Thursday used to be thought the most desirable night to have a theater opening in New York: reviews of your show would be splashed all over the Weekend sections of the prominent journals. But with the rise of social media, newspaper deadlines no longer loom quite so large for the generation of word-of-mouth. Almost any night will do. Lincoln Center Theater, for example, has had both its opening nights this spring on Monday, which has the benefit of allowing many theater actors to show up at the events on their nights off.
At this week's opening for Richard Nelson's Nikolai and the Others, for example, a performance attended by, among others, Joel Grey, Judd Hirsch, Jessica Hecht, Peter Martins and Darci Kistler, I ran into the actor Shalita Grant. Or, should I say, I didn't run into her at the play itself, but at the party afterwards at P.J. Clarke's, across the street from Lincoln Center. I bumped into Grant just as she had grabbed some grub at the buffet: salmon, chicken, spinach, green salad, bulgar - hearty fare. I can't remember whether she had in hand the Nicky cocktail concocted specially for the occasion (a libation consisting of vodka, ginger beer, and fresh-squeezed lime juice), perhaps because, under pressure from those around me, I finally had one myself.
Grant is a Tony nominee for her performance in Christopher Durang's playVanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike, which preceded "Nikolai" in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, and has now moved to Broadway. Grant's character, Cassandra, is given to uttering dire prophecies, and swirling around stage as a one-person Greek chorus, so when I interviewed her for this website last fall I asked her whether she had had much experience in ancient drama. She had. Not at Juilliard, where she trained, but in high school.
So I should not have been surprised that Grant, when I asked her about "Nikolai," not only said she loved the play but launched into an analysis of its use of masks that I thought was as insightful as the the reviews of the production, directed by David Cromer (who looked very smart in a suit at the opening), that I read when I got home from the party. For those unfamiliar with "Nikolai," it revolves around the creation, by George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, of the ballet Orpheus, based on Greek myth. In the play there is discussion of a mask to be worn in the work. I cannot reproduce all of Grant's remarks on the subject because I was scribbling notes rather than recording, and the fast-paced, cocktail-fueled din of the bash would probably have meant half-inaudible sounds anyway had I whipped out my iPhone and hit the "record" function.
I did take down, however, Grant's saying: "The ostensible subject of 'Nikolai' is the creation of Orpheus and how Orpheus cannot look at Eurydice if he hopes to drag her back from the Underworld. But the actual subject of the play is how Nicky" - she was referring to Nicolas Nabokov, the composer whose ties to the U.S. government make him a fixer for émigré Russian artists - "wears his own mask." She added: "Like most of us, he must wear a mask in order to get what he wants. This is true of all the people in the play who go to him in supplication for something." Grant added: "But when Nicky realizes that he is no longer respected as an artist and only valued as a provider, his mask falls away."
Having offered this analysis, Grant grabbed her drink and plate of food and sailed into the crowd, which continued its revelry for some time. I bounced about for a while, tossing congratulations to "Nikolai" cast members along the way, but, as no one seemed able to improve upon Grant's remarks, I fled into the night.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.