So just what was Thomas Sadoski doing during the three weeks in December that he was gone from "Other Desert Cities"? "A completely different type of work" Sadoski told me one day this week, in his dressing room, between matinee and evening performances.
Sadoski is back as Trip Wyeth, a role he originated at the Mitzi E. Newhouse last winter and did during the play's current run on Broadway, at the Booth, this fall. (Matthew Risch played the part during the three weeks that Sadoski was away, and Justin Kirk takes up Trip beginning January 9th.) The different work Sadoski mentioned is his part in "The Newsroom," the new backstage-in-the-TV-news-business drama, created by Aaron Sorkin, which will air in 2012 on HBO.
"I play a TV news producer who is starting up a 10 pm program but who is helping with the transition period of his old show," Sadoski said. He added: "The pilot was done last summer and we just shot the second and third episodes." Even though "The Newsroom" places heavy demands on its performers (90 pages of script for an episode running just under an hour), Sadoski didn't neglect "Other Desert Cities" during his December in Los Angeles, where the TV show is shot.
"I had some sleepless nights in L.A.," Sadoski said, "when I would run the play over in my head, to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything." The words may have stayed with him this week, when he got back to the Booth, but other aspects of the production couldn't be anticipated by studying the text. "One of the great things about this play is that it never really settles. The cast is always bringing new things to their characters, so when I got back on the stage this week there were moments when somebody delivered a line in a way a little unfamiliar to me and I thought: I've never heard it like that before!"
How does Sadoski deal with such a shift? "I have to respond honestly, and trust that I've done the work."
Sadoski said that the major transition this week, however, is not responding to newline readings from his on-stage colleagues but in adjusting to performing before the public. "I've been off in L.A. where we've been like mad scientists, hatching something that nobody's yet seen or had a chance to respond to." He added: "Now, I'm back to a situation where almost anything I say can draw a response from strangers." He continued: "The challenge, as always for the actor, is trying to allow for that audience response - the laughter that causes you to slow down a line, the coughing fit that makes you extra careful in how you speak an important bit of plot information - while staying anchored in the world of the story onstage."
Anchoring is not a metaphor that is often applied to an actor, who must constantly hie to where the work is. "This play has been an extraordinary time for me," Sadoski explains, "where I've been able to stay put for a while with some incredible people. I'm so grateful to have two more weeks with them. In the theater, you don't often get the chance to have such a luxurious goodbye."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.