof who teaches creative writing at Yale, trying to open young minds while coping with a cancer diagnosis. Except for when she addresses the audience, she records her activities in a notebook, as if she’s updating the story of her life. Into that life enters a troubled freshman (Will Hockman) with his own piece of fiction for her to critique and mentor. Their lives tangle tragically. Or not: Author Rapp leaves on the table the possibility we’re at the mercy of Bella’s fevered imagination.

“What I think is so mysterious about this play is that it has the feeling of memory,” proffers Kluger. “The feeling it always gave me was that I don’t know when the text that I’m reading has been written and by whom. It creates a kind of inversion of the vanishing point of memory.” 

Regardless of whether he’s providing the sound or the music for a piece of theatre, Kluger admits that his most important relationship on any show is always with the director. With “The Sound Inside,” his guide is a favorite collaborator, David Cromer. “He really is best. You can follow him wherever he will lead you. He is, fundamentally, an inspiring director who doesn’t tell you what to make. He leads you toward the deepest human level of feeling in the story that you are telling,”

They first teamed in 2012 on “Tribes,” Nina Raine’s play, which had a deaf character and another who was going deaf. There were beaucoup options for sound design. “It doesn’t always happen, but you’re lucky when you form a collaboration of trust the first time out. That was a formative experience for me because it taught me how to take certain risks in exploring as a designer.”

Discovering the sound inside for this project was not easy for Kluger. “The piece that we wound up using—let’s just say that it wasn’t the first thing that I wrote. The best collaborations with directors—and David is an excellent example of this—is when everything comes out of a need in the story, when the aesthetic impulses are coming from the writer or the character– depending on the values of the production. A good director will make those needs clear.

“Sometimes, the most successful things we make feel like surprises, like accidents. David always leaves space for experimentation. I think we tried 12 different placements of where the music should go. It’s not always premeditated if you’re trying to capture the feeling of the unconscious. In music, you must allow accidents to happen so you can find how the music relates to the text.”

Daniel Kluger received three Tony nominations this year in two different categories: two for Best Sound Design for The Sound Inside and Sea Wall/A Life, and one for Best Original Score (music) Written for the Theatre for The Sound Inside.  Other Broadway credits include Marvin’s Room, Significant Other and the 2019 revival of Oklahoma! for which he earned a Tony nomination, 2020 Grammy nomination, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award.

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The Sound Inside: Mary-Louise Parker

By: Harry Haun

“Every single thing I didn’t think I was going to do again is in this play, but it was so beautifully written I said, ‘Well, I’ll do a reading of it,’” she sheepishly admits.

Coming off of three straight productions of “Heisenberg” can give a girl pause. It gave Mary-Louise Parker a firm, inflexible set of theatrical dos-and-don’ts that would steer her to her next stage outing. In Simon Stephens’ oddly romantic drama, she had just spent most of the play’s 80 minutes pursuing a man twice her age; indeed, she was—verbally– all over him like an ant farm.

Mary-Louise Parker in Heisenberg

Never again, she vowed. “I told myself I’m not going to do another two-hander, and I certainly was not going to play a character who talks that much. The one in ‘Heisenberg’ just talks and talks and talks. I thought that I wanted to try something a bit more elliptical with my next play.” 

To these two hard-and-fast rules, she added a third, which she had picked up 24 years ago doing Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “How I Learned to Drive”: “I also said, ‘I’m not going to do direct address again.’ When I did Paula’s play, I just felt that it wasn’t something I excelled at.”

Then she read “The Sound Inside” and was besieged by a wave of second thoughts. Adam Rapp’s gripping stunner of a play checks all the boxes on Parker’s never-again list, but here she is nonetheless, Tony-contending with one of the season’s most haunting and anguished portrayals.

“Every single thing I didn’t think I was going to do again is in this play, but it was so beautifully written I said, ‘Well, I’ll do a reading of it,’” she sheepishly admits. “Of course, in my head, I was immediately casting other actresses, thinking ‘Oh, this person would be good at this,’ or ‘Cynthia would be great at that,’ remembering friends who would be so good at it and do such a good job.” 

Mandy Greenfield, Artistic Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival where the play premiered in June of 2018, blew the whistle on Parker’s mental re-casting. “She was, like, ‘No, I want to hear you read it.’ Sometimes, other people have more faith in you than you do. It was similar, actually, when I first read ‘How I Learned to Drive.’ I didn’t know if I was right for it so I asked to read some of it aloud. I knew as soon as I started speaking I wanted to do it. It just started to wash over me.”

