On Friday evening at the dedication for the Patricia Neal stage at the Vineyard Playhouse the entire crowd gathered on the stage behind a long pink ribbon.
“Are we supposed to chew through it,” one person wondered aloud while jockeying for position. Something about being on a stage seems to bring out the performer in everyone. In the end, traditional scissors were used to cut the ribbon, the honors going to Ms. Neal’s great-grandchildren Finley (5) and Isla (3).
“What would the ribbon say?” asked a family member.
Lucy Dahl spoke about how much her mother loved the playhouse.
— Mark Alan Lovewell
“Ouch,” said Finley as he cut the ribbon, playing both the part of the ribbon and its executioner.
Twelve members of Ms. Neal’s family attended the ceremony. The playhouse renovations began in 2011, as phase one of a $5 million capital campaign. The second phase will be to create actor housing and the third phase will be to create a space for building and storing sets. The theatre re-opened in June with the premiere of The Whaleship Essex.
Patricia Neal had been a longtime supporter of the playhouse. A huge star for many decades on stage, screen and television, Ms. Neal won both the Academy Award and a Tony Award during her career. She died in 2010 in Edgartown.
After the crowd had been seated, playhouse board member Arnie Reisman asked everyone to raise their glass of champagne.
“We have reached a milestone,” he said. “We are going to dedicate this stage to Patricia Neal.”
Playhouse executive and artistic director, MJ Bruder Munafo.
— Mark Alan Lovewell
MJ Bruder Munafo, the executive and artistic director of the Vineyard Playhouse, spoke next, remembering Ms. Neal’s support of the playhouse and her kindness in general.
“She was nice to me, supported me, made me laugh, and after attending a show she would greet the audience members and give them the thrill of their lives,” she said.
A short video clip of Ms. Neal’s career underscored why this would be such a thrill. As a montage of her performances filled the room it was as if Ms. Neal had suddenly joined the proceedings. As the years pass it is easy to forget just how big a star she was, especially as she became a familiar figure about the Island, enjoying meals at the Main Street Diner in Edgartown and attending shows at the playhouse.
But then there she was starring opposite Paul Newman in Hud (for which she won an Academy Award), Gary Cooper in the Fountainhead, John Wayne in Operation Pacific, Andy Griffin in A Face in the Crowd and Ronald Reagan in John Loves Mary.
On screen Ms. Neal could shift in an instant from a huge radiant smile to disappointment or disdain, her wide open face registering every emotion so acutely. She made men fall in love with her and fear her, all in the same moment. But most of all, no one ever forgot her - she was always in charge on the screen. Just ask George Peppard, her kept man, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
After the film, Ms. Neal’s daughters Lucy and Tessa spoke.
“What a pleasure this is, to stand here today on behalf of my mother to say thank you,” Lucy Dahl said. She went on to read a letter Ms. Neal had sent to Larry King to be included in his book Remember Me When I’m Gone.
“Remember me as an actress,” Ms. Neal wrote in the letter. “I gave them all I had.”
Tessa Dahl took the stage next and presented the playhouse with a gift. Or rather, a return of a gift the playhouse had presented in appreciation to Ms. Neal in 2005. The small glass figurine will now call the theatre its home.
“My mum was an actor’s actor,” Tessa said. “I think that’s why she loved this place so much.”
And with that the stage was emptied and everyone ushered downstairs to continue the ceremony and remember Ms. Neal in conversation. The sound check was about to begin for the evening’s performance of Search: Paul Clayton, the show starting in just an hour.
It would promise to be a magical performance. After all, Patricia Neal was watching.