Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Curtain Speech

In the theatre it’s customary to accommodate the more fashionable audience members by raising the curtain a few minutes late.  But at the Phoenix Theatre’s opening night of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, it wasn’t just we frumpy early-birds who were wondering what the hold-up was.  The stylish, too, had had ample time to remove their coats, make small-talk, survey the set (a cramped living room in a 1950s Brooklyn apartment), use the facilities, flip through their programs and fold them, accordion-style, into little fans.  The only thing left to do was stare at each other (the Phoenix Theatre, an intimate space, has a thrust stage) and wonder if there was a problem backstage. 

Finally, Barbara, who handles the theatre’s PR, came on to make the pre-show announcement and get things started.  A congenial woman with curly, dark red hair and wire-rimmed glasses, she held a batch of programs to her chest, her shield from those who were already worried about getting home ten minutes later than anticipated.  (Will the babysitter be okay with that?).

Once she had welcomed us, exhorted us to turn off our cell phones and unwrap our candies (the latter command drawing the obligatory chuckle), delineated our emergency exits, warned us about a ten minute intermission (make that twenty extra minutes for the sitter), and explained the Phoenix Theatre’s fundraising campaign (and how we could contribute to it), Barbara ran out of things to say.  She smiled at us for a moment.  Then she turned her gaze to a man in a tan blazer, one of the last arrivals.  His hairline seemed to be receding, but it was hard to tell because he had sneaked into the back row.

“I understand,” Barbara said, “that now we’re waiting for someone who’s… very close by?”

“Yeah,” said the man in the back row.  “They’re almost here.”

The cause of the delay revealed!  These must be the most fashionable audience members of all!  A murmur went through the crowd. “Who are these people?”  “Where are they?”  “And why do we have to wait for them?” 

“Do you have any idea,” Barbara continued, as all eyes turned toward the door, “how close they are?”  She spoke slowly and held her breath, giving the mysterious guests the opportunity to make a well-timed entrance—an opportunity they failed to seize.  We waited for the man in the back row respond, but he appeared to be engrossed in his phone, which he evidently had not turned off. 

An elderly woman with a hooked nose misunderstood the situation: “If he’s already here and we’re talking to him, why are we still waiting for him?”  A few more wondered the same thing; others tried to correct them.  Our wrath redirected, Barbara removed the stack of programs from her bosom.

An electronic chirp from the back row.  The balding man’s phone had told him something, which he was going to relay to us.

“They’re parking the car.”

…They’re not even inside?  They hadn’t taken public transit?

“Don’t worry, Tim always has great luck finding street parking.”

…They’re not using a garage?

Silently, we considered the specs.  Friday night, downtown San Francisco, shady neighborhood.  Great luck or not, this could take hours.

“They thought I meant Fort Mason, instead of Mason Street,” explained the man, for the first time evincing awareness of the crowd of people looking at him.

“Tell them to try Ivy Street!” suggested an older gentleman with a cane and not insignificant salt-and-pepper stubble.  “There’s always a spot there!”

“Right!  Between Octavia and Franklin?” asked an attractive young woman in a lacy, cream-colored blouse.

“That’s just the place!” the gentlemen said, just as a third voice claimed that Ivy was too far away and that the fashionably late guests should consider Montgomery, between California and Bush, instead. “Such a highly trafficked thoroughfare?” others said.  “Unthinkable.”  Those who hadn’t spoken yet chimed in.  Unable to keep the peace, Barbara again sought comfort in her stack of programs, the recycled paper glaring starkly against her plum-colored sweater.  We quickly came to a consensus, though: SOMA, especially Minna and Mary Streets, was marginally reliable.  As the man in the back row (who now looked more thoroughly bald than before) texted our advice to his friends, we started sharing stories of impossibly lucky breaks (Market and 5th for one, and for another… Union Square?  What a shameless liar).

“Well, I’ve always promised myself I would never hold a show for more than ten minutes, and I guess this is why,” murmured Barbara, almost to herself.  “But look, here I am, doing it.”

“Sorry about… all this,” said the man in the back row, bringing the free-for-all to a halt.

“It’s okay,” Barbara said, to our dismay.  Then, more accurately representing the feeling in the room, she said, “but now… it’s time to start the show.”

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