The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Christopher Plummer Story

In my senior year of college, I had a class called Theatre Management with a professor named Eric Krebs. Krebs was a really fun guy who looked a lot like Gabe Kaplan. At the time of the class, Krebs was partial owner and Artistic Director of the Harold Clurman Theatre in New York.

Because there were only six students in the class, in a fit of generosity one day Krebs decided to take all of us to the city to see his wonderful theatre and to see up close how a professional theatre was run. On a rainy Saturday morning, we all piled into the Krebs Family Truckster and headed off to the bright lights.

On the way there, Krebs told us all about how excited he was about his current production of Macbeth, which was to star Christopher Plummer. The play was still in early rehearsal stage, but Krebs seemed sure that we could talk to some stagehands and sound engineers or something.

To my utter shock and horror, it turned out that I was the only one in the Krebs Family Truckster that had even heard of Christopher Plummer. Krebs and I tried valiantly to name other things he had been in, but the other students just sat there like frozen food. Finally, I told Krebs (merely making conversation) that I was looking forward to Plummer’s Macbeth because I had so enjoyed him in Othello five years earlier.

The Harold Clurman Theatre was on West 42nd Street, and of course there was no parking, so Krebs ended up parking in a lot several blocks away. Miserably, we trouped down the busy sidewalk in the pouring rain, hoping that Krebs would at least feed us eventually.

We finally arrived at Krebs’ theatre and shook ourselves dry in the lobby. Krebs disappeared into the theatre proper and started yelling for “Mark.”

Mark, apparently, wasn’t there. Then Krebs sounded very surprised and I heard him say to someone in the darkness: “Oh, hello! I didn’t think you would be here today! Listen, come on out here, there are some people I’d like you to meet.”

And, who should emerge from the darkness but Christopher Plummer himself.

I was immediately star-struck. I honestly don’t know what the hell was the matter with me. I had met famous (and infamous) actors before during my tenure in theatre, but I was somehow overcome by Plummer’s elegance.

Surprisingly, he was a bit shorter than me (I’m 5’7”). He was wearing a light blue turtleneck sweater and grey flannel trousers. In one hand he held a cup of coffee. All I could do was stare.

Since none of the other idiots knew who the man was, they all turned to me. Krebs, not yet noticing my catatonia, made a polite introduction. “Chris, this is BeowulfGirl. BeowulfGirl, this is Christopher Plummer.”

“Hello,” said Plummer politely, extending his hand. I just stared at it for a moment not knowing what to do with it. Finally, I raised my own hand and we shook. Unfortunately, I was still not able to form words. My friends in the class were starting to grin.

Krebs tried to help. “BeowulfGirl was just saying in the car that she really enjoyed your Iago a few years back,” he said.

Plummer looked at me, probably surprised that someone so young could possibly want to sit through three and a half hours of Shakespeare, and asked in his lovely voice, “Oh? Did you really like it?”

Oh, God, it was my turn to talk again. At this point, Lola, another friend in the class, punched me in the shoulder blade to try to jump-start me. After working my mouth a bit, I finally came up with: “I thought it was…breathtaking, actually.”

Plummer looked pleased. “That’s very kind of you to say,” he said, smoothly.

Krebs gave another gallant effort. “BeowulfGirl has spent eight years in professional theatre,” he said. “She knows her way around Shakespeare.”

Plummer looked intrigued. “Really? Have you done anything I would know?”

Oh dear God, I thought. Was I actually going to stand here and compare resumes with Christopher Plummer? And, of course, I couldn’t remember a damn thing I was in. Plummer was waiting patiently with kind blue eyes. “I—well, I did a lot of workshops,” I babbled. “And I was in Twelfth Night. And, um, Much Ado About Nothing.”

“Oh, that’s a charming one,” Plummer said, nodding encouragingly.

Krebs, seeing that he wasn’t going to get much further, said something terrifying: “Chris, I was about to take the class here to Sa Crepe for some lunch. Do you want to join us?”

The thought that I would have to sit through an entire lunch with Plummer was just terrifying, but at least he wasn’t laughing at me or anything. Plummer smiled at Krebs and said, “oh, that sounds nice. I just need to make a phone call first.” He dug in his pocket for change and headed for the pay phone on the other side of the lobby.

Once he was out of earshot, Lola said to me: “You are such a dork.”

Krebs started talking about production costs while Plummer made his phone call. Suddenly, Krebs looked over at him and called: “Chris? What’s wrong?”

“I think it’s broken,” said Plummer, banging the receiver on the phone.

“BeowulfGirl,” said Krebs, “go over there and help him.”

Horrified, I walked over to where Plummer was and asked what his problem was. It didn’t take long to decipher. He was trying to make a phone call using only a dime, and at that time pay phones required a twenty cent deposit. For some reason, he had a hard time understanding this, but eventually we dug up another dime and he was able to reach his party.

It was time for lunch.

Because Sa Crepe was all the way in the East 50’s, we had to all troop back to the Krebs Family Truckster in order to get there. Plummer crammed in the front seat with Krebs, and the rest of us got stuffed in the back, wet and rumpled. I was still kind of shaken up.

Eventually, we got to the restaurant and filed in. It was very busy, but because we had Plummer with us we got a table right away. I was seated directly across from Krebs, and Plummer was on his right. We perused the menus and decided on what we wanted.

When the waitress approached, Plummer decided to get fancy and order his meal in French. At this point, Lola, who is always making trouble, said: “BeowulfGirl speaks fluent French. Don’t you?”

And I, who have spoken French since I was fourteen, proceeded to forget every noun, verb conjugation, and cognate in the entire language. I was just unable to function with Plummer looking at me like that with those diamond-cutter eyes of his. He looked very amused.

The rest of the lunch passed with me feeling like I was functioning underwater. We piled back into the Krebs Family Truckster, deposited Plummer back at the Harold Clurman, and headed home.

Two weeks later in Theatre Management class, Krebs handed me a manila envelope. “This came for you, in care of me,” he said, grinning. “I think you’ll be very pleased.”

Puzzled, I tore open the envelope and was stunned to find four tickets to Macbeth, for a performance about two weeks away. It was accompanied by a lovely note, written in elegant script on very impressive stationery. “To one thespian from another—perhaps this time it won’t rain. Chris Plummer.”

I actually still have that note in a little plastic sleeve with all my theatre memorabilia. To this day, I get a happy feeling whenever I see The Sound Of Music.