Nathan Lane recently accepted the Monte Cristo Award for his Outstanding Contribution
to The Theater from the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. He pointed out that he was honored, of course, but also a bit dismayed about starting to rake in Lifetime Achievement awards, as 'I'm not quite done yet.' But then he described what it was like to perform in a play that works as serious theater should, as a temporary alteration of the audience members' consciousness:
About appearing in "The Iceman Cometh" and his experience performing in this play:
When it works, when you hear the stunning silence of a thousand people, listening, thinking and feeling and you're lost in the complicated. . .[tearful moment] it's what you hope and pray for as an actor.
I want to add it's what I hope and pray for as a playwright. I've never had an audience of a thousand people, not yet. But I've had audiences that were so rapt and quiet, it was uncanny. And the largest audience I've had, the 200 people who came to see the final reading of "Shakespeare Rising" at The Utah Shakespeare Festival, they made a bit of a racket when they arrived at the theater. But they settled down, the play began, and they didn't move or cough or make a sound. No, I think there was one line that got a gasp. But, basically, they were absorbing the play, as Nathan Lane describes it. At the end of the play, there was great applause, with the whole audience on their feet. A standing ovation is exciting and wonderful. But their intense silence during the play was even better.