It was one of the worst reviews in the 35-year history of Rockville Little Theatre.
"ROCKVILLE LITTLE THEATRE SLAYS ANNE 1,000 WAYS," cried the headline in the Gaithersburg Gazette. The production of "Anne of the Thousand Days," wrote critic Ron Bourgea, "sorely lacks coordination, is plagued with technical immaturity, is ponderously devoid of pacing and is wanting in placement."
In sum, he said, RLT's performance of the play, which finished its four-night run last Saturday at the F. Scott Fitzgerald auditorium in Rockville, "must lie in hallowed crypts of time better forgotten."
Dispatch explorers to the four corners of the globe and you would be hard pressed to find a collection of people more sensitive about their work than a community theater group. Bourgea's review roused an ire at RLT to rival the rages of King Henry VIII who, in one of the darkest chapters in the annals of marriage counseling, had his Queen Anne beheaded because she wouldn't agree to an annulment.
"That man should be drawn and quartered," muttered RLT director Jennifer Crier Johnston.
"We can't be all bad, at least not that bad," said John Kamrad who played a manservant in his 36th RLT performance.
Other RLT members speculated that Bourgea must be in poor health, his displeasure stemming from a medical problem. "What's wrong with Ron?" they asked. "He hasn't been looking good lately."
Bourgea, a 55-year-old editor at the Department of Education whose wife Peg is a member of RLT, defended his judgment ("The play was long and it was boring"), claimed perfect health except for an ingrown toe nail ("I've never been in a hospital in my life"), and chalked up any changes in his appearance to a hair cut and a new mustache: "I gave them an honest review," Bourgea said. "If I wanted to be cruel I could have gone into each one of these people."
The critics aside, and there were two other reviews that were critical but found points to praise, the record should show that the final performance was sold out, the applause was vigorous, and first light had seeped into the sky by the time the curtain fell on that last bittersweet ritual, The Cast Party.
If a little theater production begins like a sea cruise, the cast and crew climbing aboard for a two-month voyage into perilous theatrical waters, it ends like a shipwreck.
Five minutes after the theater emptied Saturday night, the storm struck. The cast and crew swarmed over the set, knowing the faster they dismantled it the sooner they could hit the tureen of mulled wine at Chris Joehl's house in Rockville. The din raised by hammers and shouts made an astonishing contrast with the pin-drop hush that obtained but an hour earlier when stage manager Mike Lewis whispered lighting cues into a headset and hissed at some actor who banged into a folding chair backstage. Within minutes the 16th century tableau disappeared. Big flats of scenery were hacked apart. Queen Anne's bed was reconverted to lumber. Props were hauled away, quill pens and inkwells were packed up, railings were bolted back along stairs, yew branches were carted off to the trash and phosphorescent tape was scraped off the stage floor.
Then it was on to one last party before the castaways were scattered for good. There were awards and tokens of appreciation presented to everyone from the King to the carpenters. It was a night of reveling spirits, elegiacal recollections, kissing and hugging and many wistful goodbyes among people who had grown as close as kin.
"You don't want to let it go," said RLT president Patsy Smart. "You've been so close to these people all these weeks. You've told them about your private life. You have to go on to something new in your life, but it's like high school graduation. You don't want it to be over. You just don't want to let it go."
The traditional Golden Hat award for the most embarrassing contretemps was presented not to an actor or a stagehand but to the City of Rockville for a litany of peccadilloes that included scheduling a disco in a room underneath the stage on the night of the dress rehearsal, sending the leaf crews out to vacuum up the fall foliage with a truck that went ding ding ding during one performance, and jacking up the temperature in the auditorium to sauna-like levels on the night of the last show. (RLT'S own "grande dame," Dottie Kamrad, scanned the wilting audience and sighed, "There's nothing worse than a hot theater when you have a heavy drama like this.")
And to accept the award for the city, the group was fortunate to have John Tyner, who designed the set for "Anne of the Thousand Days," but also happens to be a city council member.
"We'll hang this in the council chambers with our All America city award," Tyner told the crowd.
Among the night's more memorable events was actor Michael Greene's foray onto the hors d'oeuvres table, in which he shoveled up better than a pound of chopped liver with his hands and snacked off the pile for 20 minutes like a deer at a salt lick. Greene, a 24-year-old business major at Montgomery College, had just completed the second show of his career, and the theater, if not the mulled wine, obviously had gone to his head.
"I'm going to try out at Silver Spring Stage," he said. "They're doing 'Golda.' I'm gonna try out for the part of Golda."
As the evening wore on, people made their goodbyes. Pat Parker, who played Queen Anne's mother, shook hands with Harry Derderian, who played Sir Thomas More. Derderian had had the misfortune of being cited in a review for pronouncing finger "finga" in the line, " . . . It's as if you had an extra sense -- the king's finger -- and you kept it on the pulse of your subjects . . . ."
"Well, nice working with you," he said to Pat Parker.
"Goodbye," Parker said, giving him a kiss.
Shelley King, the lighting designer, slipped away early. "People always say 'We'll get together next week.' They never do," she said. "You know before you start that you won't see most of the people again after it's over. It hurts. That's why I'm leaving now, before it gets any harder to walk away."