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Previews and the people who love them

by Amy Kingsley

What kind of person actually chooses to come to a preview performance?

That question used to animate any number of headset conversations back in the good old days at Triad Stage, Zach Scott and the Dallas Theater Center. It usually followed a missed cue, a flubbed line or something worse – like the total breakdown of a moving set piece.

A preview performance is, technically, still a rehearsal. With an audience. The first one usually happens on a Sunday night and it usually attracts a small crowd. Of sadists.

The thrill of live theater is the potential for anything to happen. That’s particularly true during previews, when the cast and crew are doing their thing in real time, for the first time, in front of an audience.

There’s a certain kind of nervousness that inhibits muscle memory. It’s the same thing that causes a small mistake to cascade into crisis. Like the avian flu, it’s waiting for the right set of circumstances to wreak its particular brand of havoc.

So if you’re going to a preview, be prepared for a train wreck. And if you enjoy a train wreck, by all means, buy a ticket for a preview.

I don’t enjoy a train wreck. And I’d rather see a play after the kinks are worked out. That way, I can devote my attention to the story, the acting and all the pretty scenery.

All that is on display for this first preview of Triad Stage’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. The lights bathe the set in pastels. The actors hit their marks with authority.

It’s George Bernard Shaw, of course, so the technical demands are minimal. It’s also Triad Stage, so the actors are pros, pinching off their period gloves and witty rejoinders with the utmost exactitude.

It’s sold out, this first preview. And I’m settling into the story and rhythm, the contest between the bawdy, ruthless Mrs. Warren and her cold, ruthless daughter.

That’s when it happens. That’s when the woman sitting directly behind me confirms my worst suspicions.

“That gate just won’t stay shut!” she says.

Is that glee I’m hearing? I’m sure it is. Pure, unadulterated glee at having spotted a real theatrical mishap.

It’s true, the garden gate isn’t latching. The actors have noticed, and they’re working it into the show, directing long gazes at the errant entrance. The rest of the audience laughs.

That gate just found its way to the top of the director’s notes.

You see, after the audience shuffles into the night, Preston Lane will gather his designers and tech staff for a meeting. On the worst nights, these stretch into the wee hours of the morning. On the best, they’re short, sweet and followed by drinks at the bar.

The gate thing is pretty minor stuff. One carpenter armed with a new latch and a screw gun could dispatch it in less than 30 minutes.

There have been worse mishaps. A groaning, clunking Mirandolina stage leaps to mind, and the nights following the first bumbling Irma Vep previews, when we gathered like a defeated army.

By opening, both shows were fine. My guess is that this evening will be one that ends with drinks at M’Coul’s, an ode, of sorts, to the Irish spirit behind the script.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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