Critics were extremely careful to keep the play’s secrets. Parker is Bella Baird, a creative-writing professor molding young Yalie minds. One pupil of promise, a freshman named Christopher Dunn, she takes under her wing to mentor and into her confidence to resolve her growing cancer fears. 

Will Hochman & Mary-Louise Parker

Will Hochman, who shared the sprawling Studio 54 stage with Parker for some of the play’s 90 minutes, makes an impressive Broadway debut in the part, and his leading lady gives him a ringing endorsement: “He was just wonderful to work with, and we’re friends to this day. He walked into the audition, and there was something about him. He had this really impressive humility, first of all, and was super-intelligent. He went out and got the closest typewriter he could to the typewriter in the play. He’d send me typewritten notes, and we shared poems back and forth.”

But Parker shoulders the bulk of the play’s verbiage. “I really love that Bella is an intellectual and an academic, that she loves words and has a passion for them. I have that. I didn’t know how strongly that would connect me to her when I first read the play aloud. I love how stubborn she is. I think that comes out of what is crushed in her when you meet her in the play—or maybe before that, because when she finds Christopher she is so struck down. She is not letting anyone in. She is not taking any risks. She has sort of sequestered herself and just made her life incredibly safe.

“When we did it at Williamstown, we sat around the table a lot and cut the play. Adam writes so freely. He’s kinda inspiring to watch—one of the most generous collaborators, if not THE most generous, that I’ve ever worked with. He’s not precious with his words, and he just listens to everyone’s ideas. And he’ll say, ‘Well, what about this?’  He’s so fluent. Terrence McNally was like that. It could just flow right out of him around the table. That was kinda thrilling to be around.”

Parker heaps plenty of praise on her director. Simply put, “I cannot envision creating this without David Cromer. He allowed for so much silence on the stage, and he gave me so much freedom in the rehearsal room. I think that if he doesn’t have affection for the characters in a play, I don’t think he would end up directing it. You can feel his affection for the characters as he’s directing.”

Prior to all the quarantine cancellations, Parker had planned a double-blast of theatre for 2019-2020, following her Tony-nominated “The Sound Inside” with a revival of her Obie-winning “How I Learned to Drive,” Vogel’s drama about an incestuous relationship. “We were just about to open,” the actress laments.  “When everything shut down, we were ready to go into the theatre.”

All is not lost, however. Lynne Meadow, for whom Parker gave a Tony-winning performance in “Proof,” has arranged to slip this pandemic-play casualty into Manhattan Theatre Club’s last slot at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater next season. It will mark the play’s belated Broadway bow.

In the meantime: “I’m hoping to do ‘The Sound Inside’ again, somewhere. Honestly. I’d do it anywhere. I love it. It’s so challenging, so arduous. In some ways, it’s the most daunting play I’ve ever done—to the point of where I think, ‘If I could just get through it, I’ll be happy.’ I just didn’t have any expectation I’d be any good. I just wanted to deliver the play because it was enormous.”

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The Cool World

It’s all but forgotten now, but The Cool World still points like an arrow at how the country was changing at the beginning of the 1960s.

 By: Mark Blankenship

It’s all but forgotten now, but The Cool World still points like an arrow at how the country was changing at the beginning of the 1960s. 

As Warren Miller was writing his 1959 novel about youth gangs in Harlem, JFK was promising voters he would deliver social change, the Civil Rights Movement was building toward its zenith, and the Vietnam War was beginning its years-long escalation. When he adapted the tale for Broadway in 1960, the American theatre was absorbing the impact of socially and politically conscious plays like Gore Vidal’s The Best Man and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Even a crowd-pleasing musical like Bye Bye Birdie was making audiences contend with the hero’s racist mother. 

Or to put it another way, The Cool World arrived when millions of people were actively trying to understand the cracks in the social contract. Perfectly attuned to its moment, it told a story that was lifted from the the very streets the country was learning to see. 

Miller wrote his novel while he lived in Harlem himself, watching young Black men participate in gang activity. His story follows Duke, a teenager determined to rise through the ranks of his crew, and it is brutally unsentimental about how violence, racism, and classism warp the boy’s life. When the book was published, Miller’s unvarnished style earned immediate praise from artists like James Baldwin, who called it “one of the finest novels about Harlem that had ever come my way.” 

Robert Rossen, Academy Award winning Director

Robert Rossen was another fan. Well-known at the time for writing and directing the Oscar-winning film All the King’s Men, he worked with Miller to co-write the stage adaptation of The Cool World and then directed its Broadway premiere. 

