With a grand subject it is sometimes apt to say relatively few words. Thus: John Larroquette. In Nantucket Sleigh Ride, this actor plays Mundie, the lead role. Not surprisingly, he told a recent PBS interviewer that when he first read the script he turned to his wife, Elizabeth, and asked, “Can I carry this water at my age?” He is 71, younger than our current President and two of his Democratic contenders, but he was right to ask the question. Mundie is onstage almost the entire play.
Buoyed by a talented cast, Larroquette carries the water and then some. Mundie transforms himself from playwright to stockbroker, and Larroquette transforms the story from surreal farce into touching drama. Terry Teachout wrote in his Wall Street Journal review that he “watched the last scene through tears.”
I could contemplate the ending of the play’s run, this Sunday, also through tears, but each time I have watched the production I have been too busy laughing, so I would rather remember the engagement, and Larroquette, through a merrier lens.
All the same, at this point, I could recall the tale of Mundie and his youth through a melancholy mist. It’s merely a question of memory. And memory, as Larroquette told me on a rehearsal break early in the Nantucket ride, is very much at the heart of John Guare’s play. “Memory is faulty,” Larroquette said, “and subjective, so I don’t think the story Mundie tells is necessarily the story that happened. It’s the story that he remembered having happened.”
During another quick exchange after a performance, Larroquette, who holds five Emmy awards (he won four in a row for “Night Court”), was insistent about the quality of Guare’s play and of the direction of Jerry Zaks. “John is a great writer,” Larroquette said, “and in this case a surreal-comedy writer who touches on deep issues.” He went on: “And Jerry is a great director. He kept us focused on telling the story.”
Before Nantucket, Larroquette hadn’t done a play for a few years, and in that PBS interview he spoke about the experience of a live audience, especially in a theater as intimate as the Newhouse. “In the play, I talk to the audience and sometimes it can throw you. I compensate for that by looking into the dark beyond the fourth row. I can tell within a minute of the action starting whether the audience is leaning forward for the story or if they’re leaning back saying, ‘Show me.’”
I can attest that every time I have watched Nantucket Sleigh Ride that the audience was leaning forward, and a large reason that they were leaning forward was owing to the charm, skill, and supreme companionability of Larroquette.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com