1964
John Dexter, the late director associated with Britain’s National Theatre, became a friend of ours when Lynn and I first married. He had directed her in Black Comedy on Broadway, and later in the first of the only two movies he directed, The Virgin Soldiers. He was also known to be a somewhat sadistic fun-loving homosexual.
I never did bring up with him my memory of the most ghastly series of auditions that any actor could be expected to put up with.
I had just, with great difficulty, learned the part of Berowne for a production of Love’s Labor’s Lost which I and a couple of other Equity actors had performed at Emory University in Atlanta 3 times to beef up a student production, and then returned to New York. Berowne’s long speech to his friends on his philosophy towards women I vowed would be retained in my brain forever, for the sole purpose of auditioning with it.
And it came to pass that auditions were being held for a Broadway production of “The Royal Hunt of the Sun”.
I signed up, and boldly went forth on to the stage, to be greeted by Dexter’s voice in the darkness “So what are you going to thrill us with?”
I answered “Berowne’s speech from Love’s Labor’s Lost, Mr. Dexter.” And so I did it. There was a long pause, and then the voice came back “Not bad, but you must watch your punctuation. Next.”
But I got a call-back, and found myself again in the same position. He said “What are you going to thrill us with today, young man?’ I said “The Berowne speech from “Love’s Labor’s Lost, Mr. Dexter.” And so I did it once again.
This time, he came back with “Better, but you really have to watch your breathing. Next”.
I thought that was it, but to my astonishment I got a call-back again. This time at the ANTA Theatre (now the Virginia), where the play was to be presented, and rehearsals were to start any day. Seems they were still looking for actors, and hope sprang within me.
On stage again “So what are you going to thrill us with THIS time?”, greeted me, and again I said “Berowne’s speech. . .” and I think I heard a groan.
But I doggedly held my ground and went ahead, and got interrupted halfway through with “That’s enough” echoed by the stage manager. I got off stage where my friend John Vernon, also from Canada, later to make his name as the Mayor of San Francisco in the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” film, was waiting for his turn. He had asked me to warn him what to expect, and I just had time to tell him that he would be asked to thrill Mr. Dexter. And then I hung around in a nearby coffee shop to swap notes. But unlike me, he was smart.
Apparently, John got on stage, was asked the same question, said “I thought I’d show you this.” and then went down to the footlights, and started to unzip his pants. How far he got I don’t know, (well I do, actually) but the next day he got the call that he was cast in the production.
[Footnote. I see dear John died on February 1, 2005, complications from heart surgery, in L.A. My age exactly. May he R.I.P.]