A funny thing happened on the way to the theater

Last month I went to see “RiddleLikeLove (with a side of ketchup)” at a small theater off Broadway. Way off Broadway. If my mother-in-law, who was my guest, and I had walked much farther west, we would have splashed into the Hudson River.
I was there because the show was co-written by my friend Douglas Anderson, who is the executive director of Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater, and because I like ketchup. When I was a boy, I was that kid who was slathering the stuff on all the usual suspects, as well as on spaghetti and eggs and broccoli. I did this because I really liked ketchup, and because my mother had numerous strengths, but none of them involved the culinary arts.
First of all, I should note that I loved the show. It’s the tale of one woman’s friendship with her deaf pal, who has now passed away. The story is poignant and powerful and, at moments, laugh-out loud funny. The actress, Julie Fitzpatrick, is a winning presence on stage, channels her deaf friend with grace, and sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant of “10,000 Maniacs” fame when she sings.
None of this matters, however, because the show has completed its New York City run, and I’m not a theater critic. What matters is this: Getting there was indeed half the fun.
We took a cab from my mother-in-law’s apartment to the restaurant in the theater district where we had reservations. Our cabdriver was a gentleman who I think got his AARP card when Debby Boone was singing “You Light Up My Life” in 1977. But he had more hair than me, the energy of a speed skater, and he boasted the sort of rakish smile in which Warren Beatty must take serious pride. He was a ladies’ man and had decided that my mother-in-law was a lady who merited some attention. The two of them were having a great time.
I, however, was having a stroke. The traffic was moving at a pace that could only be called glacial, and we were going to be late for dinner and, thus, late for the theater.
Consequently, when we were five blocks from the restaurant I suggested to the driver that my mother-in-law and I get out and walk the last quarter mile. It was as if I had proposed that he drop us off in front of a crack house. He was indignant. He said that my mother-in-law — who, just for the record, still rides her bicycle around Manhattan in sub-freezing weather — couldn’t possibly walk five blocks to the theater. (In fact, she could probably sprint it.) And so I figured I had better back off and let Cupid have his way. I’m glad I did. It’s not often I get to watch my proper mother-in-law flirt like she was on the O.C. (OK, flirt like she was on the senior section of the O.C.)
After dinner, we walked west to the theater, and a long walk it was. When we were on a wide block between two avenues and hadn’t seen a human being for 75 yards, we must have looked a tad befuddled. Just then a massive guy emerged from the shadows of a loading dock and murmured, “Ensemble Studio Theatre? Four doorways down.” There’s nothing like a little clairvoyance from a stranger outside an alley when you’re lost.
And when we arrived at the theater for the 7 p.m. show, Anderson told us that some Web sites and newspapers had mistakenly written that the show would commence at 8 o’clock — not 7. There were 20 of us there for the 7 o’clock show, but many more with reservations for 8. Could we come back? He said they would be happy to do the show twice, if we couldn’t. We all agreed to wait, especially when the ushers started offering us wine.
Live theater always has the possibility of offering something magic. It’s even more special, however, when the actors in real life are as interesting as the people you see on the stage.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 18, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “A funny thing happened on the way to the theater

  1. Caarol Wenmark says:

    Thanks for the column today!Aren’t taxi drivers something? I could not tell if you really liked the play you attended but I know how you feel about ketchup now! I always read your column in the BFP and find it is the best winter blues chaser everytime!!! I am looking forward to reading The Double Bind. You presented it well on the CBS Early Show. I thoroughly enjoyed Midwives and Water Witches. The Buffalo Soldier surprised and delighted me because i expected something quite different. You seem to understand how women think and feel. I see there are three or so books that I have not yet read. I guess I better find the nearest book store! Thanks for writing! Carol

  2. Michael S, Boston says:

    Thanks for putting your blog out there Chris. Double Blind was recommended to me by an acquaintance and I am picking it up this weekend. With so many books on my desk, I am sure this will get fast and steady reading while the world goes spinning round. I am new to your fiction but I have a feeling not for long. See you Vermonters this weekend, going to be a great ski weekend! Michael, Boston
    *The Boston Taxi drivers are really something as most of us know:)

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