09/13/04: Three years ago today...

...I was starting to get starved for human contact.

I know that has a rather lurid sound to it, but truly, after hours of watching TV by myself in a hotel room, already not the most humanizing place, I was getting pretty sick of myself.

On Thursday I decided to get out and walk.

Unfortunately that was the day the wind changed. The air had not just a smell, but a feel. A gritty feel. A strange, gritty, burn-y-smelling feel. Not like anything I've smelled before.

When I set out from my hotel I really wasn't sure where I was going to go. But after just a couple of blocks I realized that if Broadway was going to go back up that evening, then as a former starving NY artist, as a union actor, as a theatre junkie, my place was in some Broadway house that night.

But which?

The hot ticket three years ago was, of course, "The Producers" starring Nathan lane and Matthew Broderick. I hadn't even tried to get tickets. And morbid as it was, I immediately realized that with the bridges and tunnels not open for traffic, not to mention that most people might be a teeny bit afraid of coming into the city, there were going to be a lot of cancellations.

I strolled over to the theatre and discovered I was hardly the only person with that brainstorm. I joined an already hefty line. And it was only early afternoon.

And there I stood for the next four or five hours. Along with a couple from England, two ladies from Arizona, and a bunch of other stranded passengers.

I don't really remember what our conversations were about. I'm sure they were heavily weighted towards talk of 9/11. There were the local news stations going along the list interviewing people, asking them if they were afraid to sit in a crowded theatre, if that made them feel like a target.

I saw Nathan Lane arrive at the theatre.

I saw Ian MacKellan, rehearsing for a play at the theatre across the street, stride off to get dinner. Clearly wearing his costume pants tucked into knee-high riding boots. Very dashing. And I got damn tired of standing there.

But it was also damn good to be amongst people. Outside, even in the not-so-fresh air.

Eventually we all got tickets. There were a lot of cancelled tickets waiting to be redistributed. And about 10 of us who had been on line together went to a pizzeria down the block and grabbed a quick slice together. I think everyone felt this sense of camaraderie. A sense that in the worst of times, people HAVE to come together.

I was really curious how the show would go over. It's a comedy...a really broad comedy. With lots of potentially offensive humor...you know the whole mocking Hitler thing.

Before the show Rocco Landesman...major Broadway producer...came out and made a speech that I don't recall. Then the show started. And the audience was clearly primed to laugh and lose themselves. every bit got a laugh. Every joke, pun, gesture, double-take, put-upon sigh.

(I learned later that they chose not to use the gunfire and bomb sound effects in one of the musical numbers, but never having seen it, I certainly didn't miss it.)

When the show ended, and the cast came out for their curtain call, they looked as wiped out as any cast I'd ever seen. And I really felt for them. To go through the same shock, fear and grief that the rest of the nation did, and yet get out there and pull out all the stops in brilliant comic performances...I'm not sure how they did it. But the effort clearly showed. I hope they realized that they were providing the first solace and relief that most of us in the audience had felt in over 48 hours. 

At the end of the curtain call, as they did in theatres across Broadway, and across the nation, the cast led the audience in a rendition of God Bless America. And I don't think there was a dry eye in that house by the end.

This must be what Aristotle was talking about when he talked about catharsis. It certainly felt like it on September 13, 2001 in that Broadway theatre.

Elisa Camahort Page
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