What a crazy night - 3 hours and 20 minutes into the first preview of PASSION PLAY at the Irondale Center on Tuesday night, fire alarms went off, sending cast, staff and 100 or so audience members out to the cold, but there was no waiting for alarms to subside -- instead, the actors took their passion to the chilly streets and quickly placed themselves atop the church steps for an eager, supportive and gracious audience. They embodied the spirit of the play and the adage "the show must go on."
I'd been sitting bathroom duty downstairs in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church basement making sure the male actors who are utilizing those restrooms didn't accidentally set off the church alarms -- and suddenly the fire alarms sounded, sending me into a slightly confused panic, collecting my things, to find that the theater upstairs had quickly emptied. It wasn't a door alarm, no -- it was a smoke alarm, reacting to a fog cue gone awry. "Is it raining outside?" I heard someone ask behind me on the way downstairs to the front exit. As the door opened, I heard what sounded like sheets of rain smacking the pavement, but quickly realized that it was actually thunderous applause from an audience giddy to watch the committed actors generously continue their scene outdoors.
The irony of the scene was perfect: "I don't know if I can play this moment without the arc of the whole play," was the line delivered by Hale Appleman, the shirtless young actor playing the actor who plays Jesus in the scene (it makes sense when you see it):
Watch the video: "'Passion Play,' Outdoors"
The alarms quieted about fifteen minutes later, so the stage manager shepherded us back inside to finish the final scenes of the play. "The generosity of these people!" one audience member commented to me on our way back to the cozy indoors, referring to the underdressed actors, "I'm crying."
It was a magical way to start the run of this NY Premiere of Sarah Ruhl's most ambitious play, and Epic's most complicated production in its nine seasons. Up in the dressing room later on, the actors chattered about the excitement of the final act, agreeing that it was a perfect fit with the play's themes of community, theater, and allowing real life to collide with stage.
After the show, I heard cast member Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. comment on the experience to fellow cast mates. "This," he said, "is what the play all about."
Thu, April 29, 2010
by Jill Seplowitz, Audience Development Associate