Friday, July 12, 2024

R.I.P. Randolph Del Lago, Director Extraordinaire of Delray Beach Playhouse

I only met Randolph Del Lago once, just over 10 years ago, when I featured him in Delray magazine. We sat on the venue’s patio overlooking Lake Ida and spoke about the pleasures and the pitfalls of directing at Florida’s oldest community theatre. 

When I heard yesterday that Del Lago had died, at 77, it hit me harder than expected. In more than 15 years on the job, I’ve forgotten more of my profile subjects than I remember. But Del Lago certainly made an impression, and not just because of my longtime vocation as a theatre critic. There was just something about him—a patrician, debonair quality, lifted from decades past, that concealed an acerbic streak. He would have fit right in at a Jay Gatsby bash, only to skewer the pretentions of his fellow-partiers after it ended.

I still remember some of his anecdotes and witticisms from our hour-long conversation, which were too revealing and entertaining to truncate into a typical profile format. And so, after a short intro, I let him have the floor. Here is the article, from the May-June 2014 issue of Delray magazine.

Up Close With Randolph Del Lago

The Delray Beach Playhouse’s outspoken artistic director on the pleasures and perils of staging community theatre

Back in 1982, North Carolina native Randolph Del Lago visited Palm Beach County, to see a friend who was acting in a production at the Caldwell Theatre. He hasn’t left since. He promptly accepted a position as artistic director of the 238-seat Delray Beach Playhouse, which appears to be the longest-running theater in South Florida, at 67 years and counting. For the past 32 years, Del Lago has been dictating its vision, choosing and directing five mainstage productions and five musical revues each season.

As Del Lago explained from the patio of the Playhouse—looking out on picturesque Lake Ida—directing community theatre runs the gamut from sheer joy to seemingly hopeless frustration. His actors, hardworking and unpaid, are housewives and office employees and high school students, physical therapists and social workers and retired professional thespians, all bringing wildly different skill levels and ambitions to a given production. 

“A lot of people refer to community theatre as roller coaster theatre, because if you get the right cast with the right play, you can have a great production,” he says. “And then on the other hand, there are times when you just don’t get the cast you had hoped for, but you charge the fort anyway and do the best you can.”

As his company prepares for John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” (May 24-June 8)—a dramatic departure from the lighter shows that preceded it this past season—Del Lago spoke with characteristic eloquence about his sometimes yeoman’s duty.

  • We’re kind of like the family restaurant. If [audiences] like it, they come back again, and if they like it well enough, they’re eventually going to bring friends. And I would warrant that 90 percent of the people who come here were originally brought in by somebody, came again, and finally somebody stopped buying their tickets anymore, so they joined.
  • Every community theatre that has tried to pay its actors has gone under. Hollywood Playhouse was a community theatre for 20 years, they started paying their actors just a nominal fee, and they were closed in two years. We don’t make that kind of money. If I could offer money to the handsome young 20-year-old who could sing or dance, of course I would. But the fact is, if you paid everybody who worked here, you’d have to pay the backstage staff, the volunteers, the people who are pulling the curtains and lights, and we don’t have that kind of profit margin here.
  • Nerves have nothing to do with community theatre. Professional actors have nerves and don’t; community theatre actors have nerves and don’t. Laurence Olivier almost had a nervous breakdown onstage. It was occasioned by a single remark when he was doing “Richard III.” The critic at the London Times said, “Now it can be said that Laurence Olivier is without question the greatest actor in the English-speaking language.” A lot of people said that, but nobody had actually written it in a review until his “Richard III.” Olivier read it and came to work as he always did, but one night, one of his friends in the cast was joshing him, and said, “OK Larry, go out there and show them the greatest actor in the English language.” And Olivier said that for the first time in his entire life, he was walking onstage aware that people might be watching him, and not Richard, not the thing he had worked on and created and was eager to offer them. He said he vomited his way through the rest of that production and did not go onstage again for seven years.
  • The more professional the actor, the more they’re going to bring, and then it’s the director’s job to basically sift and choose colors and moments. On the other hand, sometimes I’m in the delicate position of reminding an actor that the audience is that way, not this way, and that they would prefer to see his face than his rear end, no matter how attractive it may be.
  • There’s an old saying that there is no such thing as a Stanley Kowalski (the Brando part in “A Streetcar Named Desire”) in community theatre. Because if he’s good enough to play Stanley Kowalski, he’s getting paid.
  • My favorite line shows how difficult it is to choose plays for a season. … One year I was doing a relatively new play called “Crimes of the Heart,” 30 years ago. One of the little ladies from the Playhouse saw me in Publix and asked me, “What’s the next play?” I told her it was “Crimes of the Heart,” and I described it to her, and she gave me a line I’ve never forgotten. She’s standing there in the produce section, and she says, “Hmm … I don’t know if I’d want to see that. I’ve never seen it before.” It’s moments like that you’re glad we have some level of gun control. I don’t know if I’d have shot her or myself.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Related Articles

Latest Articles