Some years ago, I found myself with a lot of Frequent Flyer miles that were about to expire. No one was free to travel with me. So I treated myself to a solo trip to England. I decided to see as much live theater as I possibly could. In the course of two weeks, I saw 18 plays. Some days I doubled up and took in a matinee plus an evening performance. I saw plays at grand theaters, in the London equivalent of “Off-Broadway,” and in tiny rooms above pubs.
At that time, to get to Stratford-upon-Avon, I had to take a train from London, then transfer to a bus. (Now, there is a convenient train that goes all the way to Stratford). I had dreamed for years of seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company in their home theater, the Swan. One evening, I saw a very fine production of a Shakespeare play with the actors in modern dress. Which play, you might ask? I think it was Romeo and Juliet, but I can’t be sure. (On the train, I met a woman who had saved the program from every theater performance she had ever attended. Although she was a theater professor, I thought that was a little obsessive. Now I wouldn’t mind having all my programs).
The next morning, I went to the bus stop for the trip back to London. Just outside The Dirty Duck, the pub still frequented by theater folk and tourists alike, I spotted an actor I had seen the evening before. I stopped and complimented him on his performance. He seemed delighted to be recognized; he had only a medium-sized part. I’m thinking maybe he played Juliet’s father. I know how much talent and hard work it takes for any actor to get even a spear-carrying part in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I did remember his performance, I thought he stood out in the character, and told him so. He thanked me graciously. Just then, the bus pulled up and I got on.
The bus was about to pull away from the curb when the actor jumped up the steps with a great theatrical flourish. He stood beside the driver, peering down the aisle at all the passengers. “I am looking for a LADY,” he intoned, in his best Shakespearean elocution. He spotted me and moved up the aisle toward me. He took my hand, got me to stand, kissed my hand, and made a great show of presenting me with a perfectly ripened peach. Everyone on the bus applauded, he took a very grand bow, and he was off with a jaunty wave.
Like all artists, actors pursue their passion even though they know they are very unlikely to gain riches or fame. Very few of them reach the heights of, say, the late James Gandolfini. I wish I could remember the name of this actor, who shared a magical personal moment with me and went out of his way to entertain a busload of non-paying strangers. Did all this happen 26 years ago? Yes, it did. Travel memories are lifelong!
Join me next time for more explorations into the art, history and literature of Europe and the British Isles.