Jason Miller said to me, "I have a play that I think you'd be good for." Now, I'd heard that over and over again, so I said, "Yeah, yeah, send it to me, it would be terrific," knowing full well that it would never happen. But once Joe decided to do it, he gave it to me, immediately. I was the first one cast in that show. "Remember when I said about when I had a part for you? Here it is, if you want to play it." Without reading it, I said, "I want to play it. I don't give a . . . . I'll play it."
Miller: A.J. took the guys and rehearsed them for three days. I watched Papp out of the corner of my eye, lighting a cigar, leaning on the table and kind of laughing, and I knew that he was mightily impressed by this initial reading of this straight, realistic play which he had eschewed.
Joe dismissed everybody and he took A.J. and myself up to his office. He lit a cigar, walked around, had one of those long Papp pauses, and said, "I'll do it. You guys cast it, but you gotta get me a Coach. If you find me a Coach, I'll do the play."
Papp: I called A.J. and Jason into my office and I said, "I love you guys, you're so terrific, but I just don't see myself doing this play. There are so many problems with it, I don't want to get involved. Just for example . . ."
I began to demonstrate this, I began to demonstrate that, I said, "Why does this happen in the ending?" I spoke for about an hour, and though I had been absolutely determined not to do that play, before I knew it, I said, "OK, I'll do it." I talked myself into it just by dealing with the problems of the play.
Miller: I believe Papp reserved the right to pick the Coach because he identified very deeply with this role, very, very deeply. What you've got is a strong, powerful, dictatorial figure who has compassion and love as well as his own built-in cultural prejudices, his own demons. Joe Papp, beyond all the liberalism, beyond the socialism, beyond his immense social consciousness, was the Coach.
Paul Sorvino, actor: I met A.J. Antoon, we talked a little bit, and he said, "I'd really like you to come and meet Mr. Papp and read for him."
"I don't know," I said, "I'll have to read the play." So I took the play, and as is my wont, I started reading it at traffic lights driving back to New Jersey. By the time I came into the house, I'd read better than half of it, I was really pulsating with excitement when I walked in.
I finished reading, absolutely broken down in tears for the great tragedy of it. I looked up at my wife, and as I'm weeping, I said to her, "This is the greatest play since 'Death of a Salesman.' If I do this play in New York, I'll become a star overnight." That's what I said.
I went in on Monday and auditioned for Joe Papp, A.J. and Jason. I read two speeches, got very excited and threw the script down during one of them. Later, I heard that someone had said, "I wonder if he respects the material," because I had thrown the script on the ground in the emotion of the moment.
"I don't know about that," Papp said, "but he's the guy who's going to play the role."
Papp: A crisis began to arise during the rehearsal period. The actors came to me like every day. They began to hate Paul Sorvino. He was a rather easygoing kind of character, he would fool around a lot and he never approached it seriously. The others would say, "He's not an actor," and so forth and so on. I never saw people behave so badly. I mean, Charlie Durning was going to kill him.
One day, [actor] Richard Dysart walked in and said to me, "Listen, it's either him or me."
"Goodbye," I said. "What the hell's the matter with you guys?" There was a tremendous amount of turbulence, but I would not let any of those things stop the play.
Dysart: Joe was there, and yet he wasn't there. He wasn't physically there all the time, but Joe's overall guidance, Joe's overall selectivity process, was the key to bringing everything together. He oversaw it without intruding.
Durning: It was like a family, like brothers who hate each other one day and love each other the next.
A.J. and I became very good friends afterwards, but this was A.J.'s first major thing, and he and I were having a lot of trouble. He was an unfrocked priest, a Jesuit, he was very, very, very bright, and I didn't understand any of that brightness. I thought he was condescending, and wouldn't listen to other people's input. I quit the show three times. And Joe kept saying, "What the . . . is the matter with you? You've got a play like this, and you're gonna go quit?"
"I'll stay with the play if you direct it," I said.
"I can't direct it. I've got other things to do."