Hangmen delayed two years by the pandemic did finally open on Broadway to rave reviews just over a week ago. But the virus still lurks and the knock-on effect is that at this writing two of our actors are off.
Me as Harry Wade in Hangmen, photo by Anna Fleischle
Also meaning that two of our actors are on.
I am one of them.
Virus allowing I will be playing all next week Monday May 2nd thru Saturday May 7th 2022. Details and tickets here.
This represents the third attempt to open this spectacular play on Broadway. I am not on a percentage, let me make that clear, but I urge you to snap up tickets at covid-induced discounts asap. After all, capital punishment – what could be funnier?
Following a hugely successful run at The Atlantic Theatre in 2018 a transfer to Broadway was mooted. Some of the cast had availability issues and the transfer never happened.
Then in 2020 the transfer was finally placed and with some new cast members the project got as far as a week and a half of previews (but no opening) and then … well we all know what happened on March 13th of that year.
So now in 2022 – wish us luck.
I am engaged to cover several roles including ‘Harry’ one of the hangmen of the title, Hangmen. I was in the company when the shutdown hit, and at that time my wife (the amazing Patricia Conolly) was appearing as Mrs Dubose in To Kill A Mockingbird in a theatre around the corner. So it seemed not only obviously sensible for me to take the gig but also practical as Patricia had Manhattan housing supplied.
So I was delighted when this came around again, not least because it was a 5 block walk to work.
But then …
Mockingbird closed at two days notice and the Manhattan apartment evaporated.
Mockingbird is slated to return in June of this year. (We all hope).
Talking of Mockingbird and the cover gig (see here for my previous take). In the weeks after Christmas last year the virus went through the company meaning that covering actors were deployed, not only those current, but those from previous casts.
Such is the challenge of keeping a show open in the present situation that public praise has been lavished on the many several covers and swings that have kept Broadway and West End shows going – this was unthinkable back in the day when Noel Langley wrote the backstage novel “There’s a Porpoise Close Behind Us.”In that novel he details in one sentence the disdain verging on contempt in which understudies were held in 1936.
So in 2022 it is heartening to note that on so mighty an organ as NPR I heard a conversation explaining that while the job is more artisanal than directly artistic, it requires skill, courage, more than a little nerve, and the firm management of one’s ego.
I understand that given the virus and what it’s doing to the world at large and actors in particular, my own and my colleagues’ odds of ‘going on’ have risen and bookies in New York midtown are laying bets at better than even chances: who knows? But if you live in NYC don’t be surprised if I ask you for a sofa for the night!
In other McPhillamy news allow me to direct your attention to a charming little radio series by Collin Johnson under the umbrella title, Capital Gains. The BBC plans to re-broadcast this amusing piece beginning February 10th of this year. You can access it at BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Oddly enough, the chap who wrote this, one Collin Johnson was also an actor (like me). He is on record as repeating a phrase first uttered by William Makepeace Thackeray who, when asked why he wrote Vanity Fair, (the 19th century novel, not the hi-glamour magazine), answered, “Bread and cheese.”
Apparently Johnson, soon after he became a young father, motivated by this very same imperative, took on a succession of cover jobs in the West End. I understand that he used to regard the income from these engagements as a writing bursary. This may be apocryphal but I have heard that Capital Gains was written in a broom cupboard adjacent to a dressing room at the Duchess Theatre in London using a large upturned photographic placard of a certain television star balanced on two trestles as a desk.
Are these men related? I think we should be told.
Full disclosure, Collin Johnson is known to me personally.
They closed the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street on Thursday 12th March, most of Broadway and off-Broadway following within a few hours. On Friday March 20th Hangmen was closed officially.
All that seems like a whole different long-time-ago time now. But then that’s what two weeks (today) of self-isolation can do for you.
Actors are no strangers to being chucked out of work and sometimes suddenly too. But even the most seasoned of us has never been through this. Well that’s not quite true. As I mentioned in my previous post they closed the theatres down at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries due to outbreaks of plague. And stories abound of touring companies being abandoned in far-flung parts because the manager absconded with the takings. That was in the bad old days before there was Equity, the actors’ union.
