Almost a year elapsed between the closing of Dividing the Estate off Broadway at Primary Stages and the start of rehearsal for its Broadway incarnation last week. What is it like for the actors to resume roles they may have thought they'd put away for good?
"In many ways, coming back to the play is a great opportunity," said Maggie Lacey this week in the small canteen area outside LCT's large rehearsal room. Lacey, who plays the schoolteacher Pauline, explained,"With a two-month run, which is what we had at Primary Stages, you feel you never quite have enough time to explore a character to your satisfaction. Just when you feel you're getting there, the run is over." Lacey added: "Coming back to the words themselves isn't the hard part, at least for me. I never completely forgot the lines."
"I forgot many of my lines," said Arthur French, who plays Doug, a longtime part of the household staff for the Texas family at the center of the story. "Maybe that was my way of trying to ensure I'd get another crack at the character. Sort of like when you don't take an umbrella with you it rains; when you do, it doesn't." He added, with a laugh: "If I'd remembered all the lines, I might have jinxed the possibility of us going to Broadway."
For her part, Penny Fuller, who plays Lucille, says, "It can be a little weird to come back to something, because you don't want to do the exact same things you did before. At the same time, some of what you did before was good, and worth keeping."
All three actors agreed that the biggest challenge of returning to Dividing the Estate is adjusting to a new, larger set, meaning that any brain-muscle memory they may have from Primary Stages won't necessarily help this time around.
"We have a lot more playing area now," Fuller said. "Off-Broadway, there wasn't much room to make big strides across the stage. Now, if you make a cross it really means something -- it requires a motivation that it may not have required before."
"Yes," said Lacey, "we may now have the luxury of not having to slide sideways off-stage, so we don't bump into an actor waiting in the wings." French had the final word: "Off-Broadway, the exits and entrances were a challenge, but they required real precision. I hope we don't lose our sense of precision at the Booth."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com