During all my years backstage at Lincoln Center Theater I’ve never encountered a cast of more than five people without at least one who does the New York Times crossword puzzle regularly in the dressing room. Detecting who the doers are in the Nantucket Sleigh Ride ensemble has a thematic impetus: the first line of the play is “It all began with the answer to a puzzle.” And, yes, the puzzle in question is the Times crossword.
Check your dictionary and you will find that the origin of the word “puzzle” is “uncertain.” Less uncertain: the relationship of John Guare, the Nantucket Sleigh Ride playwright, to this daily Times feature. “I do the puzzle,” Guare told me, adding that he himself has “been a clue three times” in the Sunday puzzle and “a few times” in the ones published on other days.
Guare’s most recent appearance was in 2010, as the answer to a clue about who wrote the play A Free Man of Color – Guare’s work that opened in November of that year at LCT. That crossword was titled “Masquerade.” Guare had it framed.
It turns out that three of the Nantucket cast are regular Times crossword solvers. They are Jordan Gelber, Douglas Sills, and Clea Alsip. Gelber told me: “I love the wordplay and figuring out daily themes, and I find that doing it regularly is a good mental workout throughout the week.”
Gelber went on: “It’s nice to have an activity that doesn’t require a screen. (I can’t imagine not doing the crossword in the actual paper – doing it on the phone seems like sacrilege.) If I should ever be fortunate enough to be an actual clue or answer that would just blow my mind. As a matter of fact, Jerry Zaks” – the director of Nantucket Sleigh Ride – “came into the dressing room just this past weekend to show us a crossword his brother sent him that he was in!” Zaks appeared as a Times crossword clue in 1992. The clue related to his then-current hit Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, in which Nathan Lane and Peter Gallagher starred.
A copy of the Zaks-inflected crossword has just been posted on the backstage bulletin board near the Nantucket dressing rooms. My inner Poirot wants to know who posted it. So far, no one has confessed. If I can answer this question conclusively I will include the information in a future blog posting!
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com