Granted, the production only ran for two performances, but it nevertheless gave major roles to future stalwarts like Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Brown, and a 22 year-old Billy Dee Williams, who played Duke. 

Production Still from “The Cool World” film

And they were hardly the last major artists to be involved with this story. In 1963, legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman produced a film version, which was directed by Shirley Clarke, who had been Oscar nominated for a documentary of her own.  

That sensibility made her film stand out: Though she worked from a script that she adapted from the novel and the play, Clarke let the movie feel like nonfiction. She cast several non-actors who lived in Harlem, and she included long, improvisatory scenes that aimed to capture the actual rhythm of the neighborhood. 

Just like the play, the movie’s cast featured future stars, including Clarence Williams III and Gloria Foster. No less than Dizzy Gillespie wrote the music, and his soundtrack album is still regarded as a classic among jazz fans. 

It should be noted, of course, that The Cool World is a story about Black boys that was not created by Black people. Miller, Rossen, and Clarke were all White, and a modern audience might be understandably skeptical of their take on Harlem. Still, the novel, the play, and the film remain excellent reminders of how American culture shifted in the early 1960s and how the arts documented the change as it happened.

Mark Blankenship is the editor of The Flashpaper and the co-author of the recently published book Madonna: A to Z.

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Stories From the Stage Holly Wasson

COPY PASTE THE ARTICLE HERE. meow meow meow. I am not a cat, I am holly. I’m stuck with this cat filter on my face. My assistant is coming to help me but I am not a cat

I repeat I am not a cat. I am holly

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STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Penny Fuller

I was in Los Angeles at ORAY’S BEAUTY SALON off Santa Monica Boulevard across from the Santa Palm Carwash. My head was in the sink. (I was having my hair returned to “normal” after shooting a TV pilot, written for me, never seen EVEN on the “dead pilot season”). The phone was handed to me, it was my manager saying, “I was to fly to Baltimore to take over the juicy role of “Eve Harrington” in the out-of-town tryout of the musical “APPLAUSE”, based on the award winning film: “ALL ABOUT EVE” starring Lauren Bacall.”

“When?” I asked. ”Tonight!” he said.

And the saga began.

When I was taken, knees, shaking, to meet Miss Bacall, I kept thinking: “Please let her understand that if I am good it will only help her!”

I was approved; rehearsed 3 days (my career always seems to be coming in at the last minute…but that’s another story!), opened, flew next to Detroit, then we opened in New York to wonderful reviews, and settled in to the miracle of a hit long run!

By this time, Bacall and I (or “Betty” as she was know to pals) had become real chums! She and I and Lee Roy Reams (who played her hairdresser in the show) became  a threesome, hanging out and having a ball for a year. Then Betty left the show and was replaced by Anne Baxter (the original “Eve” in the movie. Wonderful stories, too, but for another time).

Next APPLAUSE was do the national tour with Bacall and the available original cast. I declined, saying I had been “Eve, Eve, little Miss Evil” long enough! I felt I just couldn’t do it any more.

The reviews across the country were not like those in New York!Perhaps the heartland was less interested in a story of the “theatah”!!!! Betty missed me (and Lee Roy, who hadn’t toured either), but she carried on. The creative team was worried. In San Francisco it was decided to bring me into the show in preparation for Los Angeles, the city that WOULD greet, with critical eye, the musical of the iconic film, and Lauren Bacall’s “Welcome Home”. I arrive; I have a three hour “put in rehearsal”, I went on!

APPLAUSE begins “at the TONY AWARDS!” Margo Channing, (Betty, ) announces the winner of  “BEST ACTRESS: Eve Harrington!!!!” Thunderous applause boosted by more over the sound system: “Eve” (me!!!), SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE, comes onstage, breathlessly receives her award from Margo saying:”Needless to say this is the best night of my life!”

I extend my hand to Margo. Instead of glaring at me with a look of wry recognition, abetted by the sound system recording her TRUE thoughts..I see Betty, my dear pal, wreathed in dazzling smiles: I am back!!!!!!!


