Last Sunday, the folks at Everyman illustrated why the “show must go on” adage is more than just a hoary theater saying. The same snow storm that turned the Ravens/Vikings game into an Arctic slip-and-slide threatened to cancel the final performances of Red, the Tony-winning show about painter Mark Rothko, that had gotten rave reviews during its month-long run. But the show went on, and I’m glad it did—Sunday’s matinee turned out to be my favorite theater experience of 2013.
At the 2 pm start, there were only about three dozen people in the audience, including a few Everyman employees. It made the already intimate venue feel exponentially more intimate. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, actors Bruce Nelson (as Rothko) and Eric Berryman (as his studio assistant) delivered stunning performances that were both powerful and nuanced. I was completely immersed. The show, crisply directed by Donald Hicken, flew past without an intermission, and, as soon it ended, we simultaneously jumped to our feet for an enthusiastic ovation.
The actors appeared touched by the response, especially Nelson, who may have gotten a little misty. I know I did.
I later emailed Nelson to ask if he, indeed, felt it was a special show. Here’s what he wrote…
The theatre adage goes, even if there is one person in the audience, they deserve to be changed by theatre. In theory this is certainly a noble attitude, and I do believe people are changed by what live theatre can do. However, when you've been spoiled by packed houses and the weather outside is inclement, and you still must go on for the intrepid 30 who made it out, the excitement can sometimes be diminished.
What got me re-excited on that particular night was the reminder from our assistant stage manager that this audience must really want to be there. Hearing that was enough for me, and, once the lights went up, I was again Mark Rothko. That night's audience did not disappoint, and they were up on their feet at the curtain call. The feeling was a mutual sense of, “Look what we all just went through, against the odds.”
So it wasn't just me.