PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Ghost and The Lyons — Death Be Not Loud

By Harry Haun
24 Apr 2012

Linda Lavin; guests Stacy Keach, Mpntego Glover and Eric McCormack
Top photo by Monica Simoes; Bottom photos by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meanwhile, back at Sardi's — where the opening-night party was born and was, for years, the only game in town — somebody must have thrown another log on the fire, because it was a good, old-fashioned opening night all over again, replete with The Lyons Press Representative (Sam Rudy) standing tall, reading The Gospel According to Ben Brantley to Lavin, Latessa and the rest of the elated elite.

"Everyone was clapping and telling jokes and yelling out, 'Read on, read on,'" reported Sean Ricketts, the on-duty grandson of Vincent Sardi Jr. "It was great!"

"I felt like I was in a 1940s film about the theatre," admitted Douglas Aibel, the Vineyard's artistic director, "like, we were having our opening night at Sardi's and the press agent got up on the table and read the review. It was really lovely."

The Brantley buzz lasted the rest of the evening and elevated the party, some of which spilled upstairs where the cast eventually drifted for a private toast.

Lavin and hubby, Steve Bakunas, were among the last to leave. She seemed to be holding onto every second of happiness Rita Lyons had just brought. "I like everything about her," the actress trumpeted. "I like her courage. I identify with her, and I like playing a woman who is so much fun to play — to tap into her sadness and her repressed feelings, her anger, her expressions of all those feelings, her liveliness, her vitality and the hope of her. I love the way Nicky writes. He writes comedy, but it's a very dark, deeply felt, profound, life-filled, true, true-to-life comedy. And it's wonderful to play, very satisfying to play, because she's a real human being."

Another thoroughgoing pro and Tony winner, Latessa returns Lavin's serve with the greatest of ease, fearlessly unintimidated. Their scenes are like a close-order drill. "We get along great," he conceded happily. "She's a masterpiece of timing, and I do my best to keep up with her." Silver has helped by handing him some live ammo to hurl back at Lavin. "I like the guy's obscenities," Latessa allowed. "I like that he says exactly what he's feeling, and he doesn't hold anything back. Not anything."

Talk about intimidation, think of the poor director. Piece of cake, Mark Brokaw shrugged. "Both Linda and Dick are consummate pros. It was like taking a master's class in comic precision. They're at the top of their game. In fact, I think all the performances have grown. They really seem like a family now after all this."

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Brokaw's next project will be the stage version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's only TV musical, Cinderella. It will have Laura Osnes in the title role, Santino Fontana for Prince Charming, Peter Bartlett as his prime minister, Harriet Harris as the wicked stepmother and Victoria Clark as the fairy godmother. It also has, said Brokaw, "songs from the trunk, like 'Me? Who Am I?' They're all songs that have been cut from other shows and never ended up anywhere so you wouldn't know them."

Grant, who glided through the party in a long red gown, was fielding a lot of compliments about how her character had grown, even though her second-act monologue fell by the wayside during previews. "Everybody's saying the character seems deeper now," she said. "I hope that's the case. That's what you want, y'know. You don't want it to go all down the toilet when you come back to Broadway."

Esper was also acknowledging a spurt of character growth. "I feel like it's grown, and I'm happier. I worked on it some more, I thought it some more, we've gotten to play some more together." Even more beneficial, he felt, was the break between Off-Broadway and Broadway when he got to work on other plays before coming back to this one. "It was an amazing way to work. Sometimes it can be tricky coming back after you've set the way for something. A lot of companies work that way regularly. They'll get together and work on a piece and then step away from it for a time.

"I have a lot of feeling for Curtis. I love how afraid he is. I love everything he does in spite of how afraid he is. I love what's difficult about him. And I love what he's able to do at the end of the play. I think it's very beautiful and stirring, for me personally."

So, does Lavin pitch him the ball the same way every evening? "No, oh no. It's always the same story, the same form, but she's an improviser. She's absolutely improvising with you on stage every night, which is what is so extraordinary about her."

Esper's other big scene is with Gregory Wooddell, riveting but removed from family chaos. It's another kingdom of chaos, and, in Wooddell's view, "one of the best acting experience I've had — 20-minute scene in an empty apartment with one other actor — and you've got nothing else so, as an acting exercise, it's kinda the best you get. And the roller-coast of it all! I go in there, needing to sell an apartment, and I get to go for a ride with this other guy and I get surprised." (He sure does!)

Michael Esper and Kate Jennings Grant
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The first to line up for The Lyons opening was the serious, play-loving crowd: Ronald H. Shechtman and wife Lynne Meadow, artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club, where Lavin has done Tony-nominated work (Collected Stories and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife); Charles Busch, author of the latter and Off-Broadway's Judith of Bethulia, 'til April 28; Patricia Conolly; WOR's shrink-in-residence Dr. Joy Browne, debuting on the press line and mugging to the max (inside the theatre, she had her work cut out for her); Stacy Keach and Matthew Risch from another dysfunctional Broadway family, Other Desert Cities; Phyllis Newman; Sarah Paulson with Amanda Peet; Celia Weston; Tony-winning twosome Julie White and Cady Huffman; Danny Aiello; Julie Halston, fresh (relatively) from her dog-show announcing at the "Easter Bonnet" competition.

Also: Julia Murney; Lysistrata Jones' Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn; Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas; Judy Kuhn; Tony Roberts and Penny Fuller, a Broadway twosome since the original Barefoot in the Park; Edward Hibbert; very "in season" with the city-wide Noel Coward celebrations; Bill Pullman; director Michael Mayer with Camryn Manheim.

Stars in dark-on-Monday shows were relaxing in other people's shows: The Best Man's Eric McCormack with his producer, Jeffrey Richards, and his campaign manager, Michael McKean with wife Annette O'Toole; Memphis' long-running Tony nominee Montego Glover; Anita Gillette, Lortel Award contender for Off-Broadway's excellent The Big Meal; Emily Swanson; and Jesus Christ Superstar's Josh Young (is this perfect show for Judas' night off, or what?).

As usual, playwright Silver — the man of the hour — spent much of the evening on the street, puffing away on cigarettes just outside Sardi's, but regaling friends and passers-by.

"What is it like to work with Linda Lavin?" everyone wanted to know. "It's a frigging miracle. The other night, there was a big mishap on stage, and she played through it. You would expect, like most actresses, she would be yelling at someone. No. She is so full of joy to be on stage that you cannot find an ugly side to her, no matter how hard you try. She's a miracle. She's a genius and a joy."

A major noise and laughing sound Off-Broadway, Silver has been at it 19 — almost 20 years — starting with Pterodactyls at Ye Olde Vineyard in October of 1993.

What does he feel about debuting at long last on Broadway with one of his plays? "Relief. That's all I feel, is relief. Opening a play — for anyone who hasn't done it, even re-opening a play — is as nerve-racking as open-heart surgery. No matter when you get raves or when you get pans, you're still relieved when they're over."

Ever the gentleman, Silver lightly and politely took his leave with "Thank you very much. I have to go apologize to some people now." And thank you, Nicky!