It may be a cliché to say that athletes and actors bond over beers off the playing field or off-stage, but the trust formed on such evenings can be immeasurably helpful to the success of a team enterprise. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, for example, when asked to explain the source of his squad's authentically joyful and seriously winning ways this season, replied, "I gave the players a day off during spring training to go off and play pool together. Maybe things started there."
There was no pool table last Thursday night at O'Neal's restaurant, across from Lincoln Center, where the cast and crew of Broke-ology assembled for supper after their first preview performance, but there was a sense of genuine happiness in the air. Or, rather, happy relief: after weeks of working without an audience, a cast now had evidence that their work is good enough to keep a group of strangers focused for two hours. The actor's useful nervousness -- about remembering lines, about preparation of all sorts -- had last found an outlet.
Alano Miller, who plays Malcolm, went through O'Neal's buffet meal, sat down, and said, "Last night, at our invited dress, the audience laughed at almost everything. But those were mostly friends. Tonight, we had to work a little harder. And that was helpful."
Later, at the bar, with Miller and his understudy, Larry Powell, and still later, back at another table, with Francois Battiste, who plays Ennis, I tried to explain my thoughts about how a cast becomes a unit: I brought up an early scene in Broke-ology. In it, Malcolm, Ennis, and their father, William (Wendell Pierce), are playing dominoes. The men are jostling for top-dog status with some good-natured boasting and ribbing. I told Miller and Powell that the scene reminded me of a line in a New Yorker article about Michael Jordan written by Lincoln Center Theater board member Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which I -- full confession -- adapted for a novel of mine called Last Night. The line goes: "Among men, the language of intimacy is insult."
The play's first domino scene establishes that kind of intimacy, just as suppers after the show strengthen a company's bonds through lively (though usually not insulting!) discussion: at O'Neal's, there were frequent displays of friendly disagreement. As Miller put it: "Who wants to watch a family agree all the time? In a play or in life? You'd die of boredom."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.
Sounds like this play is keeping it real; I'll be there!