Dan Rennie, left, playing Charles, with Dennis Twitchell, as Harry, with the now-infamous toilet between them.
We ran dress rehearsal last night for Never Too Late.
And a toilet died.
In every show I've acted in, or directed, there is always some magnificent FUBAR moment that nearly brings the show to a halt. The mark of a good cast is its ability to navigate around the mess without the audience even suspecting.
Last night, my male lead, playing the part of Harry Lambert, the acerbic lumberyard owner who finds out his 50-plus-year-old wife is pregnant, shattered the tank of a toilet. Destroyed it.
The scene begins with Harry and his son-in-law arriving home after a night of heavy drinking. Drunkenly they slur about, stumbling and joking and having a gay old drunken time.
At one point, a brand new toilet destined for installation in an upstairs nursery, is pulled out of the living room closet (put there in an earlier scene when the Mayor of the town suddenly arrives and Harry demands it be hidden from view.)
Well, in Harry's drunken state, he comes to the brilliant conclusion that the toilet should actually be placed on the front steps of the meddling, officious Mayor, to get back at him for being a jerk.
Harry stumbles over to the closet, retrieves the toilet, and brings it downstage, center, imploring his son-in-law, Charles, to celebrate with him in the christening of the toilet as an award to the mayor.
Last night, it went off without a hitch.
Until Harry set the toilet down.
He ambled out of the closet, the toilet in his arms, the bowl between his legs, and delivering his lines drunkenly (enunciating and projecting! always projecting!) he made the tight turn at the edge of the stage to place the toilet facing front.
The idea is that he sets it down and sits on the toilet seat with his back to us.
Which he did.
And the tank shattered magnificently, this cracking, crumbling noise, pieces and chunks raining down onto his knees, down to his feet, and all over the braided rug.
And the entire audience gasped ... and then laughed.
The rest of the scene is supposed to play out with Harry carrying the toilet out the door with Charles right behind him. Them placing the toilet (off stage) on the mayor's front porch and then running back into the house laughing and dancing, triumphant in their prank.
Last night, they did all of that. Sort of.
At this point, Dennis (as Harry) is still sitting on the toilet seat, his back to us, and his head bowed over the shards and pieces of what is left of the tank. And I noticed his shoulders were bobbing, as if laughing. Dan, who plays Charles, is still very much in character, and ad libs "Oh, Dad, you did it now..."
Unscripted but hilarious and proving once again the fortune we had of casting him. As well as Dennis, because, without missing a beat, he soldiered on, hoisting the toilet while Charles picked up the larger pieces of the tank and they both exited out the front door like they were supposed to. And the audience gave them a much deserved applause.
What I didn't know - and no one did until Dennis came back with Dan - is that Dennis had sliced his hand in three places. Dan, in the few seconds back stage "planting" the toilet on the mayor's front porch, had told Dennis to hold a piece of cardboard in the injured hand and to not loosen his grip, to stop the bleeding.
And for the rest of the scene - a good 10 minutes - Dennis did that. Clutching this piece of cardboard tightly, doing his best to hide the injury.
Luckily we had a nurse in the audience, sitting up back. Without anyone knowing, she was told of the problem and hurried back stage and was able to bandage his hand within seconds of his return to the stage.
He played out the rest of the show with this great gob of white bandage, looking like the tape boxers use on their fists before slipping on the gloves.
The audience loved the show. As a dress rehearsal, it played like opening night. All of the cast were dead on, but it was saved by Dennis and Dan. Without losing their heads, they played through. Blood, porcelain pieces, and all.
After the show, Dennis went to the emergency room and had to have at least 8 stitches. He didn't get out of there until after 1 a.m.
Opening night is Thursday and we already have a replacement toilet in the wings.
But if dress was any indication of the level of commitment these actors and actresses have to making sure this show is their absolute best, then it's going to be an excellent run.
Mary Ellen, my stage manager, was of course back stage when all of this transpired, and did a wonderful job keeping the show running. Click here to read her persepective of the events.