“I was too young to be old and too old to be young,” Wade Dooley says of all the hours he spent waiting for the callbacks that never came during his early days trying to get cast in New York. “Eventually I decided to listen to my acting teacher.”
The instructor’s advice? Write something for yourself. Now, “The Prompter,” Dooley’s play synthesizing his experiences cueing actors on their lines and stage directions — “It was better than waitering,” he quips — is making its world debut at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater.
The two-hander production stars Wade playing, well, Wade, “a theatricalized version” of himself, and four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh in the role of Irene Young, a veteran actress returning to the Broadway stage after a 40-year absence who has difficulty remembering her lines and is forced to use a prompter.
“At the core, it’s about relationships,” Dooley says of the Bay Street season opener, which made its first appearance on the theater’s main stage last year as part of its New Works Festival, a popular stripped-down showcase of in-development productions. “You have this naïve, bright-eyed character who has expectations about this grandmotherly figure but doesn’t understand why she is distant or demanding. For her, it’s a job.”
“She tries to set him straight,” Feldshuh chimes in. “It’s a romp — Irene has a lot of zingers — but it is deceptively deep. It goes to the core of truth about how we connect to people. There are all sorts of reverberations.”
For the 65-year-old actress, that includes coming to grips with the aging process. “The key to playing Irene is not her weaknesses but her ability to get up again,” says Feldshuh, who also is known for the television series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “The Walking Dead.” “I admire her courage to keep in the field of play.”
The fleshing out of Feldshuh’s character largely evolved from the play’s reading at the New Works Festival, Dooley says. He is also grateful to Bay Street, he says, for the chance to work with the theater’s artistic director, Scott Schwartz. “I am not able to watch myself perform. Scott is a great dramaturge, and I take a lot of comfort in his taste and expertise.” That comfort is also expressed by Feldshuh, who worked with Schwartz in “Golda’s Balcony,” the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history.
Once an unsung hero whose career started below the theater pit, Dooley has certainly moved into the spotlight, tapping into his past experiences to find another way “to shine up a performance and make it great.”
WHAT “The Prompter,” a new play by Wade Dooley
WHEN | WHERE Through June 16, Tuesdays, 7 p.m., Wednesdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (no matinee on June 2), Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor
INFO $40-$125; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org