I was at the Canadian Embassy for a reception honoring this year’s Helen Hayes Awards nominees (I’m up for Leading Actress in a Musical for Pacific Overtures). I got there on the dot of 6:30, went through security and was immediately tapped on the shoulder by Marni Penning, who’s up for Outstanding Supporting Actress/Resident Play.
I met Marni nearly twenty years ago, when she was just a little kid. We were both cast in a community theatre production of The Mikado; I was Katisha and she was in the chorus. I don’t remember a great deal about the show except that it was fairly awful, but it hit me that it was the only other time I’ve played an Asian. At least that one was a woman, albeit a really tough one:
Anyway, it was nice to see Marni and have a few moments for a hug and a brief chat before we were whirled in different directions. I was glad to see her – she’s a beautiful young woman now.
About midway through the evening, there were a couple of speeches and we all stood around, drinks in hand, listening. In the middle of HH Executive Director Linda Levy Grossman’s speech, I heard a little throat-clear somewhere in the crowd behind me. It was the littlest of throat-clears, but I recognized it immediately – it was a former best friend and roommate. Our ways parted, somewhat bitterly, more than ten years ago.
She and I met in high school and rapidly became best friends. We stayed in close contact all through college, moved to DC about the same time, and shared a couple of different apartments. She had a theatre degree and wanted to be an actress; I had a journalism degree and wanted to be a writer. It didn’t work out that way for either of us. Both of us did community theatre on the side while holding down secretarial jobs; the differences came when I started getting good roles and she didn’t, I started getting community theatre acting awards and she didn’t, I got a few professional acting jobs and she didn’t. Maybe I got a big head about it – I don’t know. The upshot was that she found another roommate and moved out, rather abruptly. I kept trying to keep the friendship going but it didn’t work. Shortly afterward I teamed up with Eric Schaeffer to start Signature Theatre. I ran into my old roommate at a party a few weeks after I got my Helen Hayes award for Signature’s first musical, Sweeney Todd. She was all smiles until another friend walked up and wanted me to tell him all about getting the award; my ex-roommate blew out a sigh and an “Oh, GOD” and walked away. That’s when I gave up on it. I still see her occasionally since she works for another theatre in town; it’s cordial, but nothing like the friends we used to be.
As I heard her clear her throat, all those memories flooded back, bitter and sweet. We had been so close for so many years. I turned around and walked back through the crowd and found her. “I heard someone clear their throat and knew it was you,” I said, and hugged her. She laughed and said, “Some things never change.” I pointed to her name tag, with her theatre listed on it, and said, “You still working for them?” As she started to answer, Linda Levy Grossman called all the nominees forward, and I said something like “Oops, gotta go,” and left my old best friend and roommate with her response still on her lips. I wish now that I hadn’t done that; I wish I’d lingered for a few minutes. We had to go pose for photos and I didn’t see her again after that.
After the photos, I got another drink and stood for a long time, talking to some of the Helen Hayes board members. The platters of dainties that had been whirled around by the reception staff for the past two hours were starting to look kind of tired, and so was I. I made my adieus and headed out the door.
My feet were really hurting by then and I hesitated outside the Embassy to ease them for a moment before walking to my car. Someone called my name; I turned around and saw an older gentleman, who had brushed past me at one point in the reception and called me by my maiden name. He caught up and said, “You don’t remember me,” and I confessed that I didn’t, even after looking at his name tag. He explained that he worked at one of the local cable access channels and had interviewed me back when I was a Big Star in community theatre. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t remember. He was nice about it, and in a very courtly fashion, he walked me to my car and saw me into it. I watched him cross the street to his own car.
It’s unsettling, having your past and your present collide so many times in the space of one evening. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. But it was cold, and I was too tired to give it much thought. I started the car, turned on the radio and pulled out into traffic. The old gentleman was getting into his car as I went by. I tooted my horn at the Past (acknowledgement? salute? farewell?), and drove home.