Last week we had the great good fortune of having John Logan visit our rehearsals for a run thru. We were justifiably a bit nervous. But those nerves gave way to John’s warmth, humor, and enthusiasm and support for our work. We had the opportunity to sit down and hear him talk of the origins of the play: that, in many ways, it was his “Irish family play,” in that the relationship between Rothko and Ken is drawn from his experience of his relationship with his own father. He spoke of his experience of seeing the Seagram’s murals at the Tate Modern while working on Sweeney Todd in London, reading the signage and realizing there was a theatrical story in Rothko’s return of the prestigious commission’s purse after working on it for two years. He hadn’t written one in a long time but finished it fairly quickly. The Donmar Warehouse theater in London offered him a production before the play was even completed. Rare dealings, indeed.
After seeing our rehearsal, he and Bob Falls went off to dinner to discuss our progress. It was our first run-thru of the piece, so we were still in the throws of figuring things out: timing, business, etc. When Bob returned the next morning we sat down and talked about some of the ideas John had. He was instrumental in guiding us through some of the more sinewy bits of the text, even cutting a speech that, although published, he had wanted to cut earlier in the Broadway run. He felt he couldn’t cut it since Alfred Molina had learned it and played it for several months. It was already in his body and worked in to the rhythm of the production, so it stayed in. I was sanguine about the cut. There are plenty of lines for me, and, as John pointed out, the speech really slowed down the drive of the fourth scene. John had tried to insert the speech in several places throughout the play, none of which really pleased him, so out it went.
His insights about the rhythms and the importance of finding the laughs were amazing. Of course, without an audience, the comedy is hard to find. It’s always generous of those staff in rehearsal to laugh, but with repetition, and concerned with their own responsibilities, those in rehearsal really don’t approximate what an audience will laugh at. It was incredibly encouraging to know that there were many laughs. I look forward to finding those in previews coming up.
I have to say that Bob Falls was enormously open about taking John’s thoughts about the play. That is not always an easy thing. His experience with working with new playwrights notwithstanding, being open to ideas is a delicate thing. However, Bob and John have known each other since John was an undergraduate at Northwestern, and John did bring the play to the Goodman specifically to be the first American Company and theater to produce the play. That history made for a strong sense of trust.
On a personal note, I was delighted to learn that John spent his formative years in a town adjacent to my hometown in northern New Jersey. We actually attended rival high schools. Although neither of us were athletes in school, it was fun to think that we had both spent our Thanksgivings at the annual football game before heading home for family time. (He would have done that a few years after me, but the connection was there).
We also attended a subscriber’s breakfast together with Bob and Patrick Andrews to share our experience of the play and rehearsals. That was a lively conversation and John and Bob showed a remarkable synergy in their comments. I was proud to be on the dais with them.
John came to a second run thru after we rehearsed the changes. He left us with tons of encouragement, pleased that the changes made sense to us, that the play works so well in our hands, and left with the promise of returning to the opening on the 27th.
What a great opportunity to spend real working time with such a talented craftsmen and enormously successful writer, who is also such a warm and generous human being. A rare combination and experience, but something that seems to be the standard operating procedure with all the artists and staff around The Goodman Theater.
For more information check out this article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune about John’s visit.