Department stores are awash is their annual white sales, so I could not in good conscience finish my Next Room blogging stint without mentioning the sheets. All fourteen of them. Well, there used to be fourteen of them but now, according to Leah Nelson, the Lyceum's house props person, there are twelve. It isn't as if two of them were shredded in the wash - they're still around, but Nelson can do the show with an even dozen.
For those of you who haven't seen Next Room and are wondering why attention must be paid to sheets, let me explain. Each time the Dr. Givings character examines a patient in his consulting room, the cotton sheet on the examining table must be changed. (No cheap paper sheets of the kind that modern doctors use!) And the timing of the onstage linen-changing, and its attendant doffing of clothing, occupied a lot of the play's rehearsals, since the choreography of all this was tricky.
"We fold the sheets as soon as they come off stage," says Nelson, who has been at the Lyceum for five years. "Some actors crumple them more than others," she continues, discreetly offering no names, "but folding them right away helps cut down on the ironing."
Nelson continues: "The sheets are regularly touched up with the iron." I make the mistake of commenting, "Oh, that shouldn't take too long." "Even a touch up," she answers, "can take four or five minutes. Multiple by that by 12 or 14: you do the math." (Between 48 and 70 minutes for the whole batch.)
Does Nelson worry that laundering the sheets will alter their color? "Not really," she says. "They were already dyed before we got them. The lighting designer thought they were too white, so they were made less so. Ecru would be my guess."
Nelson says that the Next Room sheets are not nearly as high maintenance as the props she handled for a 2008 production of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart. "There were four big table cloths in that one. They had to be washed and ironed ever day. That took an hour-and-a-half before every show. I'll take sheets any day over those.."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.