It somehow wouldn't be fitting to kick off the first rehearsal of a Lincoln Center Theater season's first production without invoking the theater's recently retired executive producer, Bernard Gersten. Specifically, what Gersten used to say at the meet-and-greet - the gathering at which LCT staff and a production's artists commingle: "This is like the first day of school - only fun."
That remark was repeated at Friday's meet-and-greet by Andre Bishop, LCT's Producing Artistic Director, as all those involved with The Oldest Boy, the new play by Sarah Ruhl, assembled in the downstairs large rehearsal room. If Bishop's speech was warm, welcoming, and forward-looking, it also contained a nod to the past. "This is Lincoln Center Theater's thirtieth-anniversary season," he said. Before the building was taken over in the mid-1980s by Gersten and Gregory Mosher, there was strong concern that it was not viable as a space for theater. Gersten and Mosher represented the last chance. The building had already gone through many incarnations, none of them lasting very long. "There were plans discussed," Bishop said, "to turn the building into a movie triplex, or an ice-skating rink, or a parking garage."
Happily, none of those options were pursued seriously, and the rest is history. "All the past demons went away," Bishop said.
Ruhl also nodded to history in her gratitude-filled remarks to the group. She mentioned that her first full production at LCT - The Clean House, in 2006 - was also her first production in New York. LCT also did her In The Next Room (or the vibrator play) in 2009. "I kind of grew up here," Ruhl said. Speaking of the underground-level rehearsal hall and the area around it, she continued: "I love this basement. It's a bulwark." Families, she explained, alluding to the family drama at the heart of The Oldest Boy, are also bulwarks, against the vagaries of fate."
Rebecca Taichman, the director of The Oldest Boy, spoke after Ruhl, mentioning some of the questions the work poses. "The play asks: How do you both love and let go? How do you accept change when you want things to remain the same?"
Speaking of themes, in its thirtieth-anniversary season LCT has, by pure coincidence, a slight Asian theme going on. Besides The Oldest Boy, which takes place partly in India, there is the upcoming revival of The King and I, which takes place in Thailand. I will try to tease out other themes and sub-themes as the season rolls along.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com