January 23, 2009 ~ Memory of Outstanding New York Theater Moments: Meat Packing District, January, 20 years ago.
What Coco didn't tell you, being too modest or well bred, is that some of the best theater performed anywhere on the island of Manhattan took place at her loft on a cold and windy corner of the Meat Packing district one January night in the '90's. If you climbed the four flights of stairs and then knocked at the oversized metal door with giant hinges and sliding bar, you were admitted 'by invitation' to the most extraordinary showing of HEDDA GABLER performed since Ibsen's opening night. The audience was made up of family members and friends of the performers, who were also the tenants of the loft. Seating was arranged for us in sofas, on benches, in 'love seats', in arm and on folding chairs, all facing the windows. The set was before us as a 'faux' proscenium hatched out of the 4' space between the lower Broadway facing windows and our knees. Rich velvet curtain treatments, suggested the 19th century stage, with the drawing room furniture and props you'd expect of a traditional HEDDA. However, an area downstage left hinted at the post-modern treatment to come with a work table and reading light facing us. The rustling of programs began to subside, as the ambient apartment lights went down. The performance began with the arrival of the actress playing Hedda Gabler. No sooner had familiar words and gestures reassured us that the performers were at ease, than a second Hedda Gabler in identical costume arrived and began her scene in counterpoint to the first Hedda. The husband reacted to each one differently; with the first H he was blas�even a bit contemptuous, as he took her for granted in His home/ His castle. With the second Hedda, he seduced and cajoled her into reacting to him, and we watched as the familiar words received an unexpected jolt. Coco, as Hedda 2 snapped and sparkled with contained fire, her blonde hair and blue eyes alight. We forgot we were in the audience, all disbelief suspended, in the game of sorting out the plots, subplots and dueling wit. Just when I felt I had regained my footing in the story, Hedda 2 moved downstage, outside the story frame, seated herself at the bare table, turned on the lamp and began to read her lines in Norwegian, joined a moment later by a second husband? Suddenly living 'subtitles' were thrown into the air, forming a harmonic chord to the visual rhymes of twin actresses and ironic subtexts. It was then that I knew I was attending a moment in New York performance history that might miss the 'theater critic' reviews, but more truly represented the spirit of inventive play than any other acting moment on the island of Manhattan. And it took place one cold January night late last century in a neighborhood they called "The Meat Packing District". Anne Favrot Brooklyn/New Orleans