Last night, before the first preview of The Oldest Boy, a feeling of preternatural calm pervaded the hallways backstage of the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Performers glided between their dressing rooms and the ballet room, the official warm-up location for the production, with scant hint of jitters. After the show, at a first-preview meal held at PJ Clarke’s restaurant, I found out that my assessment had been in error. I learned that the Tibetan Buddhism which the actors had been imbibing throughout a month of rehearsals had not necessarily been sufficient to drive away nervousness. Meditation is useful, but not sufficient to dispel all hint of nerves.
“There’s always a sense of relief when you finally get before an audience,” said Jon Norman Schneider, who plays a monk in Sarah Ruhl’s wonderful play. “Your nerves have built up, and you get a chance to work them out. You can never be sure exactly how a line is going to land,” he continued, “but tonight we got some clues.”
“If tonight’s audience is any indication,” said James Yaegashi, who plays Father, “we should be in for a good run. I felt that people were with us from the very beginning.”
By the time the actors said these things to me, they had supped on pasta, salad, hamburger sliders, and the café’s comforting creamed spinach. A drink or two was enjoyed, the better to quiet the adrenaline left over from the production. Civilians often assume that actors are so pooped by the end of a performance that they must, after signing stage-door autographs and saying hi to any friends who’ve showed up, rush home and immediately conk out. The reality tends to be otherwise. I once asked Meryl Streep backstage, after a Central Park performance of The Seagull, in which she played Arkadina, if I could walk her to her car. “Car?” she laughed, pointing to a bicycle. “That’s my car.”
“You give this performance and have the energy to ride home?”
“If I didn’t I’d never fall asleep,” she replied.
I don’t know if any of The Oldest Boy cast bikes home at night. But if some did I wouldn’t be surprised.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com