Remembering Lauren Bacall

I have been reading thru the obits for Lauren Bacall. I think I had forgotten that my friend, Betty, WAS Lauren Bacall! I was brought into “APPLAUSE”, her first musical, during its out-of-town tryouts, giving me a chance to see the show and HER: the STAR, charisma, magic, wit, timing, beauty, and power. But from the moment I walked on stage to rehearse my first scene in “Margo Channing’s” dressing room, she let me know we were colleagues; offstage she welcomed me as a friend…always. What fun we had in both worlds. That’s why I forgot she was “Bogey’s Baby”. When she was on her book tour I brought my 6 month old baby daughter to “meet” her: within seconds Betty was crawling on the floor with her, playing; some years later we three met by chance in Paris. Betty saw and recognized me, yelled across the boulevard, and took us to Cafe de Flore, talking to my daughter, aged 7 or 8. as if she were one of the girls”!! And she was THERE 

I have been reading thru the obits for Lauren Bacall. I think I had forgotten that my friend, Betty, WAS Lauren Bacall! I was brought into “APPLAUSE”, her first musical, during its out-of-town tryouts, giving me a chance to see the show and HER: the STAR, charisma, magic, wit, timing, beauty, and power. But from the moment I walked on stage to rehearse my first scene in “Margo Channing’s” dressing room, she let me know we were colleagues; offstage she welcomed me as a friend…always. What fun we had in both worlds. That’s why I forgot she was “Bogey’s Baby”. When she was on her book tour I brought my 6 month old baby daughter to “meet” her: within seconds Betty was crawling on the floor with her, playing; some years later we three met by chance in Paris. Betty saw and recognized me, yelled across the boulevard, and took us to Cafe de Flore, talking to my daughter, aged 7 or 8. as if she were one of the girls”!! And she was THERE for me during deaths in my family like NO ONE ELSE. And yet my friend was that icon I have been reading about.

She never suffered fools gladly; she had a sharp wit. a sharper tongue, a fabulous laugh, and was a straight shooter! I hope the after life id ready for her. Oh, how I shall miss her.


Penny Fuller received two Tony Award nominations for her performances on Broadway in Applause as Eve Harringtonand The Dinner Party as Gabrielle Buonocelli. For her television performances, Fuller received six Emmy Award nominations, winning in 1982 for playing Madge Kendal in The Elephant Man. Most recently, she appeared in the 2017 revival of Sunday in the Park with George and as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia.

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STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Victor Garber

The Broadway production of Tartuffe, at Circle in the Square, in 1978 was something that set me on an unthinkable trajectory of success.

John Wood and Tammy Grimes were the stars, along with Patricia Elliot, Swoosie Kurtz, Stephan Gierasch, Peter Coffield, and Mildred Dunnock. The production was directed by Stephen Porter. John had had tremendous success in England at the Royal Shakespeare Company and turned New York on its heels with his performances in Sherlock Holmes and Travesties. I was an enormous fan.

He was an intimidating, brilliant man, with edges that could cut deep. The production of Tartuffe was successful, and although John and I had little to do together in the play, he was always kind to me backstage. We weren’t buddies.

One night he handed me a script backstage, after the bows, and asked me if I would read it. He’d been offered a new play and wanted to know what I thought. I was shocked, flattered, and when I rushed home and started reading it, I realized he must be considering me to play Clifford in Ira Levin’s thriller, Deathtrap. My head was spinning. Did I make this part up? But why else would he ask for my opinion? We’d never even had dinner together.

When I returned to the theatre and knocked on his dressing room door, he immediately asked me what I thought. I remember immediately insisting that he must play Sidney Bruhl. It was a fantastic role for him, never insinuating the possibility of my playing Clifford. He paused, something he did to great dramatic effect, and said, “Of course you must play Clifford”. I’m sure I blushed, something I did often, and he asked me if he could read with me for my audition. I blushed again, and said that would be great.

Soon afterwards, we read together for Robert Moore, the director, and Alfred de Liagre, the legendary Broadway producer. I’ll just say, that was a moment. Over the year, we worked together, John and I had many ups and downs. My unconditional love and support came from the incomparable Marian Seldes, who played Myra until the end of the 5 year run.

I will always be grateful to John for choosing me to play opposite him. That production definitely had an enormous impact on my career. I just wish we’d been able to find a way to be closer.


