Embedded at Endgame

Tech began a week ago on Tuesday for Endgame. First came the barrel fittings. Speaking of barrels,  for me, let alone Jimmie, this whole month has been akin to climbing into a barrel and jumping into the water. April rushes by at USC with the ferocity of a Class IV- river.

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. …Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult.

Wikipedia International Scale of River Rating

In spite of knowing the river quite well, there are sudden fast maneuvers under pressure that challenge even the best “kayakers.” We closed our last three shows last weekend, after 10 days of tech and dress for two of them and only 3 days for the workshop of a new play by MFA Dramatic Writing student Inda Craig-Galvan. As of now, we are out of the rapids for a while.

Meanwhile, Jimmie finished his tech rehearsals for Endgame, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, beginning previews last Sunday, April 24th.

Lindsay Allbaugh of  Center Theatre Group

The CTG staff, headed by Associate Producer Lindsay Allbaugh, have taken exquisite care of Jimmie and his fellow actors on the journey through rehearsals thus far. Production Stage Manager, Susie Walsh, and Stage Manager Brooke Baldwin treat the actors like royalty. There are special considerations that are not obvious when dealing with elder actors and she and Brooke have handled those, incorporating the accommodations into the daily routine without missing a beat. One of the first things she did was provide me with a backstage pass to be able to come in to rehearsals whenever I was able, so I could assist with getting Jimmie to and from the rehearsals around my work schedule. Tuesday, I took advantage of my embedded access to watch the barrel fittings going on.  I arrived just as Jimmie was finishing his 2nd fitting. There is a complex sequence of lifts and platforms  in the under stage area to get them into place so they can raise the lids of the cans. The crew was working hard when I arrived, talking the actors through the intricacies needed to position them for their scenes. John Iacovelli, the Scenic Designer, sat in the front row of the house with director Alan Mandell, Assistant Director John Sloan, and Lindsay, watching the rehearsal of the barrels. IMG_6081Costume Designer Maggie Morgan watched Charlotte and Jimmie working in their nightcaps, with the action of raising the barrel tops with their heads. Cambria, the wardrobe crew member, stood behind the barrels as I watched Brooke, head leaning into the barrel, murmur reassuring instructions to Charlotte, deep in her barrel. Nothing was rushed. No one hurried the actors through the complexities. As a stage manager, I appreciated the calmness and deft handling of all the actors. As a spouse, I appreciated the humanity of the care accorded my husband and the others.

After the tech rehearsal, which was executed after a dry tech (tech without actors) so as to not tire the actors; the actors had an unhurried 90 minute dinner prior to their first dress rehearsal. I had jetted over from work to pick up the dinner I’d ordered at Cafe Vida next door to the theatre, and the two of us ate shoulder to shoulder at the dressing table in Jimmie’s dressing room.

The experience kind of took me back to our courtship days, when, at the McCarter Theatre,

Els and Jimmie share a romantic dinner at the Kirk Douglas dressing room

Jimmie was playing Scrooge, and I was on the props crew, and we frequently hung out together with his professorial dog, Jasper, in his dressing room during the dinner hour. Jasper was an astonishing dog.  We never used a leash on that dog, and we lived on 71st and Broadway. We’d take him to Central park, and every time we got to the corner of Columbus, Jasper would sit down and look up at Jimmie. When the light changed, Jimmie would say ‘Ok,’ and Jasper would tear across the intersection, waiting on the far side. One day, when Jimmie was standing in line at the bank with Jasper, a woman said to him,

Your dog looks smart enough to do math.

I remember once at the McCarter Theatre, during Christmas Carol, one of the young child actors, a young girl of about 12, appeared at Jimmie’s dressing room door, there to visit Jasper, and seeing me there, asked sort of churlishly,

Why are you always here?

I imagine that the staff at the Kirk Douglas are probably thinking the same thing about now. But I like to consider my embedded status on Endgame as akin to those journalists in March 2003 who became embedded during the U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan. Well, of course, with much less danger involved.

