Hang around the theater long enough and there are a couple a phrases you’ll hear over and over again. One is “The show must go on,” which is something that gets said anytime anything goes wrong and basically means “Figure something out and keep going.”
Another phrase you hear is our theatrical version of good luck. Instead of jinxing ourselves by wishing for good fortune, we tell each other “Break a leg.”
In Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players Professional Company-in-Residence’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance,” the latter term took on an ironically literal turn, as lead actress Jennifer Pennington fell during one of the final dress rehearsals.
“There’s a wonderful moment in the play where the airplane comes, and Hal had the cast run back and forth to watch it, and as I was running, I rolled my ankle and down I went,” Pennington tells Insider. “At first, we thought, ‘Oh, walk it off, it’s gonna be fine.’ We found some prop crutches, I crutched my way out.”
Though she at first discounted the severity of the injury, the next day Pennington couldn’t ignore the evidence. “It was looking bad and feeling weird, and not like a rolled ankle, so I went and had it X-rayed.”
Pennington discovered she had actually broken off the end of her fibula, and surgery was necessary. She knew then she was going to be off her feet for a while, so she contacted the production’s director, Hal Park, to let him know he should start looking for a replacement.
But for Park, replacing Pennington wasn’t an option.
“There was no question in anybody’s mind,” he says. “We were not going to recast her. She’s a pro. We knew this was going to be fine, and to tell you the truth, it was kind of intriguing.”
Park realized the challenge was an opportunity to explore the character, who would now have to be wheelchair-bound for the production.
Pennington plays Mrs. Tarleton, a commanding figure she describes as “the queen of the house.” Used to being the center of the action, Tarleton’s power comes from her personality and dialogue, a fact that is reinforced by the changes in Pennington’s performance that come from her lack of mobility.
As Pennington worked with her doctor to get surgery scheduled, Park reworked scenes so his lead actress’ wheelchair could seamlessly blend into the action.
Pennington’s surgery was set for what would have been the day of the production’s final dress rehearsal. While Park was determined to keep her playing her part, there had to be some schedule changes, as she needed to spend a couple of days with her ankle elevated. The original opening of Dec. 11 was pushed back, and the first weekend of performances were canceled. “Misalliance” opened Monday, Dec. 14. (Insider’s Melissa Chipman was there, and she says Pennington — and every one else on stage — is fantastic.)
The ability of the cast to rework so much action on the fly is a testament to the versatility of the professionals involved. “Misalliance” is the second production from Walden/Blue Apple Players teaching staff. Last year, Park directed Pennington and several other members of Walden’s teaching staff in the Chekov classic “Uncle Vanya.”
Park praised the cast, saying, “These are people who have trained at some of the best institutions in the nation. They have performed plays around the country, and they all have come back to Louisville to practice their craft.”
It’s a part of Walden/Blue Apple’s commitment to something called space teaching.
“These productions are a culmination of a semester’s worth of work on a particular period and style,” says Park. “That’s part of the program, for these students to be able to watch their teachers execute this particular period and style.”
In the case of the misadventures of “Misalliance” while wheeling its way to the stage, the students got an extra lesson, the kind that can only be learned by watching seasoned pros keep going when a lesser group of artists might throw in the towel.
“The show must go on,” and it will, Thursday through Saturday (Dec. 16-19). Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students. All shows start at 7:30 p.m. Walden is located at 1123 Payne St.