Tony-award winner Nathan Lane just finished his run in Eugene O’Neill’s Iceman Cometh in Chicago where he played Theodore Hickman.
During the run of the show, he and actress Laurie Metcalf (who is currently starring as Mary Tyrone in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night on London’s West End) exchanged emails about the pressures of working with O’Neill’s text, food before shows and pre-show preparation.
The emails, which were published by The New York Times (go read them all!) are a great read. Here is Lane’s portion where he writes about his pre-show prep:
Hi, Honey —
My preshow ritual really involves the entire day leading up to the play. I think about it when I go to bed, and when I wake up in the morning. I can’t do too much, I try to be quiet, except for a vocal warm-up. If I’m good, I go to the gym, or swim a little, maybe read or watch a little television. Often I go back to the play, reading my scenes, or research articles and books about O’Neill. I have to eat around 5, nothing heavy, but enough fuel to get me through to 11:50. I get to the theater around 5:45; I like to get dressed and ready early, even though I don’t enter until an hour and 10 minutes into the first act, which gives me plenty of time to think about where I’ve been, why I’m going to the bar, what I want and how I’m going to get it.
Hickey has a huge and complicated back story. Sometimes I talk to the cast before the play begins. Sometimes I let my entrance be the first time they see me. Brian [Dennehy, who plays Larry Slade] and I always have a little preshow chat about the day’s events, and how tired we are. I listen to the play a bit, go over the first scene, occasionally I walk around backstage thinking about Hickey’s inner monologue as he walks all the way from Queens to the West Village. Sometimes I just sit and think in my dressing room.
I always check in with Kate Arrington and Marc Grapey, who play Cora and Chuck, before they go on. They mention seeing Hickey outside the bar. We always say this is the longest hour of our lives. Then Sal Inzerillo says, “Here’s the old son of a bitch!,” and I’m on.