That’s me and Pete Bradbury up there in the top right. Below is a picture of me ready to step in to the role of Harry Wade, one of the Hangmen of the title. Posted here by kind permission of the production ‘cos sadly, although the chances were slim of you actually seeing me in the part, now the chances are zero.
We were getting into top gear, both working on Broadway shows, my wife Trish in the acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird – which had recently played to 18,000 high school kids in a sensational free performance at Madison Square Garden – and me in one that on paper at least had all the hit ingredients. This virus thing is more than inconvenient. Just saying.
That’s Patricia Conolly with a dressing room selfie of Mrs Dubose.
So what’s to be done in this in-between moment? Well you can always read a great novel (or write one). The only Tolstoy novel I’ve read is Resurrection, so yes, maybe I will have a go at War and Peace… Or Moby Dick… or one of the longer Dickens… The watercolors, the jig-saws, that coverlet you’ve always meant to crochet…
Talking of literature, P G Wodehouse can always be relied on for an amusing turn of phrase. Earlier today I came across this for example, “He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, had he been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.”
It may not look like much out of context and perhaps you had to be there, but it caused a lot of mirth in the Conolly/McPhillamy household to the extent that tense shoulders began to loosen and worry lines gave way to the creases of laughing smiles.
It does seem though that whatever you do, it really, really, REALLY is better not to go outside (except when deploying the newly minted social distancing for those essential journeys). So much so that this amusing little ballad – stop me if you’ve heard it before – seems now to be the summation of all wisdom currently available. (some vulgar language; viewer discretion advised).
I expect by now you’ve heard this one. But I’ll tell you again anyway…
Tweet: When Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague he wrote King Lear.
Answering Tweet: I don’t need that kind of pressure.
Tweet: And he did it without toilet paper.
Talking of Nostradamus. It seems unlikely that I’ll be doing any acting anytime soon, so now’s the time to focus on my side hustle – yes, that right ASTROLOGY. You can see my astrological two cents worth here, or check out the rest of the site at www.GalacticFragment.com, and if you’re interested, and I fully acknowledge that astro is not to everyone’s liking – sidebar here: at one time I was on a quest to have a sensible conversation with a scientist about why astrology works. I didn’t pursue this very far because the few scientists I met would start edging towards the door as soon as I mentioned the art of celestial interpretation. I never even got as far as asking them about the implications of the recently discovered sub-atomic particle, the neutrino.
Be that as it might, for the duration of the lock-down I’m offering a chart reading at the deeply discounted price of… pay-what-you-wish. If you’re interested email me at Colin@galacticfragment.com. Something different perhaps? After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch…
I hope you’re ok and that you have good supplies of rice, beans, and tinned fish – oh and loo roll!
In the 1590s they closed the theatres in London because there were outbreaks of plague. The longest period of closure was from February 1593 for about a year when Philip Henslowe (you saw his character in Shakespeare in Love, played by Geoffrey Rush) was made to close the Rose Theatre.
Theatre people are not strangers to sudden changes in the continuity of work, and yesterday as I’m sure everyone knows by now, all Broadway theatres were ordered closed on the authority of the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Me on hearing the news
The Broadway community of actors, musicians and other performers, technicians, stage mangers, front-of-house staff, box office, stage door, cleaners; as well as agents, lawyers, designers, directors, choreographers, general managers, producers, publicists, critics, and others; as well as all the local auxiliary businesses – bars, restaurants – physical therapists … it amounts to several hundred thousand people in our immediate community, and of course the ripples will go far beyond that.
And what about the patrons from far and wide and all the $$$ they bring?
So; the usual personal question when a gig comes to a scheduled end, “Will I ever work again?”, when the hiatus –(no one has said it’s the end yet), comes as a shock, although somewhat expected, the question now becomes one for the global collective, “WTF IS GOING ON?!?”
Having said that: Hangmen was in previews, and performances of this truly fascinating play were going brilliantly. Let’s hope we can bounce back. Watch this space for updates.
Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.
In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.
“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.
Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.
By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.
Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.
Is there a difference between entertainment and art?
“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”
Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.
And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?
I doubt it.
The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?