The Hard Problem, by Tom Stoppard, opened last night at LCT’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. After the performance, the play’s ensemble of 16 actors arrived at PJ Clarke’s restaurant to greet their friends and families and well-wishers. To note the British nature of the drama there were mini Shepherd’s pies on the buffet tables, as well as pasta and brussel sprouts and the restaurant’s signature creamed spinach.
As I interrupted the actors’ consumption of well-deserved food and drink I thought: for them, this is the end of a process. No more rehearsals by day and performances by night and barely the chance, even on Mondays off, to do laundry. “It’s been great but exhausting,” commented Chris O’Shea, who plays Spike, as I interrupted him near the restaurant’s upstairs bar.
In another sense, opening night marks a beginning. The actors can focus fully on their work in performance. Their time is spent less on trying to incorporate the nightly notes from the director – in this case, Jack O’Brien, who was, as ever, nattily dressed at the party – and more on exploring. They have a chance to deepen their characterizations.
“I’ve been having fun with my character,” said Karoline Xu, who plays the math whiz Bo. Xu singled out Bo’s intelligence. “She went to Shanghai and Cal Tech and Cambridge.” Xu herself went to another Cambridge-based school: Harvard, where she majored in English.
Most actors tell me that the better a play the more they enjoy continuing to polish their performances during the course of a run. And they enjoy the deepening of the ensemble as well. “It’s a real pleasure to watch my fellow actors every night,” said Baylen Thomas, a member of the ensemble. “The performances have gotten both more dramatic and more comic.” He added: “Not long ago, our playwright encouraged us to find the funnier moments in the story. That took the lid off, and the audiences are now more audibly expressing their pleasure.”
I suspect they will continue to do so as The Hard Problem continues its run through January 6th.