MY FAVORITE NIGHT
It was a balmy Saturday afternoon in June 2010. I was driving out east on Sunrise Highway with my friend, Donna. Our destination was the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton. We had tickets for a new production of Peter Shaffer’s literary masterpiece Equus, starring Alec Baldwin. We chatted as the soft daylight shone through the sunroof. The scenic drive through the picturesque towns was enjoyable. Little did I know what was in store for us. I had no idea that evening would become my favorite night.
Being theater buffs, my friend and I have seen scores of Broadway, Off Broadway and regional plays. We like to attend at least one show on eastern Long Island during the summer months. The John Drew Theater at Guild Hall is our favorite Long Island venue. The building is a jewel of beautiful architecture. There is not a bad seat in the house. The circus tent ceiling welcomes us back every year.
As is our custom, we left our suburban homes hours before curtain call. We like to arrive early at the theater in order to secure a good spot in the small parking lot. We usually walk to town, purchase sandwiches and beverages, and walk back to the theater to have a picnic in the car. Part of the fun is the anticipation of the show. We are both Alec Baldwin fans and have seen most of his films and television appearances. This was the first time we would see him perform live. We were giddy with excitement.
When we entered the parking lot earlier that day, we noticed four orange traffic cones strategically placed in one corner of the lot. I backed my car into the spot next to the cones. It crossed our minds that perhaps that space was reserved for Alec Baldwin. We did not know if he would arrive in a limousine or perhaps have an entourage. Maybe there was a stage door hidden from our view and he was already in the theater. The play was starting at 8:00 pm. It was 7:30 pm and by now the lot was full, except for the special spot. We were gathering up our belongings, getting ready to exit my car, when suddenly we heard the screech of tires. A truck was rounding the corner from the main road at high speed. It entered the parking lot and the driver backed into the cordoned off spot next to ours. Alec Baldwin was behind the wheel.
Donna was in the passenger seat of my car. The windows were open. She looked right at his face. She turned to me and said “Oh my God, it’s him”. “Hurry, get out of the car”. “I want to ask if he will pose for a picture with us”.
I don’t know why, but I started pushing buttons and levers, rolling up the windows and closing the sunroof. I was so nervous that by accident, I turned the headlights and windshield wipers on. The wipers made a dull, droning sound on the dry windshield. I was beside myself. I was verklempt. I was star-struck.
Donna was already out of the car, phone in hand, ready to take a picture. At that time, I had an old flip-phone and was not familiar with using a phone as a camera. We saw Alec getting a suit jacket out of his truck. Then we heard his door shut. He passed us as he walked through the lot, making his way towards the theater side entrance. I managed to get out of my car. “Hello Mr. Baldwin” I heard myself say. “Hello” he said, as he turned his head back towards us, his body still walking forward. “Can I get a picture with you?” Donna blurted out. He hesitated and looked a bit bewildered. He appeared harried, his hair was windblown, but he was as handsome and charming as ever. “Yes” he said, “but quickly please, as I am very, very late”. He pronounced the words very, very as vety, vety, with a slight British accent.
Donna handed me her phone. She stood next to Alec. I was as frozen as a statue. “How do you work this, Donna?” I said, as I fumbled. I was mortified. What an idiot I must have looked like. Donna came over and showed me what button to push. Alec was patient and gracious as he smiled and put his arm around my friend’s shoulder. I managed to snap two nice pictures of Donna standing next to Alec Baldwin. We thanked him as he disappeared around the bend.
Phew! What had just happened? We were speechless. Donna called her daughter in Manhattan and sent the pictures from her phone. “Guess who we are hanging out with on this beautiful Saturday night?” she asked her. We were laughing and almost crying. I think we may have been hysterical. We had been hoping for perhaps a glimpse of Alec Baldwin. We never dreamed we would actually meet him and exchange words. We felt like teenagers who had just met The Beatles.
When Donna told her daughter what Alec had said to us, she told us he was probably already in character, thus the British accent. Of course. Alec was playing the role of the British psychiatrist in the play. We hoped we had not thrown him off his game. We were surprised to see him in the parking lot, but he may have been equally startled to have encountered us.
The show was wonderful. I had previously seen Equus on Broadway in 1975, starring Anthony Perkins as the psychiatrist. Watching Baldwin on stage made me think that while the bulk of his artistic success lies in films and television, it made me feel his true passion may be for the feel of the boards beneath his feet in a live stage play. His performance was simply striking in a role that was particularly difficult, carrying the narrative of the play on his shoulders, while presenting a complex yet tender character. In a nutshell, Alec Baldwin was brilliant. The other members of the cast were also fabulous and the production itself was mesmerizing. It was truly an unforgettable night of theater, in more ways than one. Donna and I talked feverishly about our good fortune the entire ride home. We could not believe our luck, being in the right place at the right time. It was kismet. Our serendipitous meeting with Alec Baldwin was the highlight of our summer. But it did not end there.
A few weeks later, I had seen a TV ad that Alec Baldwin was to be a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman. Of course, I told my friend Donna about this and we set our DVRs to record the show. While interviewing Baldwin, Letterman asked him how he felt about fans asking for photographs and autographs. Baldwin replied he did not like overbearing paparazzi, but appreciated genuine fans and tried to accommodate them if he could. Then he told Letterman he had a funny story to tell him. He said he was performing in a play on Long Island this summer when he was approached by two housewives in the theater parking lot who asked if he would pose for a picture. He said they were very sweet, but one did not know how to take a picture with the phone and said (mimicking a woman’s voice) “Mary, how do you work this, Mary? What do I do?” Of course he was referring to us. He said he was flattered and glad he had loyal fans. Apparently, we had made an impression on him after all. By this time, it was after midnight as the Letterman show was ending, but I knew who it was when the phone rang. Donna and I laughed our heads off as we relived the night we met Alec Baldwin.
As I think back, what made that evening so special is how everything fell into place in a funny, quirky way. I could never duplicate those events again, no matter how hard I tried. I have lived on Long Island all my life and marvel at the many beautiful places and things. The beaches, the parks, the people – all so unique. The proximity to New York City is an added bonus. I have Playbills signed by Tony Award winners. Fortunately, I have been entertained by many superstar performers at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum. Yes, I know I am very lucky to live on Long Island.
But for some reason, meeting a special fellow Long Islander in a theater parking lot in a sleepy little town on a warm and sultry summer evening is now, and will always remain, my favorite night.