Wasn’t it a great summer? Like the others before? But this year! There was that first show — remember how thrilling it was to get back to the Harbor after another winter? The actors arrived for the first rehearsal, the director, old friends reunited, and the bliss of working on something together, something great and worthwhile — all that expectation in the air. Making something out of nothing, inventing, discovering, failing. Strange to spend so many hours working during the day, only to do the actual thing at night.
The audience: familiar faces, comrades, strangers, like a dinner party or a holiday or church, wherever you gather to get what you get. It’s electric. Perhaps you have a coffee or glass of wine, plastic cup, a chocolate. You go to the box office and see Brenda or Roberta or Stacy or Jonathan or Greg or Bob trying to disappear in the background. Your tickets are there. There’s a line, a long one. Stef’s working the bar as Bill paces the lobby like a cop. There’s a host of hosts, everyone waiting for the house to open. There’s music played lightly, underscoring the evening. The poster is perfect, better than posters are.
All this happened! You can see it, feel it.
Maybe you noticed an actor shuffle by, half in costume, making their way up the stairs outside, or the larger-than-life figure perched up above. The owner of the building, the reason for our presence, looks out over the sea of patrons, over the bay. It’s a breezy evening — just the right kind, though there’s never a bad one, whatever the weather. It seems to suit the Harbor.
The house opens, you make your way in, the room is cool and comfortable, the house is full, you see Sara’s or Evan’s set, it’s different than any other and it seems just right. The stage itself is like an installation, a work of art. The soft glow of John’s light is always just right. There’s different music playing now, setting the tone for whatever world is about to unfold.
Jonathan, with Manny Smith’s help, has put together the playbill. Economical, sharp. A little poetry.
A bustle now, getting closer. The show’s at 7:30, always 7:30. There’s Jeff Zinn, and Dick and Leslie, and Manny and Liz, and Tom Cole’s in the house as well, and the Tellers, the Alpers, and so is Tommy Landon and Jane and John. What a great night.
There is no curtain speech. The house lights dim and it begins.
It was a truly amazing show. They always are, but there was something about tonight. It only ever happened then, and never will that way again.
Robin in another singular role, and Winslow, and Dennis. Wow. And Stacy — how can she be that good again? Brenda’s play is so startling, benevolent, and funny. What a gift to have them in our little circle at the ending of the world. Bob and Johnny — I think they broke character and laughed. This can’t happen every night. Though it was a comedy.
The play is over. It feels like something just happened. It was funny and moving and glorious and sad. There’s money in the plinth, the parking lot is full, it’s dark out now.
What a night. You were just part of something great.
And then, in July, it happened again! Something totally different, but equally fantastic. Ed and Barbara were there that night, and Pete and Peg Landon, Tommy’s folks. John Kolvenbach was there with his boys, now men, and Jonathan’s family came all the way up from Texas, and Alex and Molly were there as well. Alex and Robert were on the bocce court just before. Later, Bob was spotted house left, leaning against the wall just before curtain. He glances up to Adam in the booth. Nods. The show begins.
Jonathan, always good, has never been better. He grows before our eyes. They all do. What a blessing to have this kind of repertory company, rare in America.
The season closer was unexpected and more fun than you’ve ever had at the theater. To see the company romp through this wild, existential comedy was a blast. They seem so easy with one another after all these years. And the Lytles were there and Jim and Lexa. Martha and John, Howard and Candy, Lois and Ramon, and Bob from above. Michael Ceraldi walked a plate of food over for the closing night party. Everyone applauded as the actors sheepishly entered through that strange door, like from the kitchen of a restaurant. It was loud. Everyone talking, listening.
What a great summer! Plays disappear, people, too. And experiences. But that they happened, that’s the thing. They live in your mind. You can see it, feel it.
It all happened. Just like that.
Robert Kropf is the artistic director of the Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet.