A few nights ago I went to see the amazing Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra’s (CATS) production of “Miss Saigon.” Last night, the rollicking “Midnight at Mel’s” at Off Broad Street. Next Wednesday, I’ll go to Sierra Stages’ “Souvenir” at Miners Foundry,
The following week, Synthetic Unlimited’s “American Buffalo.” First week in May, I’ll be off to the Colfax Performing Arts Center for “The Trial of Juanita,” then back to Off Center Stage for “Proof” and finish out May at the Nevada Theatre to take in LeGacy’s “From the Cavern and On.”
When my granddaughters visit in June, we’ll be off into wild nature to see the brand new fairy show produced by Quest Theaterworks.
Do we live in a great theater community?
Yes! And five years ago, I heard this affirmed by a very famous actor, who is sadly no longer with us.
I’ve always been a collector of sightings and interactions with famous people.
It started when Prime Minister Clement Attlee walked by me on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament in London.
I waved to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Montreal and spied Steve McQueen in New York, his unbuttoned trench coat billowing behind him. Years later, I passed Rachel Griffith pushing a pram in Central Park and saw Dr. Oz joking with his staff in a basement bar. In Los Angeles, I joked with Ed Asner at a buffet table and I had no idea it was him until later.
It was in Austin five years ago that I had my most memorable encounter. I stopped there to visit my daughter and family on the way home from New York the day after watching the thrilling election returns in Rockefeller Center.
When I arrived, my daughter said, “Mom, would you mind babysitting for us tonight? We have to go to this reception, unless you want to come with us.”
She handed me the invitation. “In honor of the actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
The reception was at a fabulous house called “The Castle.” From the terrace, the pink granite Texas Capitol building glowed in the distance.
Inside were elegant people, music, hors d’oeuvres, memorable wines and the sudden appearance of the honored guest, a little rumpled as if he had just rolled out of bed and couldn’t find his comb.
He was soon surrounded. Overheard were comments such as, “Loved you as Truman Capote!” “Loved you in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War!” “Loved when you smashed the window and then you asked the secretary…!”
Mr. Hoffman was eventually introduced and began talking about his LAByrinth Theater Company, in which members have the opportunity to write, act, direct, design and produce. He hoped that a satellite theater could be established in Austin. It could be a worthwhile investment. General mingling followed and I found myself at his back, eavesdropping on his ideas of creating new theater.
He turned suddenly and there I was, staring right into his face.
“Isn’t this all amazing!” I blurted out.
“What?” he asked, looking a bit confused.
“I mean, the election last night!” I probably blabbed on and on about all the exhilarating details.
But so did he. Together we went over all the details of the incredible evening.
How he hadn’t been able to sleep for all the celebrating.
At some point I mentioned that I wasn’t from Austin, that I had just stopped over on my way home to California.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“You’ve probably never heard of the place. Grass Valley. Nevada City.”
“Of course I’ve heard of the place!” he objected. “Great theater community there!”
Of course I agreed, but then I couldn’t help myself. “Actually, I’m a playwright.”
“That’s fantastic!” he said, and he reached out to shake my hand. “Look, sorry I can’t talk more. But all the best of luck with that.”
He was already turning away to a new group of fans and potential investors.
My daughter claimed me, curious about what Mr. Hoffman and I had been talking about so animatedly.
It’s now been almost six weeks since we were stunned by the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I’ve been thinking of all the parts he played, revisiting some of my favorite movies. In one of his last ones, “A Late Quartet,” he is heartbreakingly brilliant.
So many more parts he could have played!
I’ll always remember the experience of having had a genuine conversation with him and his “best of luck” wishes. But most of all, I treasure the connection I felt with his already knowing about our great theater community here.
Robin Wallace lives in Nevada City. Her play, “Sonja Weissman and the Miracle Play,” was produced at Off Center Stage this past December.