I'll tell you what my first play was before I tell you what my first professional production was, OK? And I'm not counting playing Bob Crachit in fourth grade, or the role of The Tomato which I assayed later in that year, in which I forgot all the elegant lines about what my benefits were and what vitamins I contained..............I have sworn I will never play a Tomato again, and refuse to let my agent send me out on Tomato auditions. This frustrates him.
After that brutal experience I took a 6 year hiatus from acting which lasted till I was 17 and a Junior in high school and got a role in the school play, Father Goose, playing the strange, wacky, sex-crazed 17 year old. Type cast first thing off the bat. Thankfully the only thing I can remember of my performance is that first, fateful opening night........
The first time I appeared was from stage left with jacket on; I was to run in, cross to the other actor at stage right and deliver my line to him, peel my jacket off as I went, and toss it back over my shoulder without looking, in the general direction of the coat tree standing near the door I'd just entered. I did so. I got about 1/2 of my line out before the audience came unglued. Howling. I was facing right; my friend who was facing me was looking stage left over my shoulder with his eyes wide.........?????????...........The audience wouldn't stop laughing.
Pulled by an irresistible tug of curiosity, I turned slowly around, the audience's anticipation of my eventual reaction making the laughter increase the farther I turned. My eyes fell on the coat tree and there, on one of the hooks, hung my jacket. By the collar. My jaw dropped. The audience laughed more. But I didn't ignore this and continue with the scene --- I walked to the coat tree, turned up the edge of the jacket and saw I'd unwittingly performed a minor miracle; the jacket had landed so that the loop on the inside of the garment's neck had slid neatly over the hook. My jaw dropped again. I showed the audience. They screamed.........I'd by now abandoned all pretense of being in character and looked straight out at the kids I'd incited to near riot, and who were by now red in the face and pounding the tables, and just laughed right back at them. And even though I knew I was being an utter fool, I didn't care; it was elating--thrilling somehow.
What was my first professional production?.........I guess it would've nominally been Philadelphia Story at Ashland; I replaced another actor who'd been playing Mack the night watchman and who had been cast in another play there which conflicted with P.S.; I had 4 lines and was supposed to enter whistling, see someone get punched and help the puncher to drag the insensate punchee out. I was in place backstage almost 20 minutes ahead of time (just a wee bit early) and by the time my entrance came I'd wiped my sweating hands on my thighs so many times my trousers were damp. The whistle never happened. I put my lips together and blew in a pre-boil, tea kettle-ish fashion but was able to emit only a faintly musical exhale through pursed lips.............the entire cast was waiting in the wings as we dragged the body off and welcomed me into their production with applause.
Theatre people are the best.