Of men, mice and us

Gathered around the stage door of the Longacre Theatre at about 4:24, people waited.

Summer, but the usual sticky smells of midtown Manhattan were wafted away by a gentle puffing breeze that ruffled flags.

4:32, more waiting.

A stage door guard had already erected crowd barriers on the sidewalk. Those folks who had captured the squashed front row were stationary. The rest of the crowd churned as people pushed to gain a better spot. Some of the most aggressive — all elbows — were short young women.

Instructions were shouted from one family member in the rear to a young teenage boy in the front: “Nathan, just get Chris’ or Jim’s signature. No one else.”

James Franco and Chris O’Dowd were starring in Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck’s mythic masterpiece. They did a great job, translating the great sadness in the work to lodge in our hearts. That sadness lingered, like a toothache.

But hey, this is New York and what a typical New York thing to do: Spy a crowd and join it even before you know its reason.

Some less well-known actors emerged to cheers, but the old guy and the black guy just waved and went on their way, to blend into the human flood. Ordinary. Gifted.

Across the street, the matinee crowd for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was also letting out. I checked this out: that’s the show which won this year’s Tony for Best Musical, and it also won 3 other Tonys and 6 Tony nominations.

Our play won less of those plaudits. No outright Tonys and only 2 nominations. But what did it have in abundance? Celebrity!!

So there were, oh, about 300 people (and me) crowded round this stage door. Across the street, only a handful waited by that stage door. And actors there came and went, unknown. Gifted.

Nathan called to his mom: “Go over and get a picture of Bryce Pinkham. There’s no crowd there. This is crazy.”

Too true, Nathan.

Our door has opened several times, causing the crowd to surge. Four NYC cops show up, shaking hands with the stage door guardian, and that’s a sign that the crowd understands and there’s a bit more jostling for a good spot.

The door opens again. “It’s Jim!” shouts those near enough to see. This time the surge threatens the crowd barrier. And yes, it’s him, who, unsmiling, devotes a good 45 minutes to the devotion of his fans and others —like me — along for the ride. Bless him.

The surge holds aloft either a cell phone or a program.

Hands outstretched.

That image stays with me. Walking down 8th Avenue, I suddenly know what those reaching hands suggested.

Famine-starved humans reaching up to a food truck, their hunger evident in their taut, anxious, even angry faces. And those hands.

And the surge on 48th Street — what is our hunger?


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