“Is the food out yet?” asked Patrick Breen on Thursday night, as the cast and crew of Dada Woof Papa Hot assembled at P.J. Clarke’s, after the play’s first preview, for a buffet supper. The first scene of the play takes place at a New York restaurant, though in the kind of upscale joint that would never deign to broadcast sports on TVs above the bar – unlike PJ Clarke’s, where the Mets were on their way toward advancement in the baseball-playoff race.
There are sports fans among the Dada actors, but the main event was getting not to TV-viewing perches but to the pasta and creamed spinach on the buffet. While we all waited for the grub, I asked Kathy McCafferty, who is one of the production’s understudies, why actors are always so famished after a show. “Probably because most of us don’t dare eat just before we go on,” she replied, “so by the time we finish we haven’t eaten for hours and we’ve worked up an appetite.” I asked her if she’d ever noshed just before curtain and regretted it. “Not really,” she answered. She had, she said, once taken a new cold medication before a performance. “It was a film-noir type of production. In one scene, I had a lot of the dialogue, and the other characters were mostly listening. All of a sudden, I started to get drowsy, and unsure of my lines. That was a little scary.” (Note to actors: start new medications on your day off.)
After food was served and the actors had had a chance to scarf up a few bites, I descended on the actors’ table. (Actors always sit together; it’s tribal.) I posed the when-to-eat question to John Benjamin Hickey, who is Alan in Dada Woof. He said, “Actors are constantly asking themselves: ‘Can I eat this now? It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Will I regret it later?’” He said the question of food intake tends to be a little easier on two-show days. “You don’t spend the day wondering about things. Your nerves don’t have as much time to build up.” He added: “Two-show days take more out of you physically, but you spend most of the day in a zone, which can be preferable.”
I hope to have a chance very soon to ask Hickey about much more than what he eats. He has had a big week: he stars in the TV show "Manhattan," which just began its second season on WGN, and he plays CateBlanchett’s husband in the just-released feature film Truth. But all the Dada Woof actors are having a big week, rehearsing during the afternoon and performing in previews at night. Sustenance is definitely required.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.