The Normal Heart
I think I told Lori Schmidt about the reading for “The Normal Heart” at the Criterion Center. I think. I am pretty sure. I think Alex called me and then I called her. It doesn’t matter.
Just a refresher on our dear friend Lori. She will look at me in wonderment and disgust that she somehow wasn’t more involved with the ‘Yentl’ premiere. Well, we weren’t best/best friends then, she was Alex’s friend and we knew each other through him. But what matters is that Lori loves the theatre, has admitted to spending approximately three hundred nights per year in the theatre, and has dinner as often as possible in the theatre district.
She is a very serious person, dedicated to being the best audience member she can be, and sometimes it is the serious person who says the funniest things. Many of Lori’s expressions are priceless.
(At the box office of a sold out show): “What can you do for me A101 and 103 for Thursday?”
“I need to get a cab before ‘Les Miz’ breaks.”
“Let me preface this with this…”
And so on. So Lori loved the theatre, was working in a production office and she called me to tell me she had gotten four tickets to this event, this fundraiser reading, where Barbra Streisand was going to be at and speak at.
Lori went on record saying she understood my “I’ll never see Barbra live” policy, but she was not having it, I would attend this performance. She might be able to procure tickets to a sold out show on two-days notice, or get a cab in the theatre district on matinee days, but she was not going to get me to attend this event. If Barbra is so uncomfortable in front of a live audience why would I want to be a member of that audience? If someone doesn’t like to cook, you wouldn’t invite yourself for dinner, would you?
I learned my lesson at the ‘Funny Lady’ premiere. A lot of my friends are surprised that I’m not camping out in Vegas getting ready for this New Year’s thing, but hey, that’s my choice. I have always said, and I maintain this to be true: I would rather watch Barbra rehearse one song for fourteen hours than see her sing fourteen songs in one hour. That’s why I love all that footage that is coming out of her in the recording booth – she is so connected with her work it is frightening.
And I knew I could not see Barbra at ‘The Normal Heart’ reading without John. What would I have said to him? “I saw Barbra and you didn’t?” I could not have done that. But Lori has her own ideas, naturally, as well she should, so I put it to her – is this ticket mine to use anyway I want? Yes, she replied. Would she be very upset if I sent John in my place? We had this conversation while on the phone and although I might have thought I heard a moment of hesitation, in actuality there probably was none, and Lori was fine with the idea.
Life is full of compromise. John always thought that when he and Barbra finally had the opportunity to meet they would be sitting on a deck, overlooking the beach, sipping ice-tea. Life’s a constant disappointment when you live on celluloid.
I’ve never seen or read ‘The Normal Heart’ but I can guess it is no day at the beach, with or without the iced-tea. John was diagnosed (as the saying goes) during the spring of 1990. He shared the news with me on Barbra’s 48th birthday (April 24th); he wanted to tell me on a day that I would be in a good mood. What do you say when your best friend asks from the other side of the phone, “Are you sitting down?” You lie, and say, “Yes” and then grab on to a piece of furniture and wait for them to keep talking.
So John was going to get to “see Barbra live” but the pay-off was he’d have to sit through this tough show and, of course, he was very nervous. He even questioned his decision to go, was he doing himself more harm than good? So much had happened since he first took me to see ‘The Way We Were’ and basically saved my life. Things were so much simpler then. I remember when a movie could cure anything. But today there is no cure. That sucks. Pour me another drink and bring me my microphone. Start the overture; I’m doing this show from the bar.
I was at work at the Lowell Hotel while they where all at the show. I thought I would have heard from them before my shift ended, but I did not. But when I got home the phone was ringing. It was John.
I asked him how the show was. He said it was rough at points but he got through it. I asked him how Barbra was. John could not speak, so I let him be silent and then asked him some general questions to ease him into it. Did she remember all her words? Yes, she read them beautifully from cards. Did she look nervous? No, calm as could be. Did the audience like her? Yes, they loved her.
I took a deep breath. Is she beautiful in person?
Yes. Yes, she’s beautiful in person, said John.
I knew she would be. I just knew it. I am so happy he got to see her.