“The wheel has come full circle.”
“King Lear” (Act V, Scene III)
This afternoon will be the first meeting of the cast, the theater’s artistic director, his technical and administrative support staff, our director and his team of designers. It will take place in the cavernous, no-frills rehearsal room that will be our home for the three weeks before “As You Like It” runs tech rehearsals, soft opens for preview performances and then launches into a four-week run at the Hedley Theatre across the street.
The most important outcome of this meeting is the bonding that needs to take place between the six professional actors who are making their North Coast Theater debut, including me, and the 10 tight-knit members of the company who can finish each other’s thoughts and iambic pentameter sentences. We newbies are strangers to the North Coast actors, though all the North Coast actors know of me. Their names have appeared in my reviews for years and, yes, I believe I have skewered most of them.
Negative reviews have long been an occupational hazard in the arts. One of the most notorious theater critics of all time was The New York Times’ Frank Rich, whose most lethal review was for the mystery farce “Moose Murders.” It began: “Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic.” The show opened and closed on Feb. 22, 1983.
The review that landed me the job at the Cleveland Jewish Chronicle after working at a rival paper may well have been my most negative. It was for a production of “Seussical: The Musical,” which the then-critic at the Chronicle adored but the paper’s publisher, who was also in the audience, absolutely hated. My headline, “Not a Fan I Am,” and what came next got the publisher’s attention:
“I am not a big fan of pentameter verse
Gilbert and Sullivan bothers me worse
But the one writing style for which I’ve no use
Is the preening rhymed scheming of one Dr. Seuss.”
This musical, which was poorly received and shortlived on Broadway, is populated by creatures called Whos as well as other peculiar citizens of Whoville, including a modest-tailed bird named Gertrude McFuzz who is envious of other birds’ plumage. Silvia Cooper, a very serious young actress who was new in town, played Gertrude. She did so with sobering dramatic realism, as if the role was written by a 19th century Russian playwright instead of a contemporary American writer of children’s books. I wrote:
“There’s an ensemble cast, which is not that unusual
There’s plenty of songs, par for plays that are musicals
But Silvia Cooper as a featured Who-not
Hit all the wrong notes and at all the wrong spots.
She plays Lady McFuzz as if penned by Chekhov
There’s a point when you yell that ‘enough is enough’
Oh, she isn’t the only one performing like this
But the scale of it makes her so hard to be missed.”
Silvia Cooper will be playing the female lead, Rosalind, and sharing the stage with me in “As You Like It.”
Next week: The Chronicle