More Soapers On The Road
By Joyce Estrin
|The first week in November of last year was
a week that many die-hard soap opera fans will never forget. It was the
week when six of their favorite daily TV serial actors opened in the play
Absurd Person Singular, the second of two plays produced by Encore Productions
of New York City, whose casts consisted of soap stars from different shows.
(As reported previously, the first ‘soapers on tour’ play was Plaza Suite.)
This new ensemble starred Jada Rowland and Jim Pritchett (Carolee Aldrich and Matt Powers on The Doctors), Kate Mulgrew and Helen Gallagher (Mary Fenelli and Maeve Ryan on Ryan’s Hope), Lewis Arlt (David Sutton on Search ForTomorrow), and the long-missed but ne’er forgotten William Gray Espy (ex-Snapper Foster on The Young and The Restless).
Absurd Person made its debut in South Bend, Indiana, and in the span of three short weeks traveled to Davenport, Iowa; Roanoke and Norfolk, Virginia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and finally, Scranton, Pennsylvania. And that’s where we caught up with them.
It was a cold and blustery afternoon when we set out for Scranton’s Masonic Temple, where the play took place. But the long four-hour drive was eased by the anticipation that we were going to see a play performed by fine actors. No such luck!
One quick phone call informed us that the theater was managed by somewhat absurd rules. Number one: not even the local papers were permitted to enter the auditorium to take pictures for the paper’s review section. And number two: if you weren’t a seasonal subscriber of the Temple, there was absolutely no way that you would be allowed to see the show.
“I know you’ve driven a long way, but I’m sorry,” said the solid voice on the other end of the line. “But, but… “
But, where there’s a will, there’s definitely a way. Even if we couldn’t get into see the actual performance, there was no way that we were going to drive four hours without speaking to the talents who were due to arrive for their eight o’clock p.m. call for the eight-thirty show.
The precious time before any play is spent scurrying around with makeup and costume fittings. Kate Mulgrew and Bill Espy came running in the theater’s entrance, explaining that they were late for their call. We followed them down a long and winding concrete stairway that led to a small hall consisting of six box-like dressing rooms. As another good, somewhat high voice was singing a tune out of the last room at the end of the hall, so we thought we’d investigate who the proud owner of those pleasant vocal chords was.
“Hello there,” offered Jada, with a bit of an English accent which all the actors used in the play. “I’m having the hardest time getting my hair right tonight; probably because I used a new shampoo that has a conditioner in it that I’m not used to,” she said, as she struggled to tease her bangs, whi1e leaning on her knees. “As you can see, since the electrical outlet is very close to the floor, I have to kneel if I want to use my curling iron or blow dryer.”
She sighed with frustration at the position she was in, and with a soft laugh added, “Wouldn’t you say that this mirror was made for someone four foot, eight inches?”
When she finally gave up on her stubborn locks, Jada told us that touring is absolutely terrific for her, since she grew up on the stage and is naturally accustomed to traveling to different towns and coping with the situations that accompany any traveling performer.
“I must tell you that I really love the International House of Pancakes in Scranton; fantastic place,” she said smiling. “I’ve been there for breakfast, lunch, and supper. You don’t suppose they’ll think I’m hung up on them, do you?” she asked jokingly. “Seriously though, I really like Scranton. It’s small and quiet compared to New York. And although it has snowed all day, it doesn’t stick, and acculumate.”
“What’s going on over there Jada?” asked her castmate Jim Pritchett.
“I just told them that I was the one who pulled Joan Dancy’s plug on The Doctors,” Jada laughed kiddingly.
“Wait. Let me get my pipe out,” said Jim. “I have to light up my pipe before I do anything.” Pipe well lit, Jim told us that his family was with him for the Scranton tour. Daughters Shelley and Laura and son Kyle were back at the hotel for the moment, where, as Jim put it, “there is absolutely nothing for them to do. They weren’t allowed to bring any friends, so they’re fending for themselves. But they’ll be here later for you to meet,” he assured us.
