Sunday, June 1, 2008

Port Authority II

On Friday morning, Larry and I went out to breakfast before getting back on the train to come home. At the end of the meal the waiter came over to pour us a last cup of coffee and he decided to get chatty just then. He asked us where we were from and what we were doing in the city. We told him we'd come to see a play and he smiled at that.
"Good for you," he said, fiddling with the lid of the pot. "What'd you see?" We told him Port Authority and he looked up sharply. He looked each of us in the face for the first time. We were in a little place near Times Square, after all, and he probably expected us to say Lion King or Legally Blonde or somesuch. 
"How was it," he asked. His tone had changed utterly. This was no longer chatter. How to respond?
Do we admit to a stranger holding a pot of coffee that we're spending 20 hours and the equivalent of a mortgage payment in New York City in order to go to a tiny theater in Chelsea and watch a 90 minute play? We do not. Do we nuance the whole experience for him, detailing our favorite parts, which for Larry was most of Brian d'Arcy James' speeches, especially the ones about being locked in the bathroom or talking about stinking out the bathroom (what is it about boys and bathroom humor?), and which for me was the Jim Norton's monologue that started with him giving advice. He says that when you dream about love you should forget the dream and then of course he talks about how he failed to take his own advice. It's beautifully structured in terms of writing. The advice, followed by a confession of his own dream, followed by scenes between the speaker and his neighbor's wife that without that set-up would be ordinary. The writer has taught us what to expect and then we continue to expect it, and when it doesn't come we fill in for ourselves the longing, and then it comes full-on a final mini-scene in which the speaker tries to steal a photograph of this woman and gets caught. And then we discover what she feels. It's wonderful. But I didn't say any of that in the restaurant.
Do we talk about the woman in the fifth row who coughed for twenty minutes straight before excusing herself from the theater? 
Do we talk about how Jim Norton said the final lines of the play, sat down on the bench and then we all held our breath for a minute, hoping it was not over yet. Do we say that when the actors jumped out of their seats to jog offstage before the curtain calls, Norton seemed to drop 20 years off his age, how he trotted off like a man just settling into his early 50s? No, we don't say any of these things, because the coffee is growing cold and someone else in the restaurant might want some. So, we say, "Great. It was great." 
The waiter shook his head and as if reading our minds said, "Jim Norton. Amazing." It was then my turn to be surprised, to look this guy in the face for the first time. Then he went on to talk about seeing the Seafarer and all the touches in that performance. We agreed. He talked about all that Norton does with his voice and his body. We agreed some more, and I found myself sitting up and leaning in to hear it. He admitted that he's an actor, which we'd guessed at that point. And he went on to ask about other plays we'd been to. He admonished us to see certain plays, and told us what to pay attention to, should we come back and I thought: this is what I need. I need an actor with good taste to tell me what to see next.


LACosbey said...

Thank you for this, for sharing this. I'm not even sure what it is, but it left me feeling as If I'd experienced a good play of longing and desire and hope.

Michelle said...

Okay, having re-read this post, I agree. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. When I get a copy of the play, and I will, I'll quote from this monologue and describe it better. It's worth taking apart a first person monologue and see how it's built.

kt said...

Hilton Als had a piece on this in this week's New Yorker too.