Celeb puzzle! I've been a huge fan of Lithgow since his "3rd Rock from the Sun" days. Fun to get a puzzle that plays on his profession — acting terms redefined in kooky ways. CURTAIN CALL as a drapes-buying decision, CAST PARTY using the "person" definition of "party," etc. And so much acting-related filler material!
I wasn't familiar with SUMMER STOCK. Apparently it's a generic term for any theater production that only happens in the summer? We have a local company that does "Shakespeare improv" in a nearby park — I keep meaning to check it out.
I enjoyed some of the fill in the grid, particularly the long bonuses of SPITTAKE (I seem to remember a lot of SPITTAKEs on "3rd Rock"!), CATFISH, PINE NUTS, even the DOLPHINS with their perfect season, including a Superbowl victory. (Take that, 2007-2008 Patriots!)
I did feel like the grid contained a lot of crossword glue, though. Starting with some ATRAS, ETA, AAR wasn't bad. Toss in some STLO, SECCO, I DON'T, and the crosswordy ERNES, though, and it felt like A HEAP of stuff. (Not sure why A TAD feels fine to me but A HEAP doesn't …)
And then there was the KEYES / KATISHA crossing. Yikes! Perhaps educated solvers should be expected to know Daniel KEYES ... I buy that. And I appreciate that a reference to "The Mikado" fits right in with this celeb collab. But wow, is that a tough name for us laypeople. Rough crossing, tough to get correct.
As with most crosswords, it's a game of trade-offs. Four themers are easy to work with, but it's not at all simple to work a bunch of great bonuses into the fill. Then when you strive to put in more quasi-thematic material (references to theater in this case), it strains the grid mightily. Overall, I would have preferred a smoother end product with fewer bonuses, but I can understand the trade-off here, given the nature of this celeb puzzle.
I like these types of "redefinitional" puzzles. The Isaac Mizrahi one worked better for me, since some of today's themers didn't quite jibe — hard to imagine anyone describing a stage departing by saying the stilted "STAGE LEFT." And a fly fisherman might be a CASTing party, but not really a CAST PARTY.
But overall, so much fun to see one of my favorite actors make his crossword debut, with a profession-specific concept. Love BEQ's description of John tackling this project ... if "method cruciverbalism" isn't a thing, it really should be!