Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Dining with the lions on “Mean Street.”

Dining with the lions on “Mean Street.”

I graduated the Neighborhood Playhouse 50 years ago, this past May. My final production at the school was, “The Hawk" by Murray Mednick, directed by a 1st year 'apprentice' teacher named Fred Kareman. I went on to quietly have a long and very successful career as an actor, writer, director, producer, singer and teacher. I'm still in the midst of it. 

I loved working with Fred, Bill Esper, Bill Alderson, but most of all, Sandy. It seems so strange to call him that. To me, he was ALWAYS "Mr. Meisner," even after several years and a string of major roles, including co-starring with academy award winner, Sandy Dennis and James Broderick (also an NP alum) as 'Stanley' in 25th Anniversary the Chicago (where it premiered) revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the tender age of 23. Even, when he called me into his office for a meeting to tell me how insane I was to have done the part, I addressed him as "Mr. Meisner."

He called me on the carpet for attempting to play a role, so iconic that he he said, “No one should EVER play that role, again!” It completely altered the American and the entire World concept of ‘acting’ forever. 

I pointed out that Brando was only 23 when he did it and, in fact, it was he (Meisner) who had instilled in me the idea of "taking big risks" and throwing myself into Any role with everything I had. He sat there quietly, pondering my defense. Then, he looked up at me and said, “That wasn’t a risk, it was tantamount to ‘career suicide.’ He told me, “If that had been here in New York, the lions (critics) would have had me for breakfast.” He then congratulated me for surviving the run. 

I asked him where he had heard about the production. He told me Jimmy Broderick (Matthew’s dad who had played the role of ‘Mitch’ and was a great actor himself, had talked to him. I asked what Jim had thought about my effort. He said, “he thought you were, young.” Then, he released me back onto the ‘mean streets.' 

I thought about what he had told me for a moment or two, then I remembered what Tennessee Williams’ brother, Dakin, had told me after watching my performance on opening night. He said, “You know, I saw Marlon’s ‘Stanley’ opening night and I liked yours more.” After having his words echo in my ear, that “mean street” and Sandy’s critique lost some of their bite. DPW

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