Final Bow: Katrina Lenk and Sharone Sayegh Will Miss The Band's Visit, Not the Watermelons
Once, not long ago, a new musical came from the Atlantic Theater Company to Broadway. You probably heard about it. It was very important.
The Band's Visit shifted the paradigm during its run at the Barrymore Theatre. It made a Tony winner out of respected leading lady Katrina Lenk, and provided a host of actors of Middle Eastern descent, like Sharone Sayegh, the opportunity to star in a Broadway show that allows them to connect with their heritage onstage nightly.
Lenk plays Dina, the proprietor of a roadside café where a group of stranded Egyptian musicians seek refuge. Sayegh takes on the role of Anna, a young Israeli woman out for a night on the town, and also serves as Lenk's understudy. Here, they look back on a journey to the middle of nowhere, with stops everywhere in between.
1) What is your favorite line that you get to say?
Katrina Lenk: I know what my favorite line that Sharone gets to say is.
Sharone Sayegh: It's the same one I'm gonna choose. It's "Coos emech." Papi pushes Julia and she falls, and I get to curse him out. I made it up, which is really cool. It's a really nasty, disgusting curse in Hebrew and Arabic.
Katrina: She gets to scream it, too, which is the best.
2) What is your cast's best inside joke?
Sharone: Our stage manager doesn't speak Hebrew. During tech, he'd be like, "OK, go from this line…" and if it were Hebrew or Arabic, he'd just butcher it.
Katrina: He'd know he wasn't saying it correctly, and we'd all have a laugh.
Sharone: It was very cute and endearing. We did the "Going Out" scene so many times, and we'd always start at "Zot habit doda," which means, "That's the cousin?" Our stage manager would always say…
Katrina: It sounded like "Zat habadoba." So we turned it into a "Zat habadoba" dance routine. It was a way for us to get through tech.
3) What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run, and how was it handled?
Katrina: One time, the turntable just stopped working. The whole setup during the "Waiting" song is, people are on the turntable. Andy Polk starts it out looking at a can of beans. And he was like, "Oh, I guess I have to walk in a circle looking at beans."
4) What is the most "interesting" present you received at the stage door?
Sharone: A man sent us both an insult calendar. You look up your birthday and see what corresponding insult you are. It was very weird. I think I threw mine out.
'''Katrina'': I still have it. It comes in very handy, actually.
5) Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Katrina: The first time I lost my cool was when the Clintons came. We didn't know. They did a very good job of keeping the news from us.
Sharone: They were so genuine and just wanted to talk with us about the piece, rather than hi, smile, take a photo.
6) Katrina, you've worked opposite three different Tewfiqs: Tony Shalhoub, Dariush Kashani, and Sasson Gabay. How do you best sum up the quality of their performances?
Katrina: I'd say Tony would be "warm and funny and gentlemanly. Elegant." Dariush would be "mysterious and childlike," and Sasson would be…he's tricky. "Wry and understated and mysterious in a different way." What do you think?
Sharone: Sasson is… Firstly, he's so cute. I want to pinch his cheeks all the time. Tony's Tewfiq was beautifully regal, and also silly. Sasson feels a little bit sprightlier, and very gentle.
7) Katrina, one of your most memorable moments involves chopping a watermelon. Tell us about the origin of that bit.
Katrina: David Yazbek's idea was to do it like she does in the movie, where she takes a whole watermelon, stabs it, and rips it open. You don't see the cutting in the movie; you just see and hear the stab and the rip. He was trying to make that doable onstage [in time with the music]. "You can hit the watermelon at this point and this point, and I don't want to hear any other sounds." It took a while for me to match what he wanted and also make it physically doable. It's very, very challenging. There are so many variables. The watermelon could land on the floor; it could be overripe and really squishy; it could be not ripe enough and impossible to get the knife through. Afterward, I'm just like, "Thank god I made it."
8) Sharone, what's harder for you: cutting the watermelon when you're on as Dina, or roller-skating during the disco scene as Anna?
Sharone: Cutting the watermelon. In rehearsal, they don't give you a watermelon. My first couple of shows, it was just such a mess, because it has to be on the music. Roller-skating was hard to learn, but at this point, I have a lot of fun. Our stage has a groove pattern on it, which really helps you slow down. It's not super slick.
9) Sharone, as an actor of Israeli-Iraqi descent, what does it mean to you to be in this show on Broadway?
Sharone: It's so amazing that it's hard to even wrap my brain around. It's been hard to navigate the business with the rules of ethnicity and what you can and can't play. The fact that I don't have to worry about that for this is so nice. Having my family that lives in Israel come see the show has also been incredibly rewarding. My 91-year-old grandmother, who lives in Israel and had never seen a Broadway show or seen me perform in anything, came. I was thinking about her life journey and what it was like to be an Israeli woman. To see her Israeli granddaughter represent that back to her on Broadway is awesome.
10) Do you think Dina ever sees Tewfiq or the guys in the band ever again?
Katrina: I think about it all the time. I have not decided, and I like to imagine, but I don't think it's the most important thing. The fact that she has hope or dreams or wants to see them again, that's the most important thing about it.
In The Band's Visit 2, and we have discussed this, it would be like Lucy and Ricky. Dina's like, "Eh, Tewfiq! I wanna be in the band!" But she's really bad at playing instruments and he's like, "Oh god, OK." And then they go on tour and she's getting in all sorts of trouble.