Yesterday I was looking for a book (which I didn’t find) and was amused that someone had put our two copies of Wallace Shawn’s The Fever on opposite ends of the bookshelf. A few hours later I was reading the latest copy of the NY Times Book Review, and saw that there was a review of the memoir of Wallace’s brother, Allen, illustrated with a photo of the brothers. I hadn’t thought of Wallace for quite a few years, and here he was, turning up twice.
In October of 1992, someone, I forget who, asked me if I would host the well-known actor Claire Coulter. This was something of an experiment, using people’s living rooms as a theatre. I was to invite people to come, and they were to pay, but I can remember only Ted and John although there were others. I can’t remember how much they had to pay. Coulter sat in our large maroon leather armchair and delivered a Wallace Shawn monologue in a normal tone of voice. Hosting the performance was a strange experience. over there were our usual friends, sitting in their accustomed places, and over here was a stranger, talking on and on. Ted told me later that he was afraid he would go to sleep and Bill agreed.
Did she perform The Fever? I don’t remember. I do have the two copies, one she gave us and one I bought for our daughter. I don’t know why I didn’t send it to her. Grace once got Bill to watch Shawn’s My Dinner with André with her. Was it on TV or did they go to the movies?
I thought it was a successful event, and I imagined other actors following her lead, but it never happened again. Our traveling actor friend Ellen Pierce would visit us occasionally, carrying with her all her worldly goods in various canvas bags. She was a master at making herself a cozy private nest within our house, pleasant to have around, not at all in the way. I would get her some gigs. One time she thought she would be paid on the spot, but red tape meant that she couldn’t be, so I had to lend her $30 to buy a bus ticket to her next engagement.
Both women weren’t just traveling mountebanks but were deeply committed to theatre and willing to make sacrifices to engage in it. I wish someone else would come along to enliven the scene.