(In early 2010 Joyce E. Henry was a guest blogger on Stage Voices, recounting the early days of Circle in the Square. With Theodore Mann—and Henry—in our thoughts, those five entries will be reposted over the next week.)
RE-PRODUCING 'THE ICEMAN'
Joyce E. Henry, Ph.D.
We paid the union electrician $50.00 a week to stay away (a young actor handled the lights for $5.00). We paid $125.00 monthly to a mysterious person in City Hall who was supposed to keep us out of trouble. We paid the Building Inspector–that is, Ted did, in the Men's Room, I was never quite certain of the figure–and I paid Timmy, the Irish cop on the beat, $2.00 per week, which he supposedly spread around the station house. He earned his money, though; whenever I had an unruly patron or visiting Bowery inhabitant, a loud shriek in the Square would bring Timmy on the run.
In addition, the building always needed something. Seats collapsed depositing patrons on the floor. Fuses blew, requiring a hunt of hours for the offending source. When it snowed the roof leaked, usually onto the most expensive seats. We went out on the roof and shoveled snow. "The first rule of the off-Broadway theatre is know your drains," said Ted. The toilet in the ladies rest room clogged. The plumber characterized it as a "prima donna. Sometime she does and sometimes she don’t.”
To Ted, the Circle in the Square was no temple of the arts, and once, at the height of an artistic argument with Jose over the religious overtones in Iceman, he shouted in total frustration, “It’s not that I believe in Jesus Christ or don’t believe in Jesus Christ! All I want is my own little business that I can operate myself.”
One afternoon in the fall, when the leaves were swirling around Sheridan Square, I was sitting at my box-office desk in the lobby organizing reservations, when my eye was caught by movement on the rug in front of me. Two little squirrels were chasing each other back and forth across the lobby. “Oh, aren’t they cute!” I thought, as I paused to watch them.
Then I saw—Yikes! No bushy tails! Now I don’t think I’d ever seen a live rat before, in fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen a dead one, but I didn’t need a lot of education—and totally on female instinct (why is it that women always take the high ground?) I levitated to the top of the desk and screamed: “Ted!” Ted! Get the exterminator! Teeddddd! Get the exterminator!” He didn’t need the intercom to hear the message.
Meanwhile, the rats had entered into the ladies’ room, which was the first door on the right in front of my desk. It was a small space; there were two stalls, and always a line of women during intermission. What if—?
Ted, a good deal cooler than I was, appeared and indicated that I was being immature (he wasn’t impressed with Box Office divas) and stayed for a while, but when the exterminator arrived, he left.
Still standing on top of the desk, I explained to the exterminator, “There are two rats in there! You have to get them out! Kill them!”
“How big were they?” He asked with a shrug, and I realized that he thought I was screaming about a couple of mice.
“I thought they were squirrels! But they were rats! RATS! And we have a show tonight!”
“Okay, lady, okay.” He was not convinced, but he went into the ladies room for about thirty seconds, then returned rather hastily.
“Yup. They’re rats, all right.”
“Did you kill them?”
“Lady, I ain’t gonna take on two cornered rats. No way! They’re dangerous!”
“But you’ve got to get them out of there! We have a show tonight!”
“I left poison down. You won’t see them again.”
Poison? You left poison? That did not seem like a viable solution to me. The rodents might not see it, or might not eat it. But the exterminator was not going to do one single thing more. It was dangerous. He was not going to confront two rats, leaving such a confrontation to the ladies at the theatre that night.
I sat the next hour or two stiffly at my desk, waiting for a large rodent or two to appear staggering at my feet. Then Ted appeared, Ted always with a solution. He put a large sign on the door to the Ladies Room saying, “Sorry, Temporarily out of Order,” so the ladies were left to their own devices during the three-and-a-half-hour show. Well, there was the bar on the corner.
I was nervous about rodents for the next few days, but nothing happened. However, the next week there was a disgusting smell up in the auditorium, and it took several members of the crew to disassemble the seats on the risers and remove a couple of carcasses. But the Ladies Room was back in operation.
© 2010 by Joyce E. Henry. All rights reserved.
(A graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse, Joyce E. Henry acted, off-Broadway and in regional theaters, managed a dozen off-Broadway shows, wrote A Matter of Conscience, a play about Fanny Kemble, directed the theater program at Ursinus College, and edited five books, including One on One: The Best Women’s Monologues for the 21st Century; One on One, The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century; and Duo!: The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century—all from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. For three years or so in the late ‘50s, during the runs of Iceman, Children of Darkness, and Our Town, she worked at Circle in the Square. Henry passed away in 2011)
(Read Theodore Mann’s memoir, Journeys in the Night, also from Applause.)
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