SEATTLE — Given that one of the nicest things about visiting Seattle is stopping at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, how could I miss its production of Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle"? Not a chance.
Never mind that I would be in town barely one day. Less than an hour after my plane landed, and mere moments before the show started, I was crawling over a row of people to my seat.
This sort of frantic scheduling makes it difficult to plan intricate theater parties, not to mention a life. So most times I visit out-of-town theaters alone. (Excluding such smash hits as "Les Miserables" in New York or "The Phantom of the Opera" in London, the lone, single seat is often a good one, and, thanks to last-minute returns, frequently available at show time.) That, however, means having no one to discuss the play with after the first act, during the intermission or when the curtain finally falls.
But I tend to talk to strangers, particularly when they're sitting next to me at the theater. Sometimes there's a last-minute return or no-show on a house seat, and I find myself next to another press person or someone connected with someone involved in the show. Those are the best chance encounters because the person you're talking to often knows something about the show, theater company (or maybe life in general) that you don't.
Back to Brecht. There I was at intermission, and the people on either side of me turned to people they were with. The rows in front and back of me emptied quickly, and even the aisles were deserted. I may have been dazzled by both the play--which I'd never before seen--and the production--which was excellent--but I'd apparently have to keep my opinions to myself for a while.
What to do? I headed for the ladies' room, a suitable, not to mention practical, way to spend intermission. There was the usual line, and the usual grumbling about too many women, too little time.
But there was also considerable conversation about the play and the production. People were talking about what Brecht had to say and how they were saying it at Seattle Rep. The show's staging was incredibly inventive, including audio-visual backdrops that Broadway producers would die for. And this audience noticed.
Los Angeles theatergoers often talk of flourishing regional theater in terms of what we see at home and what we send to Broadway. What we discuss less often is that Los Angeles isn't the only city west of the Hudson that's producing terrific theater.
Actually, we in Los Angeles also forget that not everybody's in show business, especially outside the Big Apple and the Big Orange. In other cities, people actually leave movies during the credits. And everybody on stage at the theater doesn't look familiar because you saw them last night in a movie-of-the-week or (although you'd never admit it) in a soap opera at noon that day.
Not that there aren't exceptions. The lead in "Caucasian Chalk Circle" here is played by John Procaccino, an entertainment reporter on KIRO Eyewitness News. While Procaccino's other life is duly noted in the program, this particular bit of theater lore was told me with great enthusiasm at intermission, proving that a television star is a television star is a television star.
The conveyor of the information was a woman named Nan McGinnis, with whom I struck up a conversation in the ladies' room line. We started talking about the play but soon moved on to other plays at that theater, then on to other Seattle theaters. The intermission was ending and we agreed to meet after the play to continue chatting.
In the lobby after the show, my new friend, her old friend and I kept talking. We talked until the lobby had pretty much emptied, and we talked en route to the parking lot. (OK, so I was about to get in a car with two total strangers. Not to worry.)
Nan, a marketing consultant who confessed that she, too, always talked to strangers in lines, insisted on showing me a bit of Seattle. She pointed out the huge (presumably fake) gorilla astride the Seattle Center Space Needle, not to mention the newest elegant hotel and a nearby discount dress shop. She outlined the Seattle Opera's current season and brought me up to date on the housing woes of Seattle's highly regarded Empty Space Theater.
I was back to solitary sightseeing in less than an hour, but this particular adventure lingered. A publicist from Seattle Rep called me the next business day, and when I called Nan back about it, she said she also had called friends at the Seattle Opera as well to let them know she'd met "a live one." (I assume she meant a "live press person.")
A few days later in the mail came clippings with a review of the play and a feature on Seattle Rep. The last paragraph of the feature was about Seattle Rep's hope to find local backers to fund a two-play tour through California and Hawaii, and Nan had both circled that paragraph in ink and written in the margin that "any tips would be welcome."
I guess a good tip would be to talk to more strangers in ladies' room lines.