The most visible sign of a hit play: before every performance, a line forms, filled with folks looking for last-minute tickets from the box office. Such has been the case with Other Desert Cities. Even before the reviews appeared, I would walk through the Newhouse lobby before show time and encounter theatergoers eager for a way in. Over the past two weeks, the line for returns has swelled, but a significant number of the hopefuls manage to have their bums on seats before the curtain goes up. They arrive a little early; display patience; and, with a little luck (and maybe a snowy night), are rewarded. (According to staff at LCT's box office, between six and ten seats, on average, are released each performance.)
Some people, however, seem to find the line confining. The other day, in the lobby, one such person, a blonde woman in a stylish black trench coat, walked up to me. "Do you have a ticket?" she asked. I responded in the negative, and thought that would be the end of the conversation. Apparently, however, she didn't see anyone else who looked like a mark, and she continued: "I'm only in town for a few days. I've see every play by Jon Robin Baitz, and I want to keep my perfect-attendance record intact." The woman's name was Karen Jones, and she lives in southern California.
"Every one of his plays?" I asked. And then, I'm ashamed to say, I added, in my best slightly snarky, spirit-of-Amy-Poehler voice, "Really?" I ran the table of Baitz titles, trying to catch her out.
"The Film Society?" the woman said after I mentioned the playwright's 1988 off-Broadway premiere. "Oh, yes, I saw that one in L.A., way before it came to New York. Then I saw it again here. Nathan Lane was wonderful. He wasn't a star then, or at least he wasn't going on Letterman yet."
Ms. Jones seemed to have seen all of Baitz's work in its earliest incarnation. "Once I decide I like a dramatist," she told me, "then I'm completely faithful. I was the same way with Wendy Wasserstein. I didn't care whether the critics loved one of her plays a lot or a little. She was an artist, and it was a life commitment for me. I didn't have a favorite Wendy Wasserstein play. Each one was like a new chapter in a book you never want to end."
Jones broke off her conversation at this point, to make a wicked-quick beeline over to a woman who had just entered the lobby, and who apparently gave off a my-date-just-ditched-me-and-I-have-an-extra-ticket vibe. When Jones returned, I asked her why, given her love of Baitz's work, she hadn't bought a ticket for Other Desert Cities in advance. "My father has been ill," she replied, "so I didn't think I'd make it to New York over the winter. But his condition has stabilized, so here I am."
I had to leave the lobby, to meet a friend, but before I did I asked Jones if she had a favorite Baitz play. "No," she replied, "but I do have a good memories of Baitz himself onscreen. In the movie Last Summer in the Hamptons. He plays a playwright, and he's really quite wonderful, just like everyone else in the movie. There are no movie stars, just good actors. Oh, wait a minute. I think Melissa Leo's in that movie, and she's about to win an Oscar."
When I said my goodbye to Jones, she was still ticketless. When I passed by the lobby a few minutes later, with my friend, she was making her way toward the stairs of the Newhouse. She spotted me through the lobby glass, waved her ticket high in the air, and mouthed the words, "I made it!"
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.