The Lion & the Portuguese
By Krystle  Strand Petersen
Many THANKS to Krys for a fabulous report!

Close your eyes and describe a perfect night of theatre.  Can you do it?  Can you find the words to give it justice? It's a daunting task for sure, yet I feel compelled to try.

My new friends of about 24 hours and I entered the Holiday Inn convention center area shortly after 7:00 pm on Saturday evening.  The halls were already beginning to fill with anxious ticket holders for Kate Mulgrew's and John de Lancie's reading of the play "The Lion and the Portuguese", written by Susan Rivers and John himself.  Chaos reigned as people attempted to decipher, and then invent, a ticketing system for reserved versus general seating.  Several people with general seating tickets voiced their concern for acquiring a seat with comments such as; "I have to see this play.  If I don't see Kate, I swear I'll die."

As the minutes ticked away and the time grew nearer for the house to open, one could almost hear the corridor walls creak as they resisted increasing pressure from the growing number of people determined to inch closer to the house doors.  There was a bit of a delay from the house related to setting up for the play, but by 7:45 a young gentleman on the Starland convention staff bolstered up what little patience he had left from the hectic day of events and literally yelled down the hallway to explain that everyone with a reserved seat would be allowed in the house first, followed by general seat ticket holders.  Once the doors opened the seats were filled quite rapidly and even with some semblance of order.  The house was blanketed with an air of anxious excitement, as this was the first glimpse of either Kate or John to be had that weekend.

The Starland Master of Ceremonies (MC) informed us from the stage that absolutely no photography or recording was allowed during the play in order to preserve the theatrical nature of the evening.  While there was an initial lull of disappointment, the room quickly assumed the feel of an attentive, respectful theatre audience.

John entered the stage first and received enormous applause.  He spoke a bit about the history of the play, that it was written by a woman named Susan Rivers several years ago.  Initially, John was not happy with the second act, but took it upon himself to rework it for a never-before performed stage reading.  John had been trying for years to find Ms. Rivers to discuss the possibilities of a full performance of the play, but had had no luck in locating her. (ed. note - If you have any information about Ms. Rivers please see below).  He then explained that he and Kate would read the first act of the play, and if at that time the audience was intrigued by the story and desired to find out what happens to the characters, he and Kate would continue with the second act.  Would anyone dare say, "No, please stop, I've had enough"?  I seriously doubted it.

John eloquently introduced his reading partner, the lovely Kate Mulgrew, and crossed upstage to escort her on to the floor.  Again, enormous applause.  Kate immediately took command of the stage.  Her presence filled the theatre and mesmerized the audience.  She took a couple of short, gracious bows, which seemed to say; "Thank you for your sincere warm-welcome, I am truly happy to be here."  Her bright smile made shadows dance on the stage lights and its sweet innocence melted every heart in the room.

Kate was dressed in a short-sleeved, long black dress, textured with an Oriental pattern that complemented her red-orange full shawl with black Oriental design.  Her hair was sleek and tied in the back, which combined with her reading glasses gave her a very scholarly and worldly appearance.

Kate and John took their places on wooden reading stools, adjusted the few props set on adjacent small tables and opened their scripts laid out in front of them on black music stands.  When situated, Kate leaned slightly toward John and threw him a teasing look as if to ask; "Are you about ready, dear?"

John opened the dialogue and in the next 45 minutes they told the story of Robert Browning's and Elizabeth Barrett's first encounters with each other.  Kate and John were captivating.  They became Robert and Elizabeth and the chemistry conveyed in their characters obviously stemmed from the real and very deep chemistry and friendship that exists between Kate and John.

Elizabeth, for health reasons often confined to her room, dealt with various ailments by inhaling from a handkerchief dipped in a bottle of ether, which was one of Kate's props.  She, of course, expertly used the bottle and handkerchief to give Elizabeth long, dramatic moments of ecstasy, providing escape from her pain, perhaps just as much mental as physical.  In order to punctuate lines and actions involving props not provided in real physical form, Kate mimicked and assumed the form of imaginary objects, including a very large sun hat, which Elizabeth referred to as a "salad on [her] head".  There was also a medium sized dog, which one hardly realized was not actually on stage sitting at Kate's feet, and Kate's shawl transformed into a dozen different costumes throughout the course of the evening. There was a relaxation between Kate and John that allowed them to be free with their actions and trust their instincts in reacting to one another's dialogue.  One would think they were born on stage.

The first act drew to a close with Robert and Elizabeth flirtatiously and intellectually courting each other.  It culminated when Kate and John rose from their reading stools, peered into each other's eyes and kissed sweetly and tenderly, conveying a hundred loving words.  Naturally, the audience went wild, and I believe their kiss sent the audience directly to their feet.  Kate cocked her head, opened her mouth and fanned her slightly flush cheeks with her hand.  It was hard to tell whether Elizabeth or Kate had swooned the man next to her more, but I'd put my money on Kate.

After recovering from the spell of Kate's kiss, John announced that they were at the end of Act One.  As promised, he asked the audience whether he and Kate should continue with Act Two.  Was there ever a doubt the answer would be yes?

In Act Two we see Elizabeth and Robert enjoy the bliss of marriage, the tragedy of illness and miscarriages, and the joy of the birth of a son.  Emotions rise, and tears develop in the eyes of both Kate and John as their characters struggle to maintain individual strength while supporting each other.  The dialogue picks up in pace just a bit, as Kate must take on the role of the child as well as Elizabeth.  Her voice toggles cleverly and distinctly between the two, and at one point she leans back and opens her mouth to produce a full child's wail.  Her accuracy is startling.

During one of Elizabeth's spells of illness, Robert attempts to console and nurse her to health without the quick fix of ether.  When on the upswing, Elizabeth turns to lean over to Robert, drops her voice nearly an octave and says that she is feeling "so.. much... better".  John appeared to be locked in Kate's gaze, abandoning his script and the realization of needing one.  After a few beats, he reaches into his trouser pocket, pulls out his hotel room key and slowly and deliberately hands it toward Kate.  Once again Kate and John's personal chemistry ignites the audience in an eruption of laughter and whistling.  The occasional transition out of character only enhanced the experience of the story and I dare say added as much fun for the players as the audience.

The play's end brings the audience to their feet instantly.  One of my new friends, with a seat in the front row, walked up to the stage and presented Kate with a Dutch rose, the exact color of her shawl.  Holding hands, Kate and John waved to the audience, moved by the audience's support for this novel play and still feeling their characters tugging at their heartstrings.  The Starland MC returned and first presented Kate with a dozen red roses, then quickly returned with an equally lovely bouquet for John.  Had they remained on stage throughout the night, I believe the applause would have continued without diminish.  Never before have I felt as if I had witnessed a three-hour play fully performed with blocking and costumes by merely watching and listening to two people read from scripts while sitting on wooden stools.  Simply marvelous.

Ed. note - If you have information about locating Susan Rivers please contact John de Lancie at the "Alien Voices" website. Also if you saw the play, or just loved reading about it, you may want to drop a note to Mr. de Lancie about the possiblity of the play being performed for an audio or video recording.  I think it would be a fabulous idea and something that I would certainly purchase.

Nadine's Photos
Krys' Con Report
Compilation Con Report
Court's Photos& Link
Mary's Photos
Transcript - Coming Soon!