Hit play leaves actor taking a few hits

My dad believed that as each of us travels through life, we should always be attempting new things, exploring new parts of ourselves – and taking risks.

For Dad, it was trying lutefisk. For me, it was taking a plunge into performing live on stage.

Maybe I should have tried the lutefisk instead.

Nonetheless, for unfathomable reasons, I find myself these days as part of the otherwise wonderful cast of the Fifth Avenue Theatre’s grand production of “Hello, Dolly!” (running through Sunday.)

I have been involved in only one other stage production in my life and that was in my high school’s staging of “Lil’ Abner.” I played a tree stump.

A lil’one.

But in this production, I portray Horace Vandergelder, a misanthropic “half-a-millionaire” who hires the meddling Dolly to find him a wife. It’s sort of like TV’s “The Bachelor” done as a stage show.

I was chosen for the part because it requires someone who can yell a lot, mug shamelessly and not sing very well. Last week, a review in the Seattle Weekly said: “Cashman’s delivery came across as stiff and forced.” What does that mean exactly? I looked the words up in the dictionary.

Stiff: adj., solid or firm.

Forced: adj., not natural.

So what the Seattle Weekly really meant was: “Cashman’s delivery came across as solid and supernatural.” Not bad for a first review!

Working alongside real professional actors, singers and dancers – and watching them do their thing – is like seeing a great baseball team performing at its highest level. Except in the theater, there is no squeeze bunt or infield fly rule.

Veterans say that the goal on opening night is just to remember your lines and avoid falling into the orchestra pit.

But if you do fall, try and aim for the kettledrum because it sounds the funniest.

Plus if you land on it just right, it might catapult you right back onto the stage. (If you’re unlucky enough to fall into the tuba, they sometimes have to bring in the Jaws of Life to get you out.)

After the play ended the first night, there was lots of warm applause. In fact, a woman in the front row leapt to her feet when I came out for a bow. I thought at first she was trying to start a standing ovation, but it turned out she just had a leg cramp.

Unfortunately, just before the curtain fell for the final time, a couple of unruly patrons threw various fruits and vegetables my direction. But I was delighted to find that it was all fresh and organically grown.

In truth, “Hello, Dolly!” is a nearly perfect entertainment diversion in these worrisome times. The story is familiar and fun and the music, sunny and cheerful.

The play may not be profound, but it’s certainly more upbeat than, say, “Death of a Salesman.” (Although if Willy Loman did more singing and dancing, it would help.)

I expect that my professional role on stage at the Fifth Avenue will be my first and last. But I’m so enraptured by the theater experience now that I intend on attending as many new shows as I can in the future. That’s why I’ve been boning up on theater etiquette and want to pass along some tips here:

1) Cell phones should be switched off BEFORE the performance, especially if your ring tone is louder than the orchestra. If you must answer your phone, keep the conversation brief and avoid saying things like: “What’s the score of the Husky game?” or “So a penguin goes into a bar and says to the bartender, ‘Have you seen my brother?’ And the bartender says, “I don’t know. What does he look like?”

2) The use of flashbulbs is occasionally permitted, but no cameras please. The making of sketches, chalk drawings and watercolors are fine.

3) No food is allowed in the theater. This particularly includes noisy foods such as peanut brittle, chips and pop rocks – or smelly ones such as Limburger, sardines and hard-boiled eggs.

4) If you should spot another patron having a heart attack, please usher them out to the lobby before performing the always-distracting CPR.

5) You are asked to refrain from making any sounds that may distract the performers or other members of the audience. These include snoring, sneezing, sniffling and gargling. Please do not take off your shoes and socks during the performance in order to clip your toenails. The clicking noise can really throw the actors off and the flying fragments could injure – or at least disgust – other patrons. Another note: People whose noses make a slight whistling noise while breathing may be asked to leave.

6) The audience is asked to refrain from doing “the wave.”

So much for etiquette. Meanwhile, another review just came in: “Two things in the play should be cut: The second scene and Cashman’s throat.”

Not bad for a second review!

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.