It pains me to report that when my Washington City Paper story about Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Founding Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz’s career as an actor hits tomorrow it’ll be absent one filthy anecdote from his Lenny & Lou co-star Jennifer Mendenhall that had to be sacrificed for space considerations. (Newsprint doesn’t grow on tr—you know what, never mind).
Anyway, here’s the bit. My apologies to Ms. Mendenhall’s spouse Michael Kramer, who gave me some less salacious but still insightful comments about directing Shalwitz in a 1990 production of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly that also hit the cutting room floor.
Mendenhall had been a little intimidated, she recalls, when she’d had to share a long kiss with Shalwitz—an actor she hadn’t met before—in Savage in Limbo. But when Prewitt put the two actors together again in Lenny & Lou, 17 years later, that kiss felt like mere foreplay.
Or five-or-six-play, if chief Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks is to be believed.
“It’s not pornographic exactly,” Marks wrote in his admiring 2004 review of Lenny & Lou, “though one scene of acrobatic rutting is so well-choreographed it would make a decent novelty act in an X-rated Cirque du Soleil.”
Woolly was without a regular address at that time (the show was performed at
the Kennedy Center Theatre J, which makes that filthy sequence all the more fun to try to imagine), and Mendenhall recalls rehearsals taking place in offices borrowed from Theatre J Woolly’s temporary office space. Mendenhall kept urging Prewitt and fight director John Gurski—sex scenes have fight directors—to let the encounter be more absurdly explicit.
“I said, ‘We need a wheelbarrow walk.’ Howard said, ‘What’s a wheelbarrow walk?’ I said, ‘I’ll show you!’” Mendenhall recalls, laughing. She says Shalwitz’s one job during their carnal melee was to hold her skirt down so it she wouldn’t moon the audience. But he’d sometimes forget. The night her parents were in the audience was one of the nights when he forgot.
“It was insane,” she says. “It was so fun.”
Photo: Howard Shalwitz and Jennifer Mendenhall in Ian Cohen’s Lenny & Lou, directed by Tom Prewitt. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 2004. Thanks to Gwydion Suilebhan and Lexi Dever at Woolly for digging up the picture.