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‘Pamplona’ opening night cut short at Goodman with star Stacy Keach said to be ill

Written by
Kris Vire

A stage manager called for a hold about an hour into the opening night performance of Pamplona at the Goodman Theatre tonight, after Stacy Keach, who plays Ernest Hemingway in the world-premiere one-man show by Jim McGrath, had appeared to be struggling to keep his place in the script.

The voice on the microphone informed the audience that the show was experiencing technical difficulties, and granted Keach permission to leave the stage. Moments later, Goodman artistic director Robert Falls, also the director of Pamplona, strode onstage through the entrance by which Keach had exited, and informed the house full of board members, donors, press and friends of the theater that the 80-minute performance would be concluded where it was.

Keach, Falls said, had been feeling sick all day Tuesday but wanted to go on with the show, and had done so with the full support of the theater and crew. But it was clear that Keach had been having severe difficulties with his lines since the lights had gone up an hour earlier; at first it might have seemed as though his repeated echoing of lines and grasping manner were part of McGrath’s script, depicting Hemingway near the end of his career and in declining mental and physical health, but it became plain that the actor wasn’t lining up with the production’s technical cues, either. At one point, a sequence of projections cycled quickly backward, apparently to match Keach’s place; at another, as Hemingway was rifling through memories, Keach said “I was trying to find what the next beat was;” it wasn’t clear whether it was the character or the actor speaking.

The Goodman’s program for the show doesn’t list an understudy for Keach, and a spokesperson for the theater wasn’t able to confirm immediately after the evening’s abrupt end whether or not he has one. Falls told the audience tonight that more information would be forthcoming; whether scheduled performances will go on the rest of this week remains to be seen. [UPDATE May 31 at 3:30pm: A Goodman spokesperson confirms Wednesday night’s performance is canceled and ticketholders will be contacted by the box office to reschedule.]

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