By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
Melania, a member of my extended family and an actress, singer, and director, was producing and directing a play that she had adapted from nine stories by Chekhov called “Chekhovek.” It had been performed in a theater in upstate New York and was now to be brought to an off B’way theater in New York City for a five week run starting in February. I had seen Melania act in several plays and knew she was a fine actress, but now I was anxious to see her directorial work, and she was hoping I would come. She told me that it would be done at the Archlight Theater on West 71st Street. Tonia and Ellie expressed interest in seeing it. We decided to go to a Saturday or Sunday matinee, depending on which day we could get the best seats. So a couple of weeks ago I set off for the box office. I hadn’t known that the theater was located in the basement of a large Catholic Church. This first surprise was okay, but not the second. One look at the steep stairs leading down to the theater brought an immediate picture to mind of me toppling over head first. There were about ten steps, a small landing, then another ten steps. The staircase was wide, with an iron gate opened, thereby covering part of the railing, so that there would be nothing to hold onto there unless one clung to the gate. The thought of trying to maneuver down those stairs with knees that don’t bend was terrifying. I knew that limber Ellie could scurry down those stairs easily, but what about Tonia with her cane? And me? And there was no elevator in sight. In an e- mail to Melania I posed my dilemma. Did she have any suggestions as to how I could get down those stairs? Her only suggestion: have two people on either side holding onto me. I did not have two such people. Melania said she knew the stairs were a problem, and she was sympathetic. I called my daughter who was coming in from New Jersey for a Friday night performance. I thought she would say not to worry, that she’d help me down, but she knows me better than that especially after my saying I could visualize the both of us toppling down those stairs. She said I’d be worrying for the next two weeks, and Melania would understand. That was that. So I thought until Thursday of last week when Melania e-mailed me. Good News! She had found out there was an elevator after all, but it had to be arranged for ahead of time and that the entrance was on 146 West 71st Street (or so I read quickly) and not 152 West where the theater was. We would meet that Sunday at 1:45 and go down the elevator with her father who used a walker. I was delighted with the outcome. Tonia still wanted to go, but Ellie said she might not know until the last minute if she could make it, so to go without her.
Tonia and I arrived via car service at 1:45, but 146 West 71st Street seemed too far away from the church. Would we have to go through other buildings to get to the elevator? We decided to stay put in front of the church and wait for Melania and her father. It was now five minutes to curtain when we saw Melania running down the street towards us. “Didn’t you get my e-mail saying we’d meet on 70th Street?” I had just assumed it was to be 71st Street. So we walked as fast as our physically challenged legs could up the street and around the corner to the church in front of which stood a line of people waiting for the food pantry to open up. A man stood in one of the doors motioning us to enter while telling the people that he was letting us into the theater. Down we went into the bowels of the church, following the good natured man as he guided us for at least a block with twists and turns through corridors with boxes and furniture on the sides until we got to the theater. It was now about 2:10, the audience was sitting there waiting, but now I had to go to the ladies room. “Do you have to go, Tonia?’’ I asked. “ I think I’m alright but if you do, I will too.” “Melania, can we go to the ladies room?” “Do you have to go?’’ “Well maybe I can wait, no, I think I’d better go .” Melania: “You can use the actors’ bathroom. Don’t worry, we’ll hold the curtain until you’re in your seats.” We followed her walking in front of the whole audience to the other side of the theater to get to the bathrooms. More steps, only a few, but with no railing, so Melania had to help both Tonia and me up and down. All throughout this episode Melania displayed extreme grace under pressure. She may have been anxious, (I would have been) but she never showed it; she was so considerate of us. In addition she had reserved seats for us front row center.
As soon as we sat down, the play began. And what a wonderful experience it was! With the five actors coming on dancing and singing a song in Russian we were immediately transported to Russia, and stayed there until the very end thanks to the superb acting and direction. The nine Chekhov stories seamlessly woven together. The five actors playing all of the many characters, morphing from one into another with ease, always believable. The actors even brought on and took off the furniture and props. Even though most of the stories were short, I magically entered the lives of each one of these people that Chekhov etched with compassion and humor and that Melania and the actors brought to life. Everything worked beautifully. It was a joy to see such fine acting and at such close range that I could see the slightest nuances registering on the actors’ faces.
Thank you, Melania, for a wonderful afternoon of theater – and thank you for Holding That Curtain!