Incontrovertible truth of dining out: round tables are more conducive to group conversation than rectangular ones. Latest reminder of this truism: at the cast-and-crew party held the other night at P.J. Clarke’s after the first preview of My Fair Lady, every one at my round table took part in the theme-driven conversations. And, despite the spirited din of the basement-hall canteen, and the exhaustion of a first performance following long days of tech rehearsals, everyone chimed in energetically.
Primary topic: large families. My table mates were the actors Norbert Leo Butz, Paul Slade Smith, Heather Botts, and Tony Roach. Later, we were joined by the production’s director, Bartlett Sher. Butz had grown up the seventh of eleven children, Smith the sixth of sixth, Sher the fifth of seven, and me the seventh of ten. We all agreed that this kind of upbringing provides experience that can act as a kind of shorthand with other members of the large-family tribe. “It’s paradoxical,” Butz said. “You’re used to thriving in large groups but you’re also very individual and very independent, because from a young age you’ve had to learn to fend for yourself.” Nothing could have reflected the paradox better than Butz’s performance in act two of “Get Me To The Church,” which delighted the audience enormously. Butz was integrated into a large, polished ensemble while giving a singular comic and musical turn.
Smith, meanwhile, is a member of the show’s ensemble and very much a team player. Yet he is also a writer – that most solitary of creative professions. His play The Outsider premiered this season at the Paper Mill Playhouse, in New Jersey.
Sher’s upbringing I have chronicled in this blog before – I can’t remember whether it was during the LCT run of South Pacific or the LCT run of The King and I. His was a San Francisco childhood of Jesuit schools and of older siblings taking him to rock concerts at the Fillmore West – those concerts, he has several times told me, having shown him what an ecstatic, communal experience that live performance can be.
As for my childhood, I’m saving it for my memoir. All I’ll say here is that when I looked around P. J. Clarke’s, which was buzzing with most of the 37-member cast and 30-strong orchestra, not to mention crew members and LCT staff, I thought: this is nothing -- there are more people at my mother’s house for Thanksgiving.
Ensemble member Botts wasn’t part of the large-family fraternity (she has one sibling) but she and I shared the fact of having grown up in small towns. And she, ensemble member Roach, and I explored a second roundtable theme: methods of making coffee. Botts confessed that she had an almost-embarrassing number of coffee-making implements, and that her favorite place in New York for a basic cup of java is Joe’s – there’s one in her Upper West Side neighborhood.
I was grateful for my own caffeine-producing machines – I used one to help get me through the writing of this blog entry. I don’t know how I would have done it otherwise. I left P.J. Clarke’s at one a.m. (there were still plenty of people coming down from the adrenalin of a first preview), and I had to walk my puppy at 6:30 a.m. (He doesn’t care how late I’ve been out.) I drink my coffee in a South Pacific mug – not for me the elegant silver service used in My Fair Lady. I wondered at the first preview whether there was actual liquid in the actors’ fancy cups.
But that’s another blog entry.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.