There were a few friends watching the final dress rehearsal today. We sat amidst the tech tables, I house left to be better positioned to see Nagg and Nell’s action. The play began, punctuated by the sharp shutter sounds from photographer Craig Schwartz’s camera. I worried for a moment that it would prove a distraction to the actors. But soon the camera faded as I became mesmerized by scenic designer John Iacovelli’s penumbrous stone room. The world as created by John and lighting designer Jared Sayeg and sound designer Cricket Myers is impossibly confining, and Clov’s rhythmic shuffle around the room caused me to laugh out loud within the first few minutes. From the bloody “stauncher”draped over Hamm’s (Alan Mandell’s) face, to the jaunty straw boater perched on Clov’s (Barry McGovern’s) head for his final entrance, Maggie Morgan’s costumes convey the film of dust and grime implied in the impermeable prison that confines these four characters of “Endgame.”

Hamm’s cheery devil-may-care attitude about his own decrepitude, and Clov’s brutal intensity held our interest. Nagg’s and Nell’s scenes were heartbreaking, and Nagg’s final speech destroyed me.

NAGG:It’s natural. After all I’m your father. It’s true if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. But that’s no excuse.….I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.(Pause.)Yes, I hope I’ll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope.(Pause. Nagg knocks on lid of Nell’s bin. Pause.)Nell!(Pause. He knocks louder. Pause. Louder.)Nell!(Pause. Nagg sinks back into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Pause.)

I think the most impressive thing I observed today was the excellence of all of the acting – all 334 years of acting experience, which is a lot of time to perfect one’s craft. But in addition to that, these are all extremely challenging physical roles. Not once did we stop because someone 89 was sore from being scrunched in a garbage can. In this age of inclusion and diversity and access, it moved me to see the entire cast navigate this play with good humor and the sheer will to make it as good as it possibly can be. After the run, I sat in Jimmie’s dressing room, cranking the monitor up so that I could listen in on the notes. A fly on the wall.

Later, as Jimmie and I headed out the stage door, we ran into Jason Martin, from the CTG press office, who had been there with Nancy Hereford for the photo run. I realized that I shouldn’t blog about any details of “Endgame” using any information gleaned during my embedded status without clearing it first with the Press office. I hope I have intrigued you enough to come check out the show.

Get your tickets now! 


Kobe’s and Beckett’s Endgame

I live in LA. Tonight, April 13, 2016, everyone, even those people who don’t care about basketball at all, like me, are watching Kobe’s final flings at Staples Center. Some of the fans have paid up to $55,000 for a pair of tickets. Not me. I’m sitting in my nightgown on the couch in our apartment. I’m pretending to watch the game, enjoying the testimonials from all of Kobe’s fans a little more than the game.

Today was my day off. It is tax season, as well as the middle of  major and important things happening at work. In April, we open 8 productions. We have, thus far, opened and struck 4 of the 8, with another 2 in tech this weekend, one play playing this weekend, and a strike for three shows next weekend, wrapping up our 13 play spring semester.  In addition to our fevered pitch of production, it is the season when accepted students are determining if they will come to USC.  It is always gratifying to see the prospective students come to the Open House, see the Spring Musical, and meet students and faculty to make their final decisions by May 1.

Last weekend, the weekend of the Open House, it rained, necessitating a complete reworking of the events, which were, of course, planned as outdoor events. Our tireless Director of Special Events, Marissa Gonzalez, in the span of 48 hours, totally reworked the events to happen in the North Gym of the PED building, nothing short of miraculous. The student Ambassadors were there, visiting with prospective students and sharing their good cheer with them.

Jimmie has been in rehearsals for Endgame for about three weeks now. He has had the service of daily drivers ferrying him from downtown to Culver City, both ways, and the rehearsal days have been short enough to not wear him out. I am his daily driver on Wednesdays, because I am not working that day and I take advantage of the ride to and fro to catch up with Jimmie and hear about the work. Today, after dropping him at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, I did some errands and then went back and got to watch a tantalizing little bit of rehearsal.

