Joshing Around

I started acting during my freshman year of college; I was cast in a production of Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, which went up one weekend in December of my freshman fall. (And no, I’m not telling you exactly when in another century that was. Sorry.) Our campus had one theater space, home to a number of productions throughout the school year. So during those first few months of my college career, I went to see those productions in part to try and figure out just what the heck I was supposed to do, having not having performed before being cast in my first ever (and somewhat substantial) theatrical role. I was trying to get a sense of how that theatrical space worked, what my newfound theater community was like – how, exactly, to do it.

The first of those shows was Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch, a play about a small town and its small town secrets, with a pivotal role being that small town’s resident hermit, Skelly Manor. Skelly has a long and winding monologue in the second act, memories of a life forgotten by the rest of the world unspooling in a ferocious, feral reverie. To this day, this is among the most riveting things I have ever seen on stage.

Mostly because it was performed by a riveting actor, then in his senior year, by the name of Josh Gladstone.

This role was the start of an epic run of performances during his last year of college, which became the stuff of legend for those of us in the graduating classes after him. It continued with the Inspector in Ionesco’s Victims of Duty. It continued with Hamm in Beckett’s Endgame. (Ah, college theater, where you can go ahead and program 20th century Existential and Absurdist plays to your heart’s content.) And this was all before I finally had the chance to finally work with him, in the second show I ever did, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (to the extent that Theseus and Peter Quince have a chance to interact with each other in that show).

It was twenty-redacted years before we’d work together again.

One of the actors at the first private table read of The Tragedie of King John Falstaff, back in April, had performed in a number of shows at John Drew Theater, at Guild Hall in East Hampton. When we were finished, he said, “you know, you gotta get this to the guys at Guild Hall, there’s this guy named Josh Gladstone, he’d go crazy for this.” Josh, of course, is much more than “a guy” – these days, he’s the Artistic Director of that theater. My eyes lit up at this, since I could imagine just how perfect a fit of performer and play this could be – but I didn’t know if Guild Hall accepted unsolicited manuscripts, and no reason to think that being at college together for a few months was enough to mold an entire season’s calendar to my will. “Don’t worry,” said my friend. “Just tell him I sent you.”

And so I reached out to Guild Hall, and found myself talking theater and logistics with this voice of legend from my college days. And so we arranged for a laboratory workshop and reading of the play, over a weekend when the theater was otherwise dark. In which half of the cast would be members of Dead Playwright’s Society, the reading series to which I belong which had birthed the play, and half of the cast would be local, Hamptons-based performers – with Josh playing the titular role, borrowed from Shakespeare, of Sir John Falstaff.

And there I was, finally getting to know the legend from college. Getting to meet the man he is today – the kind and generous artist looking to nurture new talent everywhere he finds it. Meeting his wife, Kate Mueth, a committed creator of political theater. Seeing the organization he helms. And directing him in the part – seeing his undimmed energy, his boundless capacity for exploration and experimentation. And feeling a not inconsiderable twinge of sadness that so much time had passed before this – that I hadn’t gotten to work with the man before now.

The real treat, however, was seeing my friends from DPS – from my current work in the theater scene – encounter Josh for the first time. Seeing them share the stage with him for that period of time (which will be a shorter period of time when the play’s mounted next, I promise), playing off of the Falstaff he created, frantically keeping up with his creativity.

I got to work with the man. My friends got to meet the legend.

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