But enough about me.
Wouldn’t that be lovely? This, however, is a “Diary,” and we have to slog on.
Happy thought: Only one more day of this and I can return to the unexamined life. I see now why I don’t actually keep a diary. I tried for a while, but when the last two entries skipped from June ‘87 to March ‘89 and I realized I might be able to fit my entire life into one slender volume, I came to a dead stop.
Anxiousness from everyone about the approaching opening. The producer calls to say he can’t hear the actors. He’s calling now? A day before the press comes? Could he hear them before? I don’t know how to respond. I say I’ll give a listen and immediately put it out of my mind.
The press department calls to ask where they should seat the chief theater critic of the New York Times. I suggest a local restaurant. “No, really, where?” I suggest Row J. “Why J?” “Because if he’s any closer he’ll see the side light we haven’t been able to hide.” The aisles of the Walter Kerr bow outward to conform to the curvilinear lines of the rest of the house. This puts the critic, who must have an aisle seat, at an unhappy angle to the stage. I grapple with the problem for a moment and then realize he’ll probably be unhappy no matter where we put him. Problem solved.
The press representative tells me entirely too much about who’s going to be there. I tell him I don’t want to know. I have a terror of celebrities and the press in general, so opening nights are not a lot of fun for me. Oh, to be back in a rehearsal hall! Two of the actors insist that they do not want to know what the reviews say. No one is to speak of the reviews in their presence. This is a common request and commendable because the actors don’t want their work influenced by outside opinion. They fear self-consciousness. It’s hard to build a bubble of silence around them, though, given that 50 journalists are writing about the damn thing and there’ll always be that random call from a friend, “Wow, I didn’t think it was that bad.” But everybody tries very hard not to let the news seep through. The air is heavy with a kind of free-floating anxiety leavened with a welcome amount of gallows humor. The anxiety lights on whatever presents itself: The bored-looking man in the front row, a cell phone (damn the things) going off, too much coughing, stragglers returning to their seats after the second act has begun. Gabriel sees me during his big monologue and his concentration is thrown. I’m certain that a tiny unconvincing rock at stage right has destroyed the credibility of the entire production. The set designer won’t come around because he can’t stand the shade of blue the lighting designer is using. All business as usual, really. If panic can be considered usual.
And then there’s the money. It costs well over a million dollars to put on even the smallest Broadway show these days. Is it any wonder that serious work is at a premium? When all you have to do is buy the title of a blockbuster movie and announce that you’re making a musical of it to get a multimillion-dollar advance? However anxious our producers may be, they have to be remarkably brave to be doing a play.
But the money pressure is on. Any change involving a union work call is given the gravest consideration. At one point last week I was convinced that a 25-by-25-foot rock hill had to be moved four feet downstage to help enclose the space. The cost of this move: $25,000. Conservatively. It stayed where it is and I have grown to love it. I gave in when the general manager, Bob Cole, spoke to me in that low, gentle tone that floats just above an iceberg of hysteria. Ya gotta know when to fold ‘em.
I worry about whether people will come to see it. But I have that problem. My father built and managed a neighborhood movie theater in a California suburb. It never caught on, and it became a kind of mom-and-pop store with my father tearing tickets and my mother as cashier and the kids ushering. We only ushered for the first hour, though, so we could go home and get our homework done. Once I was old enough to drive, though, I’d cruise around the theater at the beginning of the second showing and count the cars in the parking lot. If the little lot was full, I’d know we were OK. I think maybe I’m still doing that. I have to admit, though, that this is an odd profession to have chosen for one who needs to see a full parking lot.