This morning, Jimmie had an appointment with his primary care physician, a soft spoken man we had met about a year ago at Good Samaritan when Jimmie had bad bronchitis. It’s hard to imagine going to the doctor when you are not sick, but when you get to the age Jimmie is, they want to see you every 3 months or so to make sure you are still going strong. Jimmie’s doctor reminds me of my childhood doctor in Pennsylvania, Doc McKelvey, who’s manner was kind and unrushed. When we first walked in today, he asked,

How are you doing?

I chose the moment to brag a bit on Jimmie’s behalf.

He’s rehearsing a play. He opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre the end of April. He’s in an ash bin.

I reached for the script to show Doc C. what we meant by ash bins. His eyes widened a little more and he looked at me like I had told him I had just stuffed Jimmie into an ash bin.  We explained further. Samuel Beckett, “Endgame.”

Dr. C sat down in his chair and begin to quiz Jimmie about the preparation for the role. When had he started learning his lines? How much rehearsal did he  have? How long did it take to put something “like that” together? He said something about Jimmie’s optimism and I shared the fact that three of the four actors were over 88. I think we might be selling some tickets here.

Anyway, we left there and returned home where I paid the taxes, mailed my Dad’s birthday present, and checked on some prescriptions before driving Jimmie to Culver City. I decided I’d knock out the errands I had before picking him back up.

What does one do on a day off? Repaired a few watches. While those were getting repaired, visited Nordstrom’s Rack, where I found some cute tops, then stopped by Babies ‘R Us, first calling our son to determine the proper size of garments. On the way back to the Kirk Douglas, I stopped at my favorite place in Culver City – Orchid Fever, a low-slung non-descript building filled with the most gorgeous displays of orchids.

Having blown my budget on fun things to do, I texted Susie Walsh, the stage manager for “Endgame.”


I waited in the hall until Susie poked her head out  and invited me to come sit at the SM table. Jimmie and Charlotte Rae were in their rehearsal barrels, having just finished their scene together. Alan was giving them notes and I gathered that things had gone quite well.

Alan came over to say hi, and I got to meet Barry McGovern for the first time. Alan and Barry stood together in front of the table and discussed the fact that today was Samuel Beckett’s birthday, April 13, 1906. He’d have been 110 today.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mr. Beckett’s birthday than to watch Kobe Bryant score 61 points to win his final game. Cheered to the finish line by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson and even me, no longer pretending to watch, but genuinely involved in the theatricality of the event. That was quite an Endgame.

Meanwhile there are some very happy actors in barrels at the Kirk Douglas. We will get to see their Endgame soon.

James Greene in his rehearsal barrel. Doesn’t look uncomfortable, right? He looks happy as a clam.



Anticipating Endgame

Wednesday marked the beginning of an important journey for four yeoman actors. In My Nagg, I shared with you the past journey of both my husband in his role as Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and our journey together as man and wife from our marriage 32 years ago beginning with our imprompt work/honeymoon to Israel where he performed Nagg with Alvin Epstein, Peter Evans and Alice Drummond.

But now, it’s time to look forward, to the start of rehearsals for the upcoming production at The Kirk Douglas Theatre, directed by and starring Alan Mandell. It is an important production; not only are three of the actors (Alan, Charlotte Rae and Barry McGovern) one degree of separation from the playwright Samuel Beckett, but three of the performers are also over the age of 88.

The combined 266 years of these three thespians has not been squandered. All three have had vital careers in theatre, film and television.  I will let you peruse the interweb for the details of their artistic endeavors. They have crossed paths in their dramatic peregrinations.  But what interests me most is not looking back at their illustrious careers, but looking forward at the challenge before them; I realize that if we are lucky, and it comes unencumbered with serious illness or dementia, age does not diminish the passion one feels for creative work. Many of you know this already. Forgive me if it is already obvious.

Old age is a shipwreck.

