Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Dinner with Wally

To be clear, it wasn't dinner and I never spoke to the man. But, for the second time in my life, Wallace Shawn walked into a cafe I was sitting in.
Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Perhaps, not as unexpectedly this time, since his name was on the program I had just been handed. (He hadn't been announced in advance, they informed us, because he had a 7 a.m. shoot for The Good Wife and wasn't sure he'd be able to make the event.) The venue was a performance space at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on W. 37th St., made over as a cafe for an evening "salon": Music by Mozart, Berio, John Cage, and readings Beckett poems and excerpts from Cage's "Composition as Process" ("32 Questions") by Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg (short story writer and Shawn's wife).

I'd just noticed Shawn's name on the program when I looked up to see him entering the room with Deborah Eisenberg, surveying it with that mildly stunned expression that has become his trademark. It recalled a scene in a Warsaw cafe, the Nowy Świat ("New World), where I'd gone for coffee and cakes with my students from the college. Perhaps a bit bored, I'd glanced towards the door and noticed Shawn standing there, surrounded by some artsy Polish types. At that point, I'd seen him in My Dinner with Andre, and that was about it. What was he doing in Warsaw? He looked around--the same expresssion. Before I could explain to my students who he was, he left, along with his entourage.

Flash forward to 2015, Shawn and Eisenberg sit one table away from us. Almost as close to me as Andre Gregory was to him in the movie. I maintain decorum: no celebrity hounding. Though I was dying to say, "Excuse, Mr. Shawn. Do you remember walking into a a cafe in Warsaw in 1990? Oh, you do? What was it that made you leave? I've been wondering about that for 25 years."

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