Satchmo at the Waldorf is in rehearsal at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, where performances start next Tuesday—but I’m in New York, which is nowhere near Beverly Hills. What gives?
The truth is that my presence isn’t required at the Wallis, which is presenting what’s called a “remount” of the 2014 off-Broadway production of my first play. Same set, same actor and director, same staging, and—yes—the same script. When Dramatists Play Service publishes the play later this year, the printed version will be the one that was performed off Broadway and is about to be done in California. I “froze” the text two weeks before we opened in New York, and I see no reason to thaw it out now. For better or worse, I’m done with Satchmo.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to fly out to the Wallis. I’ll be on hand for next Tuesday’s preview performance and the Wednesday-night opening. But unless someone cares to interview me about Satchmo at the Waldorf while I’m in town, there won’t be any reason for my presence. Not only are John Douglas Thompson and Gordon Edelstein perfectly capable of rehearsing Satchmo without me, but I have a day job that requires my regular attention. When I do come, I’ll be there to watch—and, I have no doubt, to learn. I learn something new about the mysterious art of playmaking every time I see a performance of Satchmo. But there comes a moment in the life of every playwright when he must walk away from his play, just as wise parents eventually set their children free and let them find their own way in the world.
As I wrote a month after Satchmo opened in New York:
I still find it fascinating to watch John perform Satchmo. If any other actors should appear in the play in the future, I’ll be just as eager to see them do it, and (if possible) to help them rehearse it. But the huge psychic space that Satchmo has occupied in my mind for the past couple of years is finally starting to shrink, like a thirsty tumor responding to chemotherapy.
That’s a healthy development, and I think that it’s probably also an inevitable one. Moss Hart spoke in Act One of the moment when a playwright realizes that his play “is no longer his, that it belongs to the actors and the audience now, that a part of himself is to be judged by strangers and that he can only watch it as a stranger himself.” I, too, know that feeling. When I watch Satchmo, it feels as if someone else wrote it, and should I ever direct it, I expect I’ll feel the same way.
Books are like that, too. On the increasingly rare occasions when I pick up Duke or Pops or The Skeptic, I can’t recall how it felt for the words on the page to be pouring out of my fingers, still malleable and full of potential. All that is over now. They’re on their own, and I wish them well.
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Satchmo at the Waldorf runs May 26-June 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. To order tickets or for more information, go here.