• December 8, 2022

Curtain Call, with Zamboni

  Reading time 6 minutes

Sports have a monopoly on team building through ritualized suffering, at least in the popular imagination. (See: “Hard Knocks,” “Two-a-Days,” Rocky and Paulie punching beef in a meat freezer.) But is sports all that different from, say, the theatre? Coaches have a lot in common with directors. Lineups are like casts. There is choreography, chemistry, and gruelling practice. “There are so many similarities!” the actress Victoria Clark said recently.

Clark, along with the rest of the cast and the crew of the Broadway musical “Kimberly Akimbo,” had gathered at the ice-skating rinks at Chelsea Piers for the start of their own training camp. Above them: an enormous photograph of the 1994 Stanley Cup Rangers. Among them: adolescent rink rats in smelly gear. The show is a cheery examination of looming early death. (Kimberly, a soon to be sixteen-year-old, played by the sixty-three-year-old Clark, has a fictional genetic disorder that causes her to age rapidly and carries a life expectancy of sixteen.) It’s also set, in part, on ice: two scenes are at a local rink, and some of the actors skate onstage. To prepare, the director, Jessica Stone, and the choreographer, Danny Mefford, rented rink time. The goal was to review the basics and to build camaraderie. “We’re calling it skate camp!” Stone said.

Stone and Mefford were outside the rink, discussing favorite figure skaters. “Dorothy Hamill,” Stone, who wore a blue dress with white Stan Smiths, said. “I had her haircut! I actually, with my haircut, went ice-skating one winter. I fell and broke my wrist.”

Mefford, in a tropical-print shirt, was serving as coach. He’d been taking private lessons, in preparation for the show, for three years. “I’ve gotten way better than I ever really needed to,” he said. “Stephanie”—Chelsea Piers’ skating director—“wants me to do the bronze certification so that I can do these low-level adult competitions. I don’t want to compete. But I kind of want to do the certification, just to know if I’d pass.”

Some of the production members had gone through skate camp once before, prior to the show’s Off Broadway run. But proficiency remained low. “Nobody was cast for their skating experience,” Mefford said.

During the first run, Clark had been barred from the ice for fear of injury. Mefford said, “I’ve had to tell her a million times, ‘Vicki, you’re a little bit of a daredevil.’ ”

To the rink! Mefford and Stephanie Hernandez, the skating director, gathered the gang for a pre-skate speech. “You made it to Broadway!” Hernandez said. Everyone cheered. “Take it easy. It’s the first day. No spins!”

Clark, wearing a tutu and a padded headband, stepped gingerly onto the ice, clutching Mefford’s hand. The first lesson was on how to wipe out. “Accept that you’re gonna fall, and just pick a side and do it!” Hernandez said. As everyone collapsed to the ice, Mefford gave pointers on getting back up. “Keep both feet on the ground,” he said. Then he slipped, both feet churning off the ice, before recovering and throwing his hands in the air. Everyone whooped.

The cast split into two groups. Clark went with the newbies, practicing little shuffles before easing into some gliding. Justin Cooley, Clark’s nineteen-year-old co-lead, zoomed by with the advanced group, wiggling backward as if dancing. “O.K., O.K.,” he cooed. Nearby, Alli Mauzey, who plays Kimberly’s mother, was tottering along. A crew member told her gently, “You put elbow pads on your knees.”

“So it’s going well!” Mauzey said. (At one show last year, she’d laced up her skates on the wrong feet.)

The group skated for forty-five minutes, falling only occasionally. Mefford sneaked in some spins. By the end, Clark and Cooley were skating together. Then the horn sounded, and the Zamboni steamed on.

On their way out, Clark and Cooley caught up. Cooley mentioned that he’d attended the first skate camp but hadn’t skated onstage. “So I went to Central Park and skated for fun,” he said.

“I was at home passed out on the couch,” Clark said. “I’m just incredibly accident prone. Emergency room many times. Several bike accidents. I walked into the set a few times. I wiped out just entering. One time, I forgot a prop. I was trying to get you a message.”

“I was trying to read your mind,” Cooley said.

“I think we’ve been friends in many previous incarnations,” Clark said. “When we met, we were, like, ‘This feels like it’s a continuation of something that started a long time ago.’ ” Her husband, Thomas Reidy, she added, was fine with it.

“He was, like, my pet turtle or something in another life,” Cooley said.

“Tommy was your pet turtle?” Clark said. “That’s great!” ♦

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