When I agreed to be a part of ‘The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall’ I was so in need of a comedy. I was in the midst of a production of ‘Lord of the Flies’. Soon after I was playing an anguished, culturally confused Palestinian-American soldier during the first Gulf War, and soon after that an anguished, morally confused Serbian solider during the Bosnian War [Honey Brown Eyes]. My artistic endeavors for the coming year were looking and feeling rather grim. (Side Note: All these projects were really wonderful, but certainly not heavy on the guffaws as you can imagine).
Theater J’s decision to produce ‘The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall’ and my invitation to be a participant was a welcome relief; finally something to make people laugh and not give me nightmares. It wasn’t until opening night last Sunday that I realized that perhaps there were other people in need of a comedy too.
Our rehearsal process for the play was a mix of charging head-on into a wildly challenging comedic world, an opportunity to laugh and socialize with like-minded individuals, and detail oriented work with the technical elements of the production. While we were able to laugh at our work during the first weeks and occasionally be reminded of the inherent humor of Sam’s play, there came a point at which the sound of laughter had left the rehearsal room without the presence of a fresh audience. It was then that we were left to wander through Sam’s often surreal but simultaneously accurate landscape hoping for the best.
We had an amazingly informative string of preview performances. The kind of preview performances that can truly be used for their supposed purpose: to continue rehearsing, to experiment with undecided choices, and to find where the jokes land.
Then we had opening.
Backstage was such an incredible mix of nerves and excitement. Josh, Matt, Tessa, Maureen and myself were in various states of anxious pacing. My memory is a little cloudy, so perhaps that was only me. I know there was dancing, vaguely committed vocal warm-ups, numerous high fives, and lots of swearing.
When the peals of laughter came ringing through the monitors backstage after Josh’s first lines I knew we were going to be in for a treat with this audience. All the way through the show it felt like the audience was on our side. Uproarious laughter throughout, audience participation at times, and a portion of the audience leaping to their feet at the curtain call. It was overwhelmingly fun, humbling, and so very welcome and appreciated for all of us who worked on this production.
We’re now as a cast, crew, and theatre in the world of handling the feedback about the show, and generally we’re reading and hearing nothing but positive and appreciative responses. There are people who feel the play is too vulgar or depressing in its depiction of youth culture in America, and that’s to be expected, but I think the majority see the show as an accurate portrayal of the tribulations of approaching an artistic, or really any, career, in this day and age. And perhaps though the language and references are distinctly contemporary, people are seeing a timeless quality to Henry’s journey. For what it is worth, the play has shown me how important it is to see that universal struggle with a sense of humor.
I hope people come to see the show, I think people are longing for a good laugh, and if opening night was anything to go by a number of people seemed to believe in that old adage . . .
Something about medicine and laughing.