Whenever I try to sort through my backstage memories of South Pacific since it began rehearsals in January, I always come back to the kitchen. That's natural, I suppose: in many live-in houses, the occupants may walk through the front door and retreat immediately to their bedrooms, but in a home, at least in one before the arrival of the family room or, more recently, the media room, people congregate where it is warm: the kitchen.
The backstage hearth in the Beaumont is situated in the middle of a long hallway connecting two other halls into which most of the dressing rooms open out. It is, quite literally, a hub. At one end of the kitchen is a fridge, containing the food transported by actors to the workplace. Sometimes, these items are wrapped with notes proclaiming an abrupt about-face in tone from this cast's usual warm camaraderie: "Eat this and you'll suffer a Showgirlsfall!"
Then there is the sink, which I always seem to pass by when fruit is being washed. And of course there is a microwave, where items brought from home or ordered from neighborhood eateries are re-heated: on a good day, the microwave-induced aromas waft deliciously through the halls; on a less good day, you wonder why God invented curry.
Opposite the appliances are a few tables and places to sit. This area, with its bright lighting, resembles a diner, but I prefer to think of it as a canteen. And why is that? Because when I think of sailors in New York during the Second World War, I think of scenes from the 1943 picture Stage Door Canteen, in which movie stars entertained servicemen at a recreational center, or canteen, in New York.
Through the Beaumont canteen have passed almost as many celebrities, making their backstage courtesy rounds after a show, as made cameos in that vintage movie -- everyone from Hillary Clinton to Bette Midler.
But in my mind the stars of this LCT canteen are the South Pacific cast and crew. One day there I overheard one of the musical's principals mildly chiding a young actor who, late to a pre-show chatfest, could not find a seat and had to stand. The actor was whining that the theater needed a bigger kitchen. His elder replied, "Just wait till you're in a Broadway show further downtown. Most of those theaters barely have dressing rooms -- let alone a place like this. We're lucky here!"
I haven't heard the young actor complain since.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com