by Maire Martello
I first meet Maire Martello, the writer of “The Lodger” at a memorial service for our mutual friend, Patrick Tull, a well known actor both in Britain and the United States. The service was held at The Little Church around the Corner in New York City and I was honored to be able to speak on our friend‘s behalf.
A sad place to make a new friend. A small reception was held afterwards at Pat’s club, The Players, a legendary theatrical club in Manhattan.
I was in the Grill when a petite, feisty woman approached me and said, “You were Alfred the Butler on Upstairs, Downstairs, weren’t you?”
We chatted for quite a while and she introduced herself and her husband John Martello, the Executive Director of The Players. Maire appeared to know every television show I had appeared in as well as every movie! She confessed that she was a fan of mine as well as all things English. Having once studied acting at RADA in London, Maire still visits England often. We shared many stories , including days of my childhood in East London and the times spent picking hops with my grandmother in Kent. Those days, I have to confess, are still full of fond memories and some of the best times and camaraderie in my life.
Maire sent me a copy of her script “The Lodger” based on the Marie Belloc Lowndes novel , and I traveled to NYC for the reading.
I read the role of Mr. Bunting, the lodging housekeeper. The original reading included Broadway actor, Brian Murray in the cast . But as is the nature of the theatre, things change . It went well , but Maire insisted that she do extensive rewrites.
"The Lodger" had a successful, highly praised reading at The Players . John Martello and Herb Blodgett decided to produce it off-Broadway in January of 2009.
We rehearsed all December in New York, with a new director, Harris Yulin. Mrs. Bunting was played by a wonderful actress named Kristin Lowman. We improvised privately on our two roles – she was so intuitive and quick on the draw with perfect comedic timing
But there was a drawback...It was the only the third time I was away from my family at Christmastime in over 35 years. ( My mother had been ill before in England, and I was with her then) My daughters were sad.
Our Christmas tradition was to have friends in for a Christmas evening open house. We would sing Christmas carols , play our new Board games, have Yule logs and eat many many English deserts that I would bring over to the States- Pudding, Christmas Cake, Speical Bisquits,... Wine Gums and Cadbury chocolate were my girls favorites, and their mom would make Trifle and Cherries Jubilee. To cheer them up I scoured the streets of New York City for English shops and treats and packed up a huge box and mailed it.
The Martellos included me in their wonderful Christmas and I enjoyed all the glitter and lights of the holiday in the decorative and festive Manhattan streets and Rockefeller Center.
Rehearsals went well, and Maire encouraged me to use my East London Cockney in the part and she was delighted when I whistled loudly to a newsboy as the curtain went up. She wanted all my ad libs incorporated into the final edition of the play. I ,of course, was flattered.
The other cast members included John Martello, who stepped for another actor, as Jack the Ripper (“Mr. Sleuth”), Amanda Jones as my daughter Daisy, and Mickey G as Joe, a lovesick detective from Scotland Yard. We played at the Workshop Theatre on West 36th Street for the entire month of January. We got an excellent review in Time Out New York and played to full houses.
I was the only cast member with two or three costumes changes. With the limited space backstage and the limited time off-stage, my changes were hectic to say the least. During rehearsals I would come onstage in Act I’s trousers and Act II’s jacket. Sometimes I came out of the bedroom wearing my winter coat but entered the front door in shirtsleeves. At one point, I had to have stage blood concealed in my hand which had to be carefully timed or else the stage could have ended up looking like “Nightmare on Elm Street”. Eventually Mickey generously helped out as dresser and everything turned right side up.
The cast got along well and sometimes, on those freezing New York nights, we all went out to dinner along Broadway. Once we went to Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side and Maire induced me to try a knish. But usually I went home with the Martellos to New Jersey where John and I would make a very late supper (2:00am) of baked beans and sausages from Myers of Keswick, a Greenwich Village institution. Their sausages are superb!
Right after the show closed, in early February, Maire decided to throw a birthday party for John at their home. At the time I was working on "Tribute - Gielgud's Ages of Man" , a one man show that eventually Maire became the Producer on it . She asked if I would perform it for their guests that night. My manager, Chris, flew over from London to attend the celebration and to see the last performance of The Lodger.
We made mulled wine for the guests with ingredients rustled up from the little pantry. A long line gathered in the kitchen for seconds and thirds – until we ran out of red wine!
I performed "Tribute" against a large bay window in the living room with a blazing fireplace in the background. Several Shakespearean sonnets made reference to my various loves having skin the color of purest snow. So it was quite appropriate that a blizzard was in effect. Every time I came upon those lines I’d stare pointedly out the window...Always got a laugh. It was the perfect atmosphere for such a performance. The guests certainly seemed to enjoy it although the Martellos’ dog, Keeper, snored loudly on his blanket. Later on, we all went outside, made a snowman and threw snowballs at each other. Maire’s great friend, the journalist Maureen Nevin - along with her date for the evening – chased each other around the house several times and then settled down to make snow angels. Eventually, we returned to the house, sat down, and actually ate a Carvel Ice Cream Cake called Fudgy the Whale. Now that’s real Birthday Cake for you!