True West – An Electric Opening Night!

True West

Arrata Opera Centre

August 17 to 28, 2011


Renowned American Drama Critic and Editor George Jean Nathan once said, “Opening night is the night before the play is ready to open.” Had Nathan been at this evening’s opening performance of Pangloss Productions’ Sam Shepard play, True West, he might have altered his quote to read, “Opening night is the night AFTER the play is ready to open.”

A mere 3 minutes into the start of the play, with only a few lines of dialogue spoken by the two main characters, a huge flash appeared followed by the ear drum piercing wail of an alarm. At first the audience didn’t know if this was some new addition to the famous Shepard play and for a few moments it also seemed that the actors were going to play on through the intrusion. But it was no special effect and there was no going on with the show.

Throwing their hands up in the air, the actors broke character and looked around for the crew to see what to do next. They were told, along with the audience, that the fire alarm had gone off and everyone needed to leave the theatre. Easier said than done as by that time it was pouring rain and there was little shelter to be had outside the building. Reluctantly everyone exited and huddled together under whatever overhangs could be found. There we waited for the fire trucks and the verdict on the evening’s performance.

But even before the firemen arrived, things did not look promising. The cause of the disruption was an apparent lighting strike to the building that both caused the “flash” and set the alarm off. From where we stood, soggy and disappointed, it didn’t seem that any damage was done and I did hear the lighting director say that all his equipment was intact. However it was surmised that by the time the firemen finished inspecting the building it would be at least an hour past opening and that the production team would have no choice but to shut down the performance for the evening.

Apoplectic with apology, the production team came out to tell us the bad news and promised us that our tickets would be honoured at any other performance. We all nodded in compassion and promised to return. Then a sweet round of applause was had as the actors came out into the alley where we stood to greet audience members they knew and crack jokes about the less than stellar opening.

As I left for home, I couldn’t help but feel badly for the actors and the crew. Talk about a letdown. But at least it happened in the first few moments and not halfway through the play when the audience was fully engaged. This way, those that come back can do so with a fresh start and no baggage from opening night……other than some rain-stained shoes and a headache from the alarm that is. Note to self, never wear suede shoes to a play and/or ALWAYS bring an umbrella!

Stay tuned for a full review after I see the play Saturday eve.

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