In those days LCTI didn’t have its own permanent performance space. It did have the barn which it had just bought, but it was still undergoing massive rehabilitation, so it wasn’t suitable for rehearsing. The company used the auditorium of the Lebanon Catholic High School to actually stage its performances, but it could only have access to that space for about a week or so before the scheduled premiere. So we had to make do with what we could find, which as I recall was usually somebody’s house. The first rehearsal was in John’s living room, but that was much too small to permit any blocking of our movements, so we found other homes to use. I can’t recall whose.
One of the things that I learned to my great surprise in those early weeks is that I was a very quick study. I came to every rehearsal of a new scene having learned my lines down pat. I didn’t use any special technique for this; I found that by just reading through the scene a few times the lines stayed with me. I doubt that that would be the case today.
My fellow cast members were not so adept. Jess (Molly) was mostly up to speed but needed her script as a reference, but Gil (John) only approximately knew his lines. He was a good ad libber though, so he could often keep the scene flowing even in rehearsal.
After a couple weeks of this, they all, especially John the director, began to gently kid me about my never forgetting a line. It was all good-natured, but I thought maybe if I flubbed a line or two I could make it stop. In one scene Denny impresses Gil with his knowledge of nautical terms by using the expression “With the sprit tops’l”. So one evening I flubbed this by saying “With the top sprits’l”. Big mistake. The ribbing I got after that was even worse. Live and learn.
Although the script had detailed stage directions for character movements, John decided to ignore all of those and develop all the blocking on his own. Sometimes he would change the blocking several times over the course of an evening as he watched how we interacted with each other. That I had a problem remembering.
Another problem I had was I just wasn’t John. He often tried to direct me in a scene in the way he would do it, and his way was certainly good, but I wasn’t him. I didn’t have his British accent for one thing. Nor did I have his range of experience. And just trying to mimic him didn’t work. So we often had to compromise on an alternative. He didn’t have this problem with the other cast members, I think, partly because they were more experienced and hence, more versatile, but also, I think he could see himself performing the role of Denny but not the others. So he could be more objective with the other roles. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it.
There was one paragraph-length speech towards the end of the play that proved problematic for me. It was a dramatic moment where I realized that Jess was really leaving me, and the words were just a tad flowery and wouldn’t come naturally to me. John finally solved the problem by rewriting it into a single sentence: “All I have to do is look at your face and see the answer.” That I could manage with conviction.
I’m not sure just when we got to see the set for the first time, but my sense is we had at least a full week to rehearse in it. I do know when I first saw it, after all those weeks of rehearsing in cramped living rooms, I was ecstatic. The LCTI set designers and everyone who had worked on building it had done a bang up job of creating a New York City apartment living room on the sprawling Lebanon Catholic stage. I was oohing and aahing as I made my initial walk through.
Shortly after that John arrived, and we began our first rehearsal of the full play in the actual set. I was finally able to make my initial entrance through the dumbwaiter (Denny always entered and exited Jess’s apartment via the dumbwaiter (his apartment was directly above hers) so that nobody would know they were having an affair). Then when Jess and Denny practice their drill of hiding all evidence of Denny’s presence or their work together, I slipped and fell on the unfamiliar and smooth surface of the stage.
“Do not lose control!” thundered John. Another lesson learned.
After that I thought the rest of the rehearsal went very well. I was really grooving on the huge new set that our wonderful stage hands had provided for us.
“You are obviously in awe of the set!” declared John when we finished the final scene. “You’ll have to get over that.”
Allie, our assistant director, chimed in. “You should have been here earlier. Denny was oohing and aahing all over the place.”
As the week rolled on, we did get over it. Everything seemed to be falling into place as the Stage Manager and the rest of the backstage crew learned all their cues for lighting and other effects. Yes, we kept getting stronger and more confident in our roles, we felt completely at ease with the set, and the stage was set for our final dress rehearsal.
What a disaster that turned into!