At last, I am cast

I wonder why, when you're given a role in a play, the process is described as "being cast." Sounds like fly-fishing. Anyway, cast is what one is, and cast (at last) is what I am!

And I do have a slight sensation of being tossed, on the end of a line, into a running river. Fortunately, I am a small fly. My part is not large.

When "The Odd Couple (Female Version)," for which I prompted, was over, I thought, "That's it - no parts for me this season." I'd have to wait till autumn.

But I hadn't reckoned on the Sheep's Head Theatre. One of The Players' leading lights is also a member of this theater group. She phoned. "I don't know if you'd be interested, but...."

The Sheep's Head production, "Not About Nightingales," was in need of men. This early Tennessee Williams play (recently rediscovered by Vanessa Redgrave), is set in a men's prison. Not a play to put on if men are in short supply.

So for a week, I wondered if I might be going to prison. It wasn't exactly what I had had in mind for my return to acting, but what is that saying that involves beggars and choosers?

When she told me I wasn't getting a part in "The Odd Couple," Kate McNeil had remarked: "I don't think I'll be calling on you this time ... unless I am really desperate." A slightly deflating choice of words, I felt.

But now, perhaps, it was the apt phrase for the director of "Not About Nightingales." It struck me that this need for actors might be to my advantage.

I auditioned. I was called back. And two days later, Claire, the director, rang. She has a northern English voice, not unlike Daphne's in the NBC sitcom "Frasier." At the callback the previous day, she had said, "This callback is an audition, too, and tomorrow I will let everyone know if they have a part or not."

There is casting, and there is typecasting. With "The Odd Couple," it had puzzled me that the two main parts had been given to women whose appearance, demeanor, and (as far as I could see) character made them ideal for the other one's part. The neat, tidy, organized one was playing the slob. I asked her why she thought they had been cast as they were.

"Oh, it was a deliberate casting against the characters," she said.

Strange, I thought. But I had to admit it had worked. All the same, you'd think it would be so much easier for a director to have actors who already are halfway to being the characters they will act.

A friend sent me a cartoon. In it, a waiter in a restaurant kitchen is telling another waiter: "I got the part, but I play a waiter."

On the phone to me, Claire said: "I'd like to offer you the part of the prison chaplain. That speech has really been worrying me, and I think you could do it."

"Oh, right," I said. "I hope this isn't based on your observation of my own character?"

"Oh not, not at all," she hastened to reassure me.

I'd rather fancied being a convict.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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