Charles DeGaulle

Jimmie frequently invokes DeGaulle’s immortal words, usually in the morning when he stumbles out to the kitchen, one eye closed, pirate-like, with a request  for me to turn on the coffee pot, or in the evening when removing his knee brace, or climbing into bed. But what I see is that the work is rejuvenating; the act of studying and memorizing lines peels away the years like no other activity.

Alan called me on Monday. That’s the other refreshing thing about our elders. With a few exceptions, they prefer to communicate by speaking human to human through a telephone. I frequently bemoan that this generation of stage managers misses that human connection when emailing rehearsal schedules to their actors rather than calling them on the phone to leave the first day’s details with them.  I relish the first conversation with a new colleague, because it’s when you learn some detail about his/her connection with the director, or the piece, or in the case of Alan Mandell, the playwright, Beckett, about whom you only have ever had text book familiarity. In this case, for me, it is like touching noses with the gods.

Alan wanted to set up a coffee meeting with Charlotte, Jimmie and himself in advance of the first rehearsal. Two phone calls arranged a meeting first at Alan’s home and then a trip to Charlotte’s… Continue reading “Anticipating Endgame”

My Nagg

Endgame Photo
1984 Production of “Endgame” at the Harold Clurman Theatre. L to R, Alice Drummond, James Greene, Alvin Epstein, also the Director, and Peter Evans


In the summer of 1984, as my fiancé, James Greene and I made preparations for our upcoming wedding, he was involved in a production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. It was produced in a small, off off Broadway theatre, The Harold Clurman Theatre, on 42nd St. west of 8th Avenue, and he was playing the role of Nagg. He had elaborate white chalky makeup to disguise his youthful 57-year-old features, and wore a jaunty night cap atop his head as he emerged from the ash can down stage right. His entrances were throughout the play, but he was able to retire to the comfort of his dressing room in between his perches, due to the escape stairs under his and Nell’s barrels. During the wedding week, when family were beginning to gather for our nuptuals, Jimmie showed his thoughtfulness when, on the evening that my Grandmother was coming to see the play, he moved quickly from his dressing table, where he sat, dabbing on his white makeup to across the street from the theatre at the West Bank Café, where he knew that my Grandmother Betsey, my father and his wife, Joan, and I were all eating a pre-performance dinner. Horrified that she might “meet him” for the first time when he emerged from his barrel as an 80-year-old man, he had quickly scrubbed off his makeup and run across the street to shake hands with her. For the rest of her life, she always remarked about how thoughtful that had been of him.

Standing under the sign for the Peace Forest, where the Endgame company planted trees in Alan Schneider’s memory.
The Cultural Center in Jerusalem where Endgame was performed in 1985.

The following year, in June of 1985, the production was invited to perform at the Jerusalem Theatre Festival. The production was supposed to have been directed by veteran theatre director, Alan Schneider, but he had been killed in May the previous year, while,  looking the wrong way while crossing the street in London, apparently on his way to mailing a letter to Samuel Beckett. The festival participants in Jerusalem went to a hillside, where we planted trees in Alan’s memory, prior to their performing Endgame for the first time. Jimmie and I both wore goofy white tennis hats acquired at the airport to ward off the sun while we planted the trees.

A dramatic photo of Jimmie taken backstage at the Gerald Behar Center.

The festival performances of Endgame took place in the Gerard Behar Centre, where Adolph Eichmann was tried and convicted; there, the historic status of the building and the location of the barrels down stage right where Eichmann’s glass booth had been precluded a trap door to the basement.  Jimmie and Alice crouched heroically for 90 minutes, clutching onto small metal handles attached to the sides of the barrels. Jimmie was still a runner at the time, so this did not pose the perils it would  if he were asked to do the same today.

Jimmie floating in the Dead Sea, blissfully unaware that he had just lost his wedding ring.

Another Israel episode was the day we drove down to the Dead Sea, behind some military trucks. We arrived at the edge of the sea, and Jimmie was first in, frolicking in the dense salt water, which would not allow you to sink, due to its viscosity. I approached the shore, bent down and touched the water, feeling how slimy and salty it was. I shouted out to Jimmie,

Did you take off your wedding ring?

Jimmie looked down at his hand in horror and the day was ruined, as we realized his ring had fallen to the bottom of the Dead Sea. This did not seem the least bit auspicious for the newlywed couple that we were, but we returned to New York and went back to the jewelry store to replace it. 31 years later, we’re still going strong, so I guess we survived the incident.

Alan Mandell, the director and Hamm of the upcoming Kirk Douglas Production of Endgame, called us several weeks ago, to see if Jimmie might consider standing by for actor Rick Cluchey, in the upcoming production. Alan was being cautious, he had spoken earlier that evening with a very weak Cluchey; he called to see if Jimmie might be interested. Jimmie considered the offer carefully, and when he called Alan the next morning at 10:00AM to accept, learned from a shaken Alan that Rick had passed away the night before shortly after Jimmie and Alan had hung up. Alan then offered Jimmie the role of Nagg. Jimmie accepted. Just last week it was made official. He is so pleased, but regretful he it was due to another actor’s death.

Jason Wingreen, b. October 9, 1920, d. December 25, 2015.

All of us in the theatre have had several  weeks of terrible loss, losing such theatrical giants as Rick Cluchey, Brian Bedford, Alan Rickman, David Margulies, and our dear friend Jason Wingreen.

Jason, whom I wrote about in a previous post, passed away quietly in his sleep on December 25, 2015 at about 11:00PM. The ideal way to go, if there is one, at the ripe age of 95, at home, having bid his son good-bye, and quietly without pain. We should all be so lucky. There is a strange limbo period between the time that an actor dies and the world learns of it. It was strange in the ensuing weeks, until the obituaries of Jason and Rick began to appear; for those few days the news had not hit the internet yet. It was almost as though they were still alive.  A Google search still listed them in the present tense.

Earlier this week my friend Lynn Johnson Minney, with whom I had stage managed a production of “Camping with Henry and Tom” at the Pasadena Playhouse called to tell us that she and her husband and daughter were going to be in LA, and she wanted to get together. It never occurred to me until much later in the week that she was coming to attend Rick’s celebration of life, until I remembered that she had stage managed a production of Krapp’s Last Tape also 20 years or so ago. She had met Cluchey when she was in her early 20s and had worked on numerous productions with him. It is startling sometimes how concentrically our lives revolve around each other. I thought of Lynn this morning as I did my yoga practice, because she practiced Bikram yoga when we worked together those many years ago, and frankly, I thought she was crazy.

Other circles – Jimmie worked for months with Brian Bedford at The Phoenix Repertory Theatre, in the 1971 production of “The School for Wives,”which began at the Lyceum Theatre in NY before touring to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. David Margulies had been in “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” with Jimmie, and I had worked with him on “Conversations with My Father.” That’s how it works in the theatre – we drive around in our little artistic bumper cars, careening off and then back together. You never know when you will reunite with a former colleague and friend, but you know that when you do, for good or for bad, you have a deep connection. Our work is so intimate that it begets connections that are significant.

My thoughts drift to the current producers of Endgame, Center Theatre Group. They must be sobered by the fact that their cast members range in age from the youthful Irish Barry McGovern, 67, to Charlotte Rae, in her late 80s, and Alan and Jimmie at 88 and 89, respectively. When Jimmie got the call, my brain immediately kicked into production/stage manager mode, asking Alan,

Who are the Stage Managers?

They will need to have a special understanding of the needs and niceties for aging actors.

happy bus
Endgame’s senior happy bus

Jimmie doesn’t drive any more; the same may be true for the other actors.  I fantasized that the theatre would organize some sort of senior actor happy bus to shuttle around town to get the actors for their daily rehearsals? Would they modify rehearsal hours?  These are important questions when revving older actors up to an 8 performance week after a rehearsal and tech period. Alan already has tackled the issue of the comfort of the ash cans, remarking with a laugh that scenic designer, John Iacovelli, had responded:

They will be so comfortable they will want to move in!

