year in high school
, I landed the part of Dr. Lyman Sanderson
in a production of Harvey
, a play
by Mary Chase
(you may remember the old film
with Jimmy Stewart
, or the newer TV movie
with Harry Anderson
and Leslie Nielsen
It was not my first acting experience, but it was the first time I'd ever had a large role in which I was onstage for much of the play. Needless to say I did my best to make sure everything went perfectly.
We did three performances, a Thursday performance, a Friday performance, and a Saturday matinee. The first one went off without a hitch. Beautiful. The second performance was pure perfection, except for my girlfriend (and co-star) accidentally breaking a vase during intermission. No big deal, the audience didn't know.
The third performance was FUBAR.
Things seemed to be going well until around the third scene. In this scene, Dr. Sanderson (me), Nurse Kelly (my girlfriend, Meagan), and Elwood P. Dowd (played by a friend of mine named Dan) are onstage. Sanderson thinks Elwood has come down to the sanitarium to commit his sister, when in fact she has come to commit him.
Elwood is sitting at a table (with the invisible Harvey at his side), Nurse Kelly is standing behind him, and I am pacing back and forth in front of him spouting off dialog about how good it is of him to have brought his sister in before she got really crazy and how I'm a psychiatric genius, etc, etc. Elwood's job is mostly to listen, but he also has several important lines.
As I'm delivering my lines (and doing a beautiful job, if I do say so myself), I notice out of the corner of my eye that Elwood seems to have developed a slight cough. No worries. It looks natural. I continue.
A minute or so later, I realize that I have not heard coughing sounds, and yet Elwood for some reason keeps raising his hand to his mouth and trembling. He looks as if he's coughing, but there's no sound. I also notice that his face is very, very red.
I have a bad feeling about this.
Upon further inspection, I realize that Elwood seems to be holding something back. Just as I realize this (and smack in the middle of one of my lines), Elwood turns sharply away from the audience and heaves a great gurgling fountain of brownish-green puke all over the stage.
Someone in the front row of the audience says, "Oh no."
Time literally slows down to almost a complete standstill, and I hear myself finishing my line automatically. The next line is Elwood's. FUCK.
To my complete surprise, Elwood chimes in and says his line. We engage in scripted banter for a few minutes, and then Elwood exits. The scene then continues, without a curtain. We continue acting, with a rather large pile of increasingly smelly vomit onstage.
Other actors who come onstage had not been warned of the vomit pile since Dan (Elwood) had gone straight to the bathroom after exiting. Surprisingly, nobody seemed to glance at it more than once, and we finished the scene without botching a single line. Luckily, intermission followed and we were able to clean up the vomit before finishing the play.
After the play was over, I discovered that only the first row or two of the audience had even realized that something had happened. The actors (Dan especially) had managed to cover up so well that nobody knew anything was wrong. Furthermore, Dan somehow managed to puke very quietly, and also was able to land the pile on a part of the stage mostly obscured by tables and chairs.
As it turned out, during rehearsal earlier that day Dan had drunk some tea from a thermos on the set, and we later found out that the thermos had been there for more than a week. This appears to have been the cause of the incident.
Apparently, several people also caught the incident on video, although I've so far refused to watch it because it literally hurts to think about it again.