The Christmas blizzard of 2010 had begun, but what I encountered as I walked through the stage door of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown this past Sunday matinee was business as usual. True, there were a few cast changes for the performance (Samantha Shafer on for Sherie Rene Scott; Vivian Nixon on for de'Adre Aziza; Matthew Steffens on for Juilio Agustin), but nothing out of the ordinary for a large ensemble trying to make it through a winter in which the cold virus has been more insidious than usual.
Nonetheless, the weather was on people's minds. The first thing anyone asked me as I whooshed, flake-covered, in through the door was: "Is the snow sticking yet?" (It hadn't, but that was about to change, considerably.) One of the stagehands, checking a score of the Jets/Bears game on the small TV just past the entrance, said, "Thank God that game is in Chicago today and not a Snow Bowl here at the Meadowlands."
Deeper inside the theater, in the stagehands area, others were watching a second broadcast of the game as if it were a balmy day in May and not a stormy Sunday in which at least 20 inches of snow was about to get dumped on Central Park. The food on the stagehands' buffet, though, could not be mistaken for summer fare: massive aluminum tins, most containing pasta, brimmed with hearty dishes. Closer to the stage itself a few musicians were readying themselves for the performance. I asked them about the snow, but they, too, seemed unfazed.
In fact, the calm inside the theater seemed almost preternatural. (For the evening performance, I'm told, the mood backstage was a little more go-for-broke.)
I despaired of pushing anyone backstage onto the verge of a breakdown caused not by the musical itself but by fear-inducing media reports of "the monster storm about to swallow the eastern seaboard." Thus I made my way back outside. At ten minutes to curtain, plenty of people were milling about. Any suburban ticketholders scared off by the weatherman were replaced by foreign tourists holidaying in New York and, presumably, housed in nearby hotels.
There was, however, a Manhattanite lost in the throng who asked me for a cigarette. (Odd, since I wasn't smoking.) Her name was Janice. I asked if the weather had nearly put her off her afternoon plans. "Goodness no," she replied. "Any inveterate theatergoer knows that the best time to score a ticket to a hot show is on a cold day: a snowy day. I already had tickets to Women on the Verge for this afternoon. But if I've still got some energy after some post-matinee soup I may try to see Billy Elliott or Jersey Boys."
"What?" I asked. "No attempt at Spider-Man?
"You've got to be kidding!" Janice answered. "They should re-title that one: 'Death Defying Acts.'"
"That title's already taken," I replied.
"Yeah, yeah, I know that," Janice continued, with quintessential been-there-done-that New Yorkiness. "An evening of one-acts by David Mamet and Elaine May and Woody Allen. That was in 1995, at the old Variety Arts, downtown. I saw that one on a snowy day, too. At least the weather outside that afternoon was awesome."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.