I just had to look up "The Rivals" on Wikipedia to remember what part I played. That should give you an indication as to how deeply this production affected me.
Another guest director had arrived on the scene. His name was Harland Meltzer and he ran The Colonial Theater in Westerly, RI. I think the theater is still going. I have a vivid memory of seeing The Glass Menagerie there while in high school. I remember loving live theater but wondering why the Gentleman Caller was wearing tube socks with dress shoes.
Harland had a brace on his leg that seemed like a bear trap in need of a good oiling. He stomped around Will Theater squeaking and wheezing and barking orders left and right. The play requires a huge cast and goes on and on and on. I'm not sure why this play has lasted as long as it has, why the generous folds of time haven't been good enough to disappear it forever, but it is still around and we were the latest fools to take a crack at it.
Like I said, I had to look up a synopsis to find out that I played Bob Acres. All I can remember is that I played a coward and no amount of groveling or sniveling was sufficient for Mr. Meltzer. The man I was supposed to have a duel with was a giant slow-moving slow-talking ACTOR who saw each word he uttered as a way to exercise the muscles in his face. Performing this play was EXCRUCIATING.
The set was as hazy in the moment as my memory of the entire process is now. I remember cavernous space spiked by columns and strange wispy tree branches, the playing space peppered with a bench here and a flat there. Every time you walked on stage you felt as if you might just never find your way off again.
At the time I was furious. This was going to be my last play at URI??? (Little did I know that I would be back for one final show after spending a year in France.)
My personal life was a sort of twisted mirror of the production. The relationship I'd been in since the beginning of the year was knotting new nooses daily. I'd broken up with her for an old friend, changed my mind, she'd gone back to someone else, changed her mind, I'd bounced back and forth like a pinball in an angry machine.
The whole atmosphere of the theater department seemed soured and I was a big part of it. I was actively bitter, acerbic by choice. The jaded core of me expanded exponentially as the semester drew to a close. This is when the infamous Plum On My Heel incident occurred.
I have had some pretty dark times since. But I honestly feel as if that period is the lowest I've ever been. The daily pain was so intense, so relentless that I couldn't even look forward to a nine month trip to Europe.
I've recently made great strides in dealing with my darker side, finally wrestling demons instead of joining with them. "The Rivals" came about at a time when I really needed a ray of light, something sweet to cut the acid. Instead the litmus grew redder with each added moment, the mercury in the barometer dove deeper and deeper, trying to calculate the depth of the storm.