Tag Archives: Lucas Hnath

North Lime and the Christians

I have just finished a totally lovely experience performing Lucas Hnath’s The Christians for AthensWest Theatre. The script was fine, the direction astute and focused, the cast alert and wicked smart, and the choir on fire.

I could (and may…just a warning) write a daily 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.

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 strived to stay immersed in the religious crucible of The Christians, but I kept being pulled into another Lexington.

  • I recalled 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 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 60’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?
  • Dennis was reportedly diagnosed with a terminal illness in the late 40’s. He was still going strong in the 60’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 spell of Hercules Poirot.
  • One blessed afternoon, I picked up 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.
  • I recalled how many late night “Nighthawk Specials” were devoured at Columbia’s Steakhouse waiting for the delivery of the Lexington Herald to the newsstand just outside the restaurant with the opening night reviews of whatever local stage production we were involved with?
  • 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.
  • 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 was good enough to remember – who could ask for anything more?

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.

A Runner Stumbles to 1977

I had a time-warp moment last Sunday.

After our matinée performance of Lucas Hnath’s The Christians at AthensWest Theatre, there was a talk-back session with members of the audience. Talk-back sessions are not a thrill for me. They’re usually sparsely attended and fairly short, with a few timid questions and typically one unpredictable pompous answer that serves to evaporate any remaining questions, comments, or conversation.

But this show is atypical.

The innate civility of the script seems to invite participation. Several dozen audience members have been lingering each night. People are moved and want to share…emphasis on “share”. They have been challenged to listen and think and explore without judgement or solution. They have not been challenged to either change or be considered deficient. There are no instant triggers to defend feelings or questions or beliefs. Curiosity and civility seem to be in ascendance. Pomposity has left the building.

After Sunday’s talk-back concluded, a lady approached me and said; “You probably don’t remember me…”

She was wrong.

Seeing her took me back 31 years.

I play a pastor in The Christians. The last time I played a religious leader was in 1977 at Studio Players. I played an erring priest in The Runner Stumbles. My Sunday questioner was my director. How cool is that?

Runner Stumbles 06
The Runner Stumbles (1977)

However, rolling my mind back to 1977 and that show reminded me that I first met two great friends and actors in that production; Gene Arkle and Paul Thomas.

At the first company meeting of The Runner Stumbles, we were polled by our director to give our first impressions of the script. The gentleman to my right replied that the script reminded him of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. He went on to elaborate, but he had lost me at Mahler. To me at that time, “Mahler” was just a clever rhyme in the song “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s Company. I recall my impatience by the irrelevance of his remarks and being more than a little intimidated. The gentleman was Gene Arkle. My impatience was quickly unveiled as the young know-it-all’s folly it was. Gene and I went on to do a bunch of plays together (some of them were pretty good), and because of Gene, I delved into the symphonies of Mr. Mahler (ALL of them were pretty good – go figure).

During the first blocking rehearsal of Runner, I was sitting in a scene awaiting my church superior, played by an actor I had never met; Paul Thomas. He entered and intoned; “Father Rivard, it has come to our attention…” That’s as far as he got. My guffaw brought him to a halt.

I said he “intoned.”

Actually it was more of a cross between Gabby Hayes and a soupçon of Ethel Merman, with maybe a smidgen of dentist’s drill thrown in.

I truly thought it was a rehearsal gag. I was ashamed when I was discovered my error and have spent the ensuing 31 years trying to make it up to my gifted friend. Paul and I have performed together about two dozen times and I was his best man when he and Lisa wed.

All of this flooded my mind when my Sunday lady prompted; “You probably don’t remember me…”

How wrong can a person be?

Moments of origin can’t be forgotten…certainly not by actors. We remember the people, the time, the place, the temperature, the wind direction, the smell, the sound. We dredge those moments from the past and use them to create today and hope always to launch new moments of origin…that won’t be forgotten.

It’s a powerful reason to get up in the morning…

Broken Things

I’m old enough now to have been several things. Over the last six decades, I’ve been a library clerk, a husband, a retail store manager, a stepfather, a student, an advertising manager, a wine consultant, a friend, a singer in musical theatre, a husband again, a Frisbee artiste, a party planner, a government relations director, a voracious reader, the president of a chain of liquor stores, a book collector, a singer in a rock-n-roll band (the whitest soul-singer you’ve ever seen), and……an actor/storyteller.

I’ve been pretty good at some of these things. Others? Well…I still throw a decent Frisbee.

During the “ugly hour” (thank you, David Bromberg for that troubling concept) of looking in the morning mirror, the person I most often see is that last listed; actor/storyteller. It feels like I have consumed a huge chunk of my life by instantly pondering in every situation; “How am I gonna tell other people about this?”

Storytelling and acting…it’s my comfortable place.

So…

It is my comfortable pleasure to mention that I am rehearsing a play.

christians

Athens West Theatre’s production of The Christians by Lucas Hnath will open on Friday the Thirteenth (QUEL HORREURS!) in April at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. I invite you to come.

I am currently spending my evenings rehearsing a gripping and relevant script with a literate and incisive director and a cast whose passion humbles me.

It’s a real good time.

What enhances the rehearsal process are the spaces in which we are rehearsing.

We rehearse in various rooms at a private school in Lexington. One night we may be in the school’s cafeteria, the next in the school’s music room, the next in the school’s theatre office. The spaces are warm and clean and neat. Everything works. Everything points to civility and creativity. Their hygienic competency inspires us to leave the spaces as pristine as we find them. That’s their message to us; “Work. Create. Dream. Respect those that follow.”

I have worked in rehearsal spaces (and theatres themselves) where we tried to create an Antarctic setting in the basement of a downtown building that was thermostat-challenged in January (I assure you imagining the cold was no problem at all), where we rehearsed Sam Shepard and Sherlock Holmes in a building that shook with every passing car and the dust hovered in the air looking for a parking spot in our lungs, where water fountains spewed burnt-siena-tinged fluids, where traffic saluted our presence with their horns, where rain and heat and barking dogs (sometimes simultaneously) ruled.

I’m here to tell you our storytelling efforts were not improved in these environments.

It reminds me of a Christmas I witnessed where a six-year-old boy received a bonanza of presents. Every complicated gizmo advertised on TV that holiday season was unwrapped Christmas morning. He was thrilled and overwhelmed…for a day. By the next day, every toy and gizmo’s charms had faded. The six-year-old with six-year-old motor skills had compromised every item in some way. He sat in his play space pitifully surrounded by things that did not work. They were all broken…in some way……by him.

Surrounded by broken things.

What good can possibly come from that?

I’m thrilled and made envious by the bubble created by the private school. I wanted to play with all the guitars and drums. I wanted to share their meals and thrill to their daily discoveries. The message to these students is clear; “We don’t expect you to merely survive. We expect you to thrive. We expect you to make things better.”

But outside the bubble…?

What about the broken things elsewhere?

Bridges, water slides, county water systems, sinking cities, neighbors sinking into substance abuse…

We are surrounded by broken things.

We are not improved by the messages those broken things impart.

We must fix the broken things for everyone.

It’s not dramatic…or sexy…or rapid. I’m old and may not see the harvest of such a sowing, but I know it’s the better path and I’ll sleep better and tell a better story if we’re heading in a better direction.

Work.

Create.

Dream.

Respect those that follow.

These are not hard questions.