A poet, the Russians say, always cheats his boss. This is something I’ve been determined not to do to The Wall Street Journal, whose editors have been uncommonly agreeable about allowing their drama critic to pursue a part-time career as a playwright, librettist, and stage director. I don’t take that forbearance for granted, and so I’m scrupulous about putting my day job first whenever it bumps up against my after-hours activities.
That’s why I flew up from Florida to New York to review The Band’s Visit, Meteor Shower, and The Parisian Woman in the middle of rehearsals for Billy and Me, and why I spent one of my precious Mondays off from the show writing a “Sightings” column about the James Levine scandal. It also explains why, three days before returning to Connecticut and Mrs. T, I made a second flying visit to Broadway, this time to lead an onstage talkback after a performance of The Band’s Visit, then went back to West Palm Beach the very next morning.
In common with many other major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal has lately started offering premium benefits of various kinds to its subscribers. I was approached last spring about participating in our WSJ+ program, and responded by putting together a Present Laughter talkback with Moritz von Steulpnagel, the show’s director, and Kate Burton and Cobie Smulders, two of its stars. The results were so successful—and so much fun—that the paper asked me to lead a similar talkback this winter. I said that I thought our subscribers would enjoy The Band’s Visit, and suggested that we approach David Cromer, Katrina Lenk, and Tony Shalhoub, the director and stars of what has ended up being the hot new show of the current Broadway season.
Everybody said yes, so I boarded a very early flight on Wednesday, and a few hours later I was sitting on the stage of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, chatting with three of my favorite theater artists while Mrs. T and her father sat in the audience and watched. I’d already met Cromer, with whom I had a very interesting conversation in Boston after attending a performance of his celebrated production of Our Town in 2012. Not so Lenk and Shalhoub, whom I met for the first time when they came on stage after the show and introduced themselves to me and the audience.
Once again I had the time of my life, for of my fellow panelists proved to be both articulate and enormously nice, on top of which I got to see The Band’s Visit for the third time. I’d gladly see it again. (For the record, Katrina Lenk’s oft-remarked eyes are so widely set that she could surely take up a career as a hypnotist should she ever choose to quit the stage.)
Two nights later I took part in a similar onstage talkback after a performance of Billy and Me, and the next morning I said farewell to my second play and flew back to rural Connecticut. It was hard to let go of the all-consuming experience of putting on a show—it always is—but I’m falling-on-my-face tired, and Mrs. T and I have much to do in preparation for what we hope will be her coming rendezvous with the surgeon’s knife. On Tuesday we’ll be driving up to New York to see yet another Broadway show, Farinelli and the King, and the next day we go straight from there to Philadelphia’s Penn Transplant Institute for a face-to-face meeting with the lung-transplant team.
After that comes Christmas, though I’ve already received my present from Mrs. T. Once again she surprised me by putting up and decorating a Christmas tree while I was out of town, having sneakily told me (as she did in 2015) that we’d likely be too busy to have a tree of our own this year. The glee with which she opened the door and turned on the lights was utterly endearing, though I couldn’t see it very well. It seems I got something in my eye.
We spent the rest of the evening snuggled up on the couch together, watching a TCM triple feature of golden-age crime movies, all three of which were new to us. I don’t know how I’d previously managed to miss Mervyn LeRoy’s Johnny Eager, especially seeing as how I’ve become a Robert Taylor fan in recent months, but we enjoyed it enormously, and we also relished The Last Gangster and Two Seconds, both of which star Edward G. Robinson, an actor and fellow art collector for whom my admiration is boundless.
Speaking of art collecting, I also cracked open a tightly wrapped box whose contents, a 1932 etching by Giorgio Morandi, I’d been longing to see ever since I successfully bid on it last month during a Billy and Me rehearsal. It has long been one of my wildest dreams to own a Morandi etching, and I spent much of the evening holding it in my lap, closely studying its exquisitely worked surface and marveling at the improbable fact that I will now be able to look at “Veduta della Montagnola di Bologna” as often and for as long as I like.
Today I plan to do…nothing. Well, not quite nothing: there’s a Commentary essay that I need to finish writing before Mrs. T and I hit the road tomorrow, and I also want to take her to see Darkest Hour, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at some point fairly soon. But I’ll be taking two weeks off from the Journal after I get my review of Farinelli and the King in the can, there being no shows opening anywhere during that time, and I mean to spend as much as possible of those two weeks resting up and reveling in the company of my beloved spouse.
On Sunday morning I woke up in a state of confusion and asked myself, “Where am I?” Then I turned on the bedside lamp, looked around for a moment, and said out loud, “Oh, right—I’m home.”
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Katrina Lenk sings David Yazbek’s “Omar Sharif,” a song from the score of The Band’s Visit, at the 2017 Obie Awards: