GuysterRules (guysterrules) wrote,

Opening night

One of the most thrilling nights of my life happened during the year I turned twenty-nine for the second time––it was the opening night of Sandra Bernhard’s Without You, I’m Nothing at the Orpheum Theater in NYC. I’d traveled around the country for two years with Sandra developing the show, playing every imaginable venue from grimy little art clubs to a Smith College gymnasium filled with Marlboro redpack smoking angry girls with short-cropped hair. It was a show that changed the format of one-person performances, and people I meet continue to quote lines from it to me, an exchange I continually encourage.

When we finally reached New York with our finished product, I was the Executive Producer along with my boss, Jonathan, who self-medicated his Tourette’s Syndrome with cocaine and young secretaries. His wife, Sally Kellerman, fifteen years his senior and seething with anger from his indiscretions, came to New York for the opening. Jonathan’s fuck du jour Rachel, a vapid blonde from St. John’s, also unexpectedly attended.

I was too busy backstage with Sandra and greeting celebrity guests under the marquee with the blinding kliegs whirling through Second Avenue to pay attention to the impending explosion between my boss and Sally. I scoffed at Spaulding Gray, swooned over Richard Gere, and waited for Madonna to show up. She was in Speed the Plow on Broadway, and since Sandra paid homage to Madonna in the show (during Sandra’s post-apocalyptic dream segment, she’d say the only survivors were Tina Turner and Madonna––“Where’s Sean?” she’d cry in mock Madonna).

It would be two weeks before Madonna finally attended, and met Sandra (and me) for the first time. Soon, they were both on an infamous night of Letterman fueling rumors they were having an affair. It was playful and early public lesbianism, helpful to both of them. Sandra lent Madonna downtown credibility while Sandra basked in the glare of Madonna’s blinding spotlight.

Sandra was massively nervous that night; each time I’d go backstage, she demanded to know who else was there. I assured her that everything was running smoothly. Her performance was rough that night, but it didn’t matter. Stephen Holden from the New York Times had already seen a preview two nights prior, as did the other major critics, so the only pressure was the fact that it was Opening Night. I whispered to her about Rachel being there as Sandra and I often gossiped about Jonathan, and she rolled her eyes, smiled, and relaxed for a moment.

The after-show party was at the Palladium, just a smidge over its peak but still a hot club, and the press were everywhere; bulbs flashing and microphones pointed at the mouths of the principals. Jonathan and Sally were in a private booth in the VIP room. I could see her wide lipsticked mouth moving in exaggerated rage, Jonathan’s head bowed, Rachel now banned from the party. An Entertainment Tonight producer approached me to wrangle Jonathan and Sally for an interview that included Sandra.

I interrupted Sandra while she was soaking in praise from fans, and directed her to the ET producer. On the way, she said, “Where the fuck is Jonathan?” I nodded over to the bickering couple, and the camera crew followed us right up to their booth. Sally saw it coming first, and her scowl turned into a glittering white display of acting. Jonathan pulled himself together, twitched his signature Tourette’s twitch, and they told the cameras how exciting all of it was.

Except for John Simon, the reviewers glowed over the show turning it into a hit for eight months before we closed it, and started to develop the film version, now a cult classic. Ultimately, Jonathan cheated me out of the Producer credit I’d negotiated for the film, his company had a spectacular bankruptcy, and Sally and him adopted twins naming them Jack and Jill.

Three years later, on our fifth or sixth date, I mentioned to Billy that I’d produced Without You, I’m Nothing. His eyes widened, and he quoted, “It was the crookedest street in the world and I never felt straighter,” before collapsing into giggles. It wasn’t the moment where I knew I loved him. No, that happened on the second date, but it sure hammered the point home.
Tags: 80s

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