Taking a closer look at Madison theater
May 20, 2014
05:33 PM
Stage Write

Stage Right/Stage Wrong: Cristina Panfilio Reveals Theater Ups and Downs


Panfilio: "We just reacted the way most normal people would do—we kept going and saying our lines."

As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes just perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is created.  

And then there are the times when the line gets dropped, the prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble.

Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us. We’ll kick this recurring feature off with American Players Theatre’s Cristina Panfilio, who’ll appear this summer as Gwendolen Fairfax in APT’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

STAGE RIGHT: Folks who trekked to Spring Green for opening night of last year’s run of Hamlet likely remember several things about that night, starting with the fact that rain delayed the show by nearly an hour. (Recall that Hamlet’s typical run time tops four hours, including intermissions.) 

Audiences may also recall that Matt Schwader took his time succumbing to the poison on the tip of Laertes's foil in the play’s final act. And that’s when Mother Nature decided to gild an already golden dramatic lily.

Panfilio, who was playing the doomed Ophelia, recalls the scene: “Right at the end, right as Hamlet is dying—and Matt says 'Oh,' about eight times before he finally does—as he says his last one, a light mist began to fall from the sky.”

That’s one time APT audiences probably weren’t bummed to endure a soaking.

STAGE WRONG: Two years ago, Panfilio was starring with Kelsey Brennan—who, coincidentally, she’s also starring with in APT’s production of Earnest—in the Indiana Rep’s production of Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels. The two play a pair of women who, in the second act, are waiting to surprise their ex-lover over dinner and drinks. Panfilio and Brennan were supposed to spring to life when they heard the doorbell buzz; instead, what sprung was the wine goblet from Brennan’s hand, shattering glass all over the stage floor.  

“Well, the play must go on, right?” says Panifilio. “We just reacted the way normal people would—we kept going and saying our lines. If you didn’t know the broken glass wasn’t part of the play, you wouldn’t have known something was wrong.”

Luckily, Coward’s play also features an actress playing a maid, who was able to do some impromptu on-stage cleanup. Good thing, too—a few minutes later in the script, one of the characters removes her shoes and walks around stage barefoot. Ouch.

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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