Annals Of The Theatre: Being Man #3

Lyle Tribby (original Broadway production, 1943): I’d originated the part in a workshop at Williamstown the previous summer, and when the producers decided to bring the show to Broadway I was among the first people whose calls they eventually returned. I think they recognized that Man #3 was central to the story, in a very subtle, almost subliminal kind of way. You might not see it at first. But I did: The other players might have had names and blocking and lines, but this anonymous, silent Man reading a newspaper on an upstage park bench while the so-called leads did their little speeches in the foreground -- well, he carried the whole forward thrust of the production. You really had to look to recognize it, though. That’s what was so marvelous about the part.

Henry Armitage (first national touring company, 1944): I took over the part when Tribby was drafted. Did you know he fought like hell to get deferred? No, he wouldn’t have told you that. Anyway, off he went to the Pacific, finally. Which left that beautiful part for me. And I got my teeth into it, I don’t mind telling you. I was a young man, and ambitious, and I saw an opening and took it. You see, Tribby had played Man #3 as a retiring type. Sort of lurking quietly in the background there, on that park bench. Well. I knew that wouldn’t do. So I came up with the idea to have the character playing a trombone. That was mine. Just a little piece of business, you know? But a thing like that can alter the whole orientation of a production. It said “I am Man #3 and this story is my story, the story of me.” You see? Just like that, Man #3 became a living, breathing human with hopes and dreams and fears and aspirations and a trombone. I’ve always been proud of that.

Teddy Wistar (Goodman Theatre, 1952): It’s such a lovely play. You only have to hear the title to know that: The Guy From The Place We Went That Time. Such grace and humility in that. I met Finlayson years later, you know. He told me that he’d had, oh I don’t know, a good half-dozen working titles while he was writing it: Peaches In The Rain; Two Mooks From Muncie; A Salad Bowl of Sadness; some others, I can’t remember them now. He also told me I was his favorite Man #3. I shouldn’t tell you that. But I will. He told me how much he admired the way I’d stripped away the froufrou that had accumulated on the part over the years -- the trombone, the juggling, the tower of folding chairs. One guy in stock had built one of those, I don’t know what you call it -- one of those huge domino constructions? Where you tip the first one over and they all fall in these intricate patterns, and at the end it triggered sparklers and a recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” I peeled all that away and took the part inward. That’s why I played it the way I did -- perfectly motionless, stiff as a board and keening loudly. It reflected the unease of the postwar years, and it was honest. I like to think I returned Man #3 to the emotional center of the piece.

Daniel “Skip” Lufkin (musical adaptation, 1961): We closed after -- I think it was three performances. I’m pretty sure we came out of previews, and I think I remember playing it more than once. But it was a long time ago. I recall lobbying pretty hard for a number my roommate and I had written, “The Tristesse of The Third Man.” It was a samba, and it was awful. God, it went on forever. The director pretty much had his hair on fire the whole time, the poor man, so we never could get him to focus on it. Not that it mattered. After we closed the maintenance staff found out there’d been a family of raccoons living in the loge the whole time. Nobody ever knew.

Julián Delgado (El Teatro del Barrio, 1967): We were known as an explicitly political company, and we had some hard-core revolutionary ideals, tu sabes? I mean, we were right up in people’s faces whether they liked it or not. So that’s the angle I came from. Pow. My conception was, Hombre Tres was a sort of Everyman, he absorbed and reflected back the sickness and hypocrisy of modern society, so all the action around him, that was all happening in his head, dig? He was the only thing that was real. The play was all about him. That was my contribution. That and the bongo solo.

Jake Robinette (movie version, 1986): Some people think I was in the Brat Pack. Whatever. I could have been in the Brat Pack. I chose to stay a working actor, keep honing my craft. And the results? They’re all on that screen, man. Just me holding down all that background for eight solid minutes of other people’s dialogue with nothing but my talent and a newspaper. Nobody ever saw anybody turn newspaper pages like I turned those pages. That’s some Montgomery Clift shit, man. Look at that scene now. Go ahead, you can get it on VHS. That’s a whole life up there. It’s mesmerizing. You can’t look at anything but me and my righteous page turns. I know I can’t.

Lyle Tribby: I often think of what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had the wonderful opportunity to play Man #3. Heavens, I might have had to leave the theatre entirely and get a job in the Post Office! I mean sooner than I actually did, which was 1946.

THE GUY FROM THE PLACE WE WENT THAT TIME begins a three-week revival at The Old Globe in San Diego on June 27, 2013. The part of Man #3 will be played by a pile of sweaters.