"The theater is not for sissies" proclaims Christopher Plummer in his energetic new memoir, In Spite of Myself. Never is that more true than during the holidays on Broadway. This past weekend, the company of Dividing the Estate did five shows instead of its usual four, a Friday matinee after Christmas being the extra date. Do the actors prepare differently for such a heavy 48-hour period?
That was the question I put to some of the cast backstage just before the Sunday session, which was shaping up to be a full house.
"I don't really do much different for five than for four," said Keiana Richard, who plays Cathleen. "I just go full out, as I normally would. I rest between shows. Maybe I'll pace myself differently when I'm older." Richard was not about to flaunt the stamina of youth too boldly, however. "I would probably have a different attitude if Dividing the Estate were a musical, and I had to use my singing voice," she observed, a comment that drew some discussion about what the play would be titled if it were a song-and-dance show. Consensus candidate: Will Power.
Nicole Lowrance (Sissie) remarked that a five-show weekend was reminiscent of her experience in regional theater, where that schedule is quite common. "There's a kind of collective delirium at some point in the weekend," Lowrance commented. "People can get a little silly onstage, to get through everything. Of course, you have to make sure that this doesn't affect your performance in any negative way."
If Lowrance was reminded of the regions, Arthur French, who plays Doug, said the holiday schedule put him in mind of his years working in small off-Broadway houses. "Five shows in two days is nothing there," he said. "In fact, when you're off-off Broadway, the grittier it is, the better you feel about yourself. It means you're tough enough to stand it."
Or, to quote Plummer again: Theater "separates the men from the boys."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com