We eased on down to Kate’s cubby-hole, where she was dressed in a short terrycloth robe, knee socks, and had her hair in a loose knot on top of her head.
“I love touring to all the cities,” exclaimed Kate, “and what’s amazing about it is that I’m not tired at all. In fact, I’ve got enough energy to burn forever,” she admitted, rosy-cheeked, smiling warmly, and not the least bit nervous about the curtain that was to go up in about fifteen minutes. Unrushed by any time limit, Kate nonchalantly applied her eye makeup, while continuing to persuade us that we must see the play. We didn’t take the time to explain to her that we couldn’t. However we assured her that we’d see her later when the autograph session was to take place after the show.
Lewis Arlt paid a visit to one of his biggest fans while in Scranton— Debbie Camp, who is president of Ten Keane’s (Naomi Vernon on One Life to Live) fan club.’ Since it was Debbie’s birthday, he told us that he spent the afternoon lunching with Debbie and sharing strawberry layer cake with her for dessert.
Helen and Bill were rather rushed getting their costume and makeup done on time and were unable to chat with us prior to curtain. We headed for those winding concrete stairs that would lead us to the lobby of the building. One look at the lobby assured us that the theater was surely going to be a packed house this evening. Hundreds of people, many dressed to the teeth, were filing into the theater. Souvenir programs, were being sold. Later, the thunderous applause inside the closed doors told us that the show was completed. The audience filed out, chatting excitedly about the play that had just taken place, and sharing such opinions as, “Oh, wasn’t she good?,” or “I really think he’s much more handsome in person than on the serial,” or “She has such a beautiful stage voice, I wonder if they cast her for the soap after seeing her on stage.”
Many of these fans began to gather around the two long tables set up on the far-side of the lobby, where six chairs were arranged behind the tables for the actors to assemble for an autograph session. Cameras were being loaded and autograph books were seen everywhere.
Within ten minutes, Kate led the procession of actors from the two doors that opened into the lobby. She was followed by Bill, Jada, Helen, Jim, and Lewis, whose two buddies, who were traveling with him, were first on line to kiddingly ask their favorite actor for his autograph.
“Sorry, but you’ll have to wait in line with the others,” Lewis teased.
Several of the actors were presented with gifts from their devoted fans and many were offered kisses. Jim Pritchett appeared to be the Romeo of the group, and a most, beautiful young lady was first in line to offer him a congratulatory kiss.
“A daughter?” I asked curiously.
“How’d you know!” Jim answered, hoping that we’d think it was simply an admiring fan. She was Jim’s oldest daughter Laura, who has appeared with her dad on The Doctors in a few shows as a nurse. Also on hand was Jim’s young son, Kyle, who has the most beautiful head of curly hair. Kyle stuck close to his dad’s side, quite happy to have his picture taken and was eager to confess that he’s proud of his dad’s work. We couldn’t agree more.
Jada could be heard admitting that the actors of this ensemble have all agreed that they would like to have a ‘shifting policy’ between the soaps, whereby, every few months, an actor could switch up on another soap. “But if you think about it,” she added, “I guess we already have that—what with actors turning up on one soap after being killed off of another.”
Helen appeared to be rather a quiet, reserved lady, graciously signing autographs and posing for photos. She looked much younger than she does on her show. You could obviously tell that there is a close rapport between her and her TV daughter, Kate.
“How about if we all go to the International House of Pancakes,” Jada offered eagerly as the mob dwindled. Jada had a heavy cape with a hood to keep her warm against the biting cold, while ‘the others donned fall jackets. They all headed out, laughing, happy the night was over, but sad to realize that tomorrow night could be the closing night of their three-week tour.
But each of the actors had their own set of special memories to bring home with them. They had made new friends, both in and away from the immediate cast. And they also had a new acting experience under their belts.
Although we didn’t get to see the actual play, we did have the opportunity to meet the talented company who made up the cast. Let’s hope they do it again. And again. And again...