After Alan’s call,  I drove to the Samuel French bookstore in Hollywood, to buy a copy of Endgame. Picking out the script, I went home and put it into Jimmie’s eager, outstretched hands. Later in the afternoon, at the nail salon, I turned to look at Jimmie, whose hands cradled the script, his face modeling the behavior I had fallen in love with those many years ago, that of an actor in complete concentration. He repeated the lines silently, gaze falling slightly down, eyes fixed alternately on the script and then at some vague point in the air in front of him. Anyone married to an actor knows this far-away-look in their partner’s eye. Jimmie used to pace around the room, or go outside in the back yard to speak his lines out loud. Just now, I found him pacing near the dining room table. This phase typically precedes the moment maybe a day later when said actor will turn lovingly and say,

Would you mind cueing me? I think I’m ready to give it a shot.

We have shared that moment so many times in our lives together, and Jimmie has practiced it for decades before we ever met. I don’t think either of us thought we would experience that again. I am so thrilled for Jimmie with this opportunity. He is so ready and willing to get back on the boards, back in the can, back in the saddle, whatever the lame metaphor I choose. He is, after all, my Nagg.


It’s Okay To Be Fierce. Thank you, Reza Abdoh!

Adam Soch
Filmmaker Adam Soch

Tonight we attended the LA Screening of Adam Soch’s film about Reza Abdoh‘s life and work, work that Adam himself had collaborated on and has now assembled from over 20 years of footage taken in the theatrical trenches with Reza and his Dar A Luz company. What struck me most in the film was the commitment of the artists in Reza’s tribe, and how much joy and laughter, lightness really, was derived during those long hours in the theatre supporting his less-than-light vision.  Reza Abdoh Documentary Film

It felt important to celebrate his work with old friends but the guest of honor wasn’t there; Reza died on May 11,1995, twenty years ago almost to the day. I think he would have been pleased with the film, which captured the gutsiness and drive of his life and work; but more likely not, because, as the film pointed out, he was not ever fully satisfied with his work. Reza always let his collaborators know that there was room to improve – to go faster and fiercer.

Under the not-so-flattering glare of the heat lamp, yours truly with Costume Designer Alix Hester.

I look forward to being able to share the film (after it makes the documentary film circuit) with my students, friends, and family. The intensity of Reza’s passion infused all of us. Michael Angel, now a filmmaker, then a crew member on two of Reza’s productions, said

“It was very hard to say no to Reza, when he stood in front of you and said, ‘I really need for this to happen. Can you make it happen?'”

Twenty years later, Reza’s collaborators 

IMG_4124Many of us discussed this “can-do” hangover/attitude/disease/tendency after the film tonight.

Stage managing a show as complicated as “Bogeyman” was has given me the confidence to do just about anything my heart has desired in my life. It has also made it very hard for me, and others, I found out tonight, to say “No, that isn’t possible” to directors. People call Production Managers “Dream Crushers,” because they bear bad news about limited resources and possibilities. I think my brief brush with Reza’s process simply reformulated my understanding of what is possible and what isn’t.

David MacMurtry, Janine Silver, Laurel Meade with Filmmaker Adam Soch at the Los Angeles Screening.

All of Reza’s youthful artists are now twenty years older, no longer cherubic young theatre technicians and actors, but nonetheless still committed to their work in theatre, or academia, or film. We toughened and wised up in theatrical boot camp with Reza. Reza’s now mature Dar A Luz company members, whose beautiful bodies were tasked with grueling emotional and physical choreography twenty years ago, now have the opportunity to celebrate Abdoh and his importance to the theatrical canon and to them as individuals.
Thank you to Adam, who has been the keeper of the flame for all these years. And thank you, too, to Reza’s long time collaborator and friend, Sandy Cleary-Wade, who co-produced the film with Adam.

I urge you to see this inspiring film as soon as you can. It reminded me that it’s okay to be fierce as an individual artist, and collectively in  your chosen artistic tribe.