//Ad libs: The show must...aw, you know the rest

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The show must...aw, you know the rest

Sometimes the best way to achieve immortality on the stage is to fall off the stage. Honestly, who are you going to remember: the fiery performance, or the actor who accidentally set his leading lady on fire?

Nothing makes me laugh like a good theater catastrophe, assuming no one was wounded in the line of duty. When writing my Weekly
cover story on the 75-year history of the Palo Alto Players, I heard a few doozies, like the one about a pizza mistakenly being delivered on stage (see the aforementioned cover story).

I particularly loved the quaint ones I found in “1001 First Nights,” a little book the Players published in 1956 for their 25th anniversary. There was the actress who created a putty nose so convincing that she had to go to the hospital to get it removed.

Then there was the 1946 production of “Chicken Every Sunday,” in which the script called for the actors to talk so many times about an offstage bathroom that one leg-crossing lady came up out of the audience and onstage in search of the toilet.

And, a few more:

“There was that (1939) occurrence in ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’ when an elderly actress, in a complete lapse of memory, got out of costume at the end of Act II, and went home. Which left Garrett Starmer doing a soliloquy in the closing scene of Act III.”

Lastly, actor Tony Morse became a real-life hero during a love scene with Florence Brill in 1934’s “Mary Rose.” According to the book: “Ardor and passion glowed with the intensity of the stage set’s real wall candles -- flames from which slowly started to lick the canvas flat. Without a break in the dialogue, Morse quietly walked over and put out the fire with his hands, after which he returned to his fair lady, placed her back on his knee, and continued his love scene.”