Times Square, New York City. This is the center of the grid. Some quick googling procures this figure: 161 megawatts of electricity are used in Times Square at any one time. One megawatt can power 1,000 U.S. homes. Performing in a show in Times Square, we actors have our own human-megawatt ways of measuring. The energy produced through song, drama, and dance in all of the Broadway and off-Broadway houses in any moment can be measured only in the audiences’ smiles. This is our contract, this energy exchange between us, this light we make in the night. Night holds magic and surprise. Once you get behind the theater door and into your seat you are open to the spiritual commerce about to take place.
In Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, this experience is a level deeper. Playing “Grandma” I get to sit at many of the wedding guests’ tables, and we talk. That’s my role. To sit and connect with the people. I ask them their names and where they’re from. I take my photos out of my wallet with pictures of the old neighborhood and the old country. I talk with the grandmothers and grandfathers. I listen, as they scoot closer to me and tell me what they must. With some I connect deeper than with people I know in life and will see repeatedly. The chance to play Grandma gives me the opportunity to transform into a super hero of listening.
As I get into the wig and gown with the help of stellar wardrobe manager Rodney Harper and become Grandma, my superhero power is to engage others. She goes into the crowd, hands out butterscotch balls and connects to people’s nostalgia. It’s magic. Some hearts open instantly as she unsnaps her purse. In my conversation, I age up a generation, I talk about pushcart peddlers and icemen and WWII and the times when doctors made house calls, and all of the Bronx stories I know from my parents’ generation. We talk about the way things used to be. We take photos, and then, later, I tweet and blog about it. I can see when the elders in the audience enter their own memory bank, prodded by the world of the wedding. I remember them for long after, the antique jewelry they wore for the occasion, the stories they told, their initial reluctance to get up out of the security of their chairs and their joy when they venture to the dance floor with a steady arm to escort them. I remember their gratitude for a hot cup of coffee brought by Loretta Black, or a bag of ice to nurse their knee.
We all have the same needs, not the same level at the same moment, but in the suspended clock of theater, in that eternal bliss where three hours feels like a lifetime – we believe we are related, and in truth, a truth much too vast to comprehend, we are.