Monday, August 1, 2016

When a cast member can’t make curtain, should a play be postponed?

Know when to fold ‘em

Posted by Maura Hogan on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 12:30 PM

On the heels of watching a historic DNC, with a presidential boys’ club ceding to a female frontrunner, I was particularly up for Love’s Labour’s Lost at Threshold Repertory Theatre. After all, William Shakespeare’s early comedy exposes what fools these male mortals may be at the hands of spectacularly sound women. In the play, Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, has sworn off the other sex for the sake of uninterrupted scholarship, and has induced his three chums to follow suit. Instead, they all find themselves quickly distracted by the arrival of the Princess of Aquitaine and her ladies.

click to enlarge What would the Bard do?
  • What would the Bard do?
I also was keen to support Threshold’s ambitions to bring Shakespeare to local audiences, as the Bard hasn't trod Charleston’s boards much these days. However, right before the show opened, I was thrown a curve ball by an announcement made from stage. Due to a cast member’s emergency, the leading role of the Princess of Aquitaine had been recently replaced and would be assumed by the production’s stage manager. As the actor joined the production at the eleventh hour, the company chose to gamely labor on with this compromise and have her play with script in hand. Grim visions of a headset-crowned techie in a black turtleneck stomped through my head. It was all I could do to muffle a groan.

Instead, the stand-in was a bright-eyed, ravishing leading lady bedecked in a red dress topped off by a tiara. With another week or two, she likely had the chops to portray the princess with polish and command. However, her reliance on her clenched paper not only hampered her delivery, it scuttled any chance for the audience to enter the hard won world of the ensemble.

We’ve all heard that venerated, if belabored, backstage saw: The show must go on. I’ve worked at performing arts spaces where I’ve witnessed all manner of unhappy accidents that can derail the best laid theatrical plans, with the opening curtain hanging in the balance. I’ve seen stage managers nervously counting the minutes as deadlocked contract negotiations are hammered out. I’ve been privy to potentially unsafe stages getting hurriedly shored up under the expectant hum of a full house. I’ve heard tell of threatened opening nights on account of a famous artist on a full-out bender or just in a crisis of confidence.

I am not suggesting it’s an easy spot to sort. I am suggesting that there are certain unfortunate twists of fate that may just call for cancellation or postponement. When the locomotion that is a theatrical production leaves the station, the impulse is to power through, no matter what the extenuating circumstances. However, identifying the deal-breakers is more important than ever in Charleston’s theater-scape. That is, if the city realizes the potential it has so clearly demonstrated of late. In the past year alone, Charleston audiences have held seats at regional premieres of exciting new plays from across the country; had a first crack at original, homegrown works; and gained much from well-executed takes on acclaimed plays never before mounted on this city’s stages.

Threshold Rep has distinguished itself as an ambitious, serious company, taking admirable risks in both the scope and the difficulty of the work it takes on. It is a drag they got dealt a bad hand by losing a key player in a Shakespearean work that is known for the complexity of its wordplay. What’s more, knowing when to fold is no small ask. Tickets have been purchased; production costs have accrued.

As companies like Threshold continue to raise the bar in risk-taking, the stakes raise, too. Aye, there’s the rub — whether to move the show onward to its final bow, or to simply bow out for now. Theater companies should also know that if they are not ready to be reviewed, it is proper, and, at times, preferable, to indicate as much to audience members and critics alike.

I’ll omit the details to avoid a spoiler, but one of the plot pivots of Love’s Labour’s Lost hinges on a family emergency, which prompts the characters to delay a goal until their affairs are in order. For them, as for this considered production, I am confident it would be worth the wait.


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