Victor Garber

Victor Garber was most recently seen as Horace Vandergelder in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! He originated roles in the Broadway productions of Sweeney Todd, Noises Off, Lend Me a Tenor (Tony Award nomination), Arcadia, and Art. Additional Broadway credits include Deathtrap (Tony nomination), They’re Playing Our Song, Little Me (Tony nomination), The Devil’s Disciple, Damn Yankees (Tony nomination) and Present Laughter

He’s been seen on film in Sicario, Self/less, Argo, Milk, Legally Blonde, Titanic, The First Wives Club and Sleepless in Seattle. Television credits include Alias (three Emmy Award nominations), Frasier (Emmy nomination), Will & Grace (Emmy nomination), Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (Emmy nomination), Power, The Orville, Deception, Eli Stone, Justice, Web Therapy, The Big C, Nurse Jackie, Damages, Glee, Annie, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and The Music Man.
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STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Austin Pendleton

When I first came to New York, with all those aspirations, I, through a fluke of a chance conversation between an actor I know and her agent, learned that Jerry Robbins, who was about to direct, off-Broadway, Arthur Kopit’s brilliant play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’sHung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling so Sad, was having a terrible time casting the part of the young son in the play.  I worked hard on the audition and waltzed in and knocked him out with the audition.  So he asked me to come to a callback audition a few days later.  At which I totally bombed.  I’d never heard of a callback.  It was a fiasco.  Jerry called me the next day and asked me to come see him.  He said. “what happened?!”  He wasn’t angry, he was just bewildered.  I told him that I had no idea, at that second audition, what I was doing.  So he kept calling me back and calling me back, looking for the fire to return.  Then finally, on, I think, the sixth audition, he had me read opposite the magnificent Barbara Harris.  And we soared.

So my career was launched.  Jerry was the launcher and Barbara was the rocket.

Luck. Pure, wild luck.  This business is beyond capricious.  


Austin Pendleton

Austin Pendleton is an actor and director who made his Broadway debut as the original Motel in Fiddler on the Roof. Other Broadway credits include Hail Scrawdyke!, The Little Foxes, An American Millionaire, Doubles, Grand Hotel, The Diary of Anne Frank and Choir Boy as an actor and Shelter, The Runner Stumbles, John Gabriel Borkman and Spoils of War as a director. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Little Foxes and most recently appeared on Broadway as Mr. Oldfield in The Minutes.
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STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Brian Cox

A Memory Lapse

In 1997 I did a one man play about a drunken Irish theatre critic at the Bush theater in London. St Nicholas! Written by Conor McPherson, which I subsequently performed the following year at Primary Stages in New York on 45th street, and for which I was honored with ‘The Lucille Lortel Award’!

But the previous year the play was premiered at the Bush Theatre in London. The Bush was a small intimate theatre with the audience on three sides. This particular night was a sellout performance. The audience were packed to the rafters.

Now St Nicholas is an extremely intricate complicated and fantastical text. With a sinewy comic thread! It demands an incredible level of Concentrated attention from the player. That evening started well.

But…About 6 minutes into the evening I noticed that sitting on front row…in…the middle…to my right was my ex girlfriend. Who I had recently broken up with. I was a little thrown by this …and wondered why on earth she had chosen that particular, really, quite prominent, seat. 

I recovered from this slight ‘hiccup’ and continued, feeling proud of myself that I was not thrown by this ‘obstacle’. So I proceeded with renewed confidence.

After a few minutes, I’d just gotten back in stride when I turned to address my audience stage left and there sitting…in the middle of the left front row was…my ex ex girlfriend. The girl friend previous…to the girl friend…now sitting stage right. In fact these two young ladies were actually sitting…facing…each other. I didn’t panic… but, my anxiety…was, shall we say…mounting.

What on earth was going on? And of course various scenarios began to play out in my mind!

Had they come together?

And as some bizarre joke decided to sit opposite each other? 

Or??….were they there by pure coincidence?

My brain became occupied with, what seemed endless permutations on these shifting scenarios. The text of the play, the main purpose of my attention, was drifting in my consciousness. And..ten minutes into the evening….the inevitable happened. I went up! Dried stone dead.

I struggled like a drowning man seeking a life raft. But after..a beat..which seemed a lifetime. I stopped turned to the audience, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen I’m afraid for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I need to start the evening over again! Apologies!” And so indeed I did…and it was truly scary!

“Will I get over the point where concentration abandoned me.”

And…”Will I indeed get through the entire evening….”

The moment where I had lost my way, was looming like one of those huge fences at the English Grand national horse race. Would I get over the fence? The moment arrived… and I lept the fence.. and..proceeded obsessively to the finish. After it was over, I left the stage exhausted!

I sat in my dressing room. There was a knock on my door. It was my ex-girlfriend. “Brian that was wonderful, what an incredible evening.” I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank!

I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank! Were you in?”

Ex-girl friend, “Yes, were you, wasn’t it wonderful 

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Amazing!”

I sat there in a state of stupefaction! Me “But weren’t you?… didn’t you? ..Um..ah…see..?”

Both, “What?

