I had a totally lovely experience performing Lucas Hnath’s The Christians for AthensWest Theatre a couple of years ago. The script was fine, the direction astute and focused, the cast alert and wicked smart, and the choir – ah, the choir – was on fire.
I could (and still might – just a warning) write a day-by-day description of the happy discoveries of our rehearsal process, but for the general purposes of this blog, let me simply describe the windows of our rehearsal space.
Yes, the windows.
We rehearsed in the cafeteria of Sayre School, a room named “The Buttery”. Every evening we would rearrange the munchkin-scaled tables and chairs to create a space in which we could imagine ourselves in the epicenter of a mega-church. I say “we” but the overwhelming bulk of this furniture-moving was done by our stage manager and assistant stage manager (Paige Adams and Ben Otten) – champions……CHAMPIONS!
For me, the arresting parts of this rehearsal space were the huge windows overlooking the 200 block of North Limestone.
I strove to stay immersed in the religious crucible of The Christians, but I kept being pulled into another Lexington, of other times, by those windows.
- I had learned long ago that Limestone was originally named Mulberry Street. It was the major artery carrying travelers from Lexington to Maysville, a key transportation leg before the Falls of the Ohio were made manageable.
- It was also a major lane of vice during Prohibition. To paraphrase an account of the time; “Prohibition became so bad in Lexington that a thirsty man had to sometimes walk a block to get a drink on Mulberry Street.”
- In the 1960’s and 70’s, it was a mecca for used books and comics. Dennis’s Bookstore and Whittington’s Books were there……what’s so important ‘bout dat? Well…
- Dennis (MISTER Dennis to me on orders from my Mom) was reportedly diagnosed with a terminal illness in the late 1940’s. He was still going strong in the 1960’s. That’s the kind of terminal diagnosis I want.
- When Mr. Dennis learned from my mom that I loved mysteries (keep in mind, I was not yet a teenager), he gave her about twenty Agatha Christie paperbacks that weren’t selling well. I proceeded to fall under the happy and gracious spell of Hercules Poirot (David Suchet’s perfect depiction of Monsieur Poirot later renewed that spell).
- One blessed afternoon, I picked up (for ten cents each) a pile of Marvel comics at Dennis’s, including Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of Thor, the Mighty. You coulda just killed me then.
- The neon sign directly across the street from my current windows flashed me back. I recalled how many late night “Nighthawk Specials” were devoured by my bohemian hippie theatre friends at Columbia’s Steakhouse waiting for the delivery of the Lexington Herald to the newsstand just outside the restaurant with the opening night reviews (remember them?) of whatever local stage production we were currently reinventing for the world.
- I recalled countless lunch breaks from my high school job at the library (now the Carnegie Center) truckin’ down for a $1.89 lunch special at Brandy’s Kitchen, steppin’ over the sidewalk plaque for Smiley Pete, the town street pup.
- I recalled seeing a Lexington Repertory Theatre production of The Wager featuring an impossibly young Joe Gatton in a space that now is a fountain. Joe’s performance was good enough in the show to remember and receive his own sidewalk plaque – who could ask for anything more? Well, maybe a better fountain.
In my glass-enclosed time bubble at rehearsal, it was peacefully, blissfully, difficult to remain attentive to the job at hand.
Thank you, AthensWest, for that happy challenge.