I'm not one for hero worship or celebrity gawking. When I see someone famous on the street, as frequently occurs in New York City, sure I gape, but I never bother him or her or introduce myself. (And I certainly don't ask for autographs.) I'm also not one for name dropping, mostly because I have very few names to drop: I don't really travel in lofty society or literary circles.
But this morning I had the opportunity to meet someone whom I consider legendary, playwright Peter Shaffer (Equus, Amadeus), and I couldn't let the occasion pass without relating it to you, dear reader. Shaffer was visiting a mutual friend in Boston before traveling to New York for Equus rehearsals, and I was fortunate to meet with Sir Peter for tea while he awaited his train.
As expected, Shaffer was charming and erudite, and very graciously fielded my starstruck queries amid the hubbub of Boston's South Station. Shaffer spoke fondly of the late John Gielgud, whom Shaffer credits with inspiring him to write for the theater. Shaffer spoke in particular of Gielgud's portrayal of the title role in Richard II, which he found both honest and mesmerizing.
Gielgud also directed Shaffer's first play, Five Finger Exercise. When asked how Gielgud fared as a directed, Shaffer replied, "Oh, he was ghastly!" Shaffer went on to describe the first day of rehearsals. Apparently, they were working on the opening scene, and Gielgud was giving the cast business and movement for every single line of the play, which Shaffer felt was wrong, but being the neophyte playwright, he didn't feel it was his place to speak up. As the cast, which included a youthful Brian Bedford, was running the scene, Gielgud spoke up.
"What on earth are you doing?" he shouted.
"We're doing what you told us to do," said Bedford, through clenched teeth.
"For heavens sake, why?" replied Gielgud. "Everyone knows I can't direct."
Shaffer also spoke in glowing terms of Equus star Daniel Radcliffe, who's taking a 22-week hiatus from filming the Harry Potter movies to bring the acclaimed London production to Broadway. Shaffer said that audiences in London were very respectful of the play, although many of them had come simply to see Harry Potter naked.
"Not to blow my own trumpet, but 15 minutes into the show, they were riveted," he said, with a grin of satisfaction.
I asked whether there was any entrance applause, and Shaffer replied that he and director Thea Sharrock had found a way to stage Radcliffe's entrance to circumvent any annoying, moment-killing, fourth-wall-breaking entrance applause. I'm intrigued to see how they've accomplished this when I see the Broadway production of Equus in September.
Many thanks to my friend Kevin Shancady for setting up my little brush with fame.