In honor of Pegasus Theatre’s 30th anniversary, we continue our countdown of our top 30 shows. In slot #20, we have Death:Take 1!, fourth in Kurt Kleinmann’s series of Living Black & White™ plays.
Death:Take 1! takes place in 1938 on the film set for an adventure movie being filmed in an Egyptian pyramid. It had all the elements our audience had come to expect from a Harry Hunsacker adventure: plenty of action, a touch of the supernatural, mysterious deaths, and Harry’s star struck dream of being an actor instead of a “world famous detective”.
Death:Take 1! was an instant crowd-pleaser, playing to sold-out houses and garnering positive reviews. But it’s on the top 30 list for a couple of reasons not immediately obvious to our audience.
People often wonder how much of a playwright’s personal life impacts their plays. I’m sure the answer varies from one playwright to the next. In Kurt’s case, the answer is that there is almost always some personal connection written into each show. Death:Take 1! was no exception.
You see, Kurt’s beloved father, affectionately called Mr K around the theatre, had passed away in the spring of 1989. It was a huge blow to the family and to all who knew him throughout his successful career and his hands-on support of the theatre.
We all process grief differently. For Kurt, it helped to honor his father by including him in a play. And so he did. In Death:Take 1!, there is a loving scene where Harry meets his father in heaven. Harry wants so much to stay, but his father gently reminds him that his time has not yet come, that his earthly friends need him. On stage, night after night, Kurt/Harry said goodbye to his father with a promise to see him later. It was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.
The second reason Death:Take 1! holds a special place in our hearts is that it’s the first and only time Kurt’s wife, Barbara, ever appeared in a show on the Pegasus stage.
It was closing night and the actor who played the Egyptian princess (Deborah) was violently ill. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “The show must go on!”, and it’s true that actors will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid missing a show. In this case, the actor couldn’t stand upright, so we had to find a solution.
One possibility was to cancel the final performance, disappointing a packed house of patrons and costing the theatre thousands of dollars in refunds. The other option was for someone to go on in Deborah’s place. And the most logical someone was Barbara. She had edited the script and knew the lines, plus she was the assistant director and knew the blocking (the actor’s onstage movements).
But Barbara was a public speaker, not an actor, and there is a world of difference between the two. Everyone wondered if she was up to the task. Their worries turned out to be unnecessary! While she would never win any acting awards, Barbara was able to get through the show without any glitches, and the audience was none the wiser. It was an act of faith and love, and it made for a very special evening.
Thus it is that Death:Take 1! holds a special place in our hearts and on our list of top 30 shows!