Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life in the Big City

I had the most extraordinary day on Friday. Merriam-Webster online offers these definitions of the word extraordinary:

1 a : going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary b : exceptional to a very marked extent c of a financial transaction : NONRECURRING

All three definitions apply.

On my trip back uptown from one of my weekly standing appointments, I rode in a very crowded subway car. I had my backpack on, looped through both arms. It's a very snazzy backpack. Coach. Leather. Very attractive. Normally I only loop it through one arm; I can keep a closer eye on it this way and it also occupies less room during rush hour. But that day I was trying to read a book and I needed both hands. At one point someone bumped into my backpack and I rearranged myself.

On my short walk home, I reached into the exterior zipper pockets to extract my keys and discovered that both zipper pockets had been unzipped. I knew that they had been zipped, so I realized immediately that I had been pickpocketed. I rummaged through the pockets to ascertain what was missing. My cell phone was still there, my checkbook was still there. My wallet was in the zippered leg pocket of my cargo shorts. So what was actually missing? My glucometer (I'm diabetic) and my keys. And the thing about my keys was this: on my way out the door to my appointment, I could not find my own set of keys. After looking for several minutes, I grabbed the extra set of keys from the desk drawer.

Here is what is on my regular key ring, the one that I left behind in the apartment: a mailbox key, the only one we have, and a full set of keys to my friend David's apartment (which is still my legal address).

David is in London at the moment and I am charged with bringing in the mail and checking the apartment every few days.

Okay, so I was robbed, but all they had taken was the extra set of apartment keys and my glucometer. They might have thought it was a blackberry or something, since it's in a case. And the extra set of keys was in a little pouch that looked like a coin purse. So they probably thought they were getting a lot more than they actually got.

I arrived at the apartment remarkably calm. I had assessed the losses, and was amazed at my relative good fortune: no credit cards or stolen checks to deal with, no irreplaceable keys lost, no cell phone lost, no wallet stolen, no money of any kind lost. This kind of theft simply doesn't HAPPEN in Manhattan. Such events are major catastrophes. This was Robbery Lite.

I just had to get the extra set of keys from the super. I couldn't find the super. I rang his bell and he did not answer. He started work just a few weeks ago, so I hadn't programmed his number into my phone. I wasn't even positive what he looked like. But there was a man standing outside the building; I asked him if he was the super and he said no and I explained my situation to him and asked if he would let me into the building. Amazingly, he consented. (I guess it's a good thing I'm not a young African American male or I would have had the cops on me.) I decided to just check each floor to see if the super was lurking somewhere. I hit the fourth floor and sure enough, I saw a refrigerator going through an apartment door. Ah-ha! There he was. He asked me even more questions, and rightly so. I said to him, when we open the apartment door, a big black dog will come barrelling out and you will be able to tell from her response to me that I belong there. Phoebe was there and corroborated my identity with her usual yelps, caught somewhere between ecstasy [you're back!] and desperation [where have you been?].

I made a few calls and my glucometer was in the mail, replaced completely free of charge. (What a blessing insurance can be; it would have cost me more than a few shekels to replace.) I said to myself, "Self," I said, "someone was really watching out for you back there."
Oh, and the kicker: my full set of keys was right there on the dining room table, right where I thought they were, right where they most definitely were not when I had been looking for them earlier. "Self," said I...
* * * *
A few hours later, I was to meet friends for one of the final performances of the revival of 110 in the Shade.

(A little aside on 110: when I think about it, the story's very much like La fanciulla del West, except that Lizzie (Minnie) does not go off with Starbuck (Dick Johnson) at the end, but stays behind with File (Jack Rance). The Jack Rance stand-in is a much nicer guy in this version. How un-Puccini-like! But the essential plot points are virtually the same, down to Lizzie bargaining with the sheriff to let the outlaw go free.)

I had been advised by David that I simply had to see this show. He had seen it in previews and then again just a few weeks ago, and he waxed rhapsodic over Audra McDonald. I am a fan anyway, and we tend to have quite similar taste in things musical and theatrical, so I knew I was in for a treat. However, when he wrote the following to me after seeing the show the second time, I thought he was being excessive:
"At the end of the show I was thinking that I never saw Callas or Bernhardt,
but I have been lucky enough to see Audra McDonald.
That's how good she is."

Guess what? He wasn't exaggerating. It was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. I went off on my own ecstatic response a few days later when I wrote to my teacher (who is also Audra's teacher):

"Audra last night was radiant. Out of this fucking world. David was not far off. One does not see this sort of performance very often in one's lifetime. She had the guts to do the "Old Maid" song that ends the first song expressionistically, barely singing it. The rage and longing came from her true center, way beyond her actual singing voice. And the end was so joyous. The audience went completely crazy. So did I. Just thinking about it now makes me smile. More than smile. [It still does.] I see why David was so beside himself when he saw it the second time. The rest of the cast was very good too, especially John Cullum as the father and the guy playing Starbuck, who evidently did not get good reviews. I thought he was just perfect, actually. The guy playing File, the sheriff, was a good actor, but that singing voice was excruciating, out of tune and unfocused. I hope he was sick, but evidently he's been more or less like this throughout. But who cares? This wasn't about him!"

The success of the show rides on the Lizzie, and Audra had moments I will simply never forget. Of course "Raunchy" was show-stopping, even better than it had been on the Tonys telecast, but it was the little moments that told the most. Her transformation from homely to radiant happened entirely in her face. All Starbuck did was let down her hair; the magic, again, came from within. Every so often one sees something that one will simply never forget, that can never be surpassed. I saw Vickers do Tristan and Otello, I saw Stratas as Suor Angelica, I saw Cotrubas as Mimi, I saw Quasthoff sing Winterreise, I saw Lois Smith in Trip to Bountiful, I saw Vanessa Redgrave as Lady Torrance in Orpheus Descending (twice!). I've seen a handful of other things that matched those. And this was one of them. I think she should be dubbed "The Duse of Broadway" in the same way that Muzio was known as "The Duse of Song."
So even on the day that I was robbed on the subway, I was still grateful to be a New Yorker. Sometimes it still does feel to me like the greatest city in the world!

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Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

It is so depressing to read your review of 110 in the Shade after it has closed. I adore Audra McDonald, but decided not to see this show because 110 seemed like such a bore . . . I thought, well, Audra will be her usual amazing self, but I don't think I can sit through a western with bad music. Now I hate myself for jumping to conclusions. I should have gone . . .

August 1, 2007 at 3:35 PM  
Anonymous MaryPena said...

Nice bloog

March 25, 2022 at 2:17 PM  

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