Me,  “Oh…Nothing…”

Ex girlfriend “ I was absolutely caught from the moment you came on!

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Oh, Me too! Me too”.

Both “But..why did you stop?”

Me, “Ah!…That!…Momentary lapse of concentration!”


Brian Cox

Brian Cox is an Olivier Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner known for playing Logan Roy on HBO‘s Succession. He has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gained recognition for his portrayal of King Lear. Additional credits include: Super Troopers, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, X2, Braveheart, Rushmore, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Troy.

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STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Deanna Dunagan

What’s A Big Break Anyway?

On the night of February 1, 1979, I stood in the vom of Circle-in-the-Square on Broadway, terrified. I kept repeating to myself, “You didn’t have to take this job. Why did you take this job?” The job I had taken was standby for the female lead in the entire four acts of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.

An hour earlier I had been having a glass of wine with my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting New York and had tickets to see Da. It is my habit to get to the theater early, but that night I arrived a wee bit late only to find that our leading lady was ill, and I was going on. The following half hour was a blur. As I was being helped into costume and makeup, one of the other cast members asked if there was anyone I would like to have notified. I later learned that within minutes of my response, ushers were hurrying up and down the aisles of the Morosco, whispering, “Mr. Dunagan? Mr. Dunagan?”

Luckily there had been an understudy rehearsal and I was well prepared, but I felt totally inadequate as I stood there waiting for my cue. In what seemed like a lifetime but was really only minutes, I remembered that my only obligation as standby was to say the lines in the correct order, with the correct cues, so that the other actors could do their usual stellar work. That realization (and maybe that glass of wine) helped me get through the performance, which astonishingly, may have been one of the best of my life. To top it off, my brother and his wife had made it to the theater seconds before the lobby doors were closed. After the show, we had a jubilant celebration at The Russian Tea Room.

The day after my Broadway debut, while walking around the Upper East Side, my brother spotted a small second floor cafe which offered tea leaf readings. He insisted I have a sitting to see what my future held and was dismayed when the “seer” said the leaves didn’t show anything special. No matter how he argued, recounting the story of the previous night, she stood by her reading.

It’s true, that after a brief flurry of activity during which a column was written about me in Backstage and I signed with ICM, nothing else ever came of my one night stand. But I think there may well be a time limit on one prognosticatory cup of tea. For soon I found myself in Chicago, a city I love, where I have spent a long and gratifying career as part of the vibrant theater community. It was because of that involvement that, almost 29 years later, in 2007, I made my second Broadway “debut” in Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. This time my brother was in his seat well before the curtain.

OFF SCRIPT

I was in my second season at the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota when one afternoon the phone rang. It was Mark Medoff, the playwright, which was odd because I had never met or spoken with Mark. He was calling me out of the blue to ask if I would like to come to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces (where he was head of the Department of Theater Arts) to teach Voice and Diction and work on my play, “The Legend of Pecos Bill.”

I am not a playwright, but when I was in grad school at the Dallas Theater Center, I couldn’t find a children’s play to direct for the new Magic Turtle Theater program, so I wrote one. Several years later Mark had been working on a new play at DTC and in the market for a children’s play. Someone had given him my script and he liked it well enough to follow up with that phone call.

I explained that I was extremely flattered, but that I wasn’t really a playwright, I was an actor. When we hung up I thought that was the end of it. But after the season, when I was living in New York, I heard from him again. He was opening a new play at Jewish Repertory Theater and wondered if I would like to be his guest at the opening. We met, hit it off, and kept in touch. A couple of years later, in 1980, his award winning Children of a Lesser God was casting for the First National Tour. I loved the play and wanted to audition, but ICM, my agency at the time, was unable to get me seen. My friend Mark Medoff thought I might be good in the role of the lawyer; he had no trouble getting me in.

That tour took me to Chicago where I fell in love with the city and its thriving theater scene. After my six month commitment to the production, I moved from New York to Chicago where I have had a rich and satisfying theatrical career. My involvement with Chicago theater led me to be cast in the Steppenwolf production of August: Osage County which moved to Broadway in 2007 and won five Tony Awards.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened in my life had I been able to find a children’s play to direct in grad school.


Deanna Dunagan

Deanna Dunagan is an actress best known for her Tony Award-winning portrayal of Violet Weston in Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County and for her portrayal of Nana in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 film The Visit. She has also appeared in the recurring role of Mother Bernadette on the Fox television series The Exorcist, and Dr. Willa Sipe in the 2018 film An Acceptable Loss by writer Joe Chappelle.