When I played (Madame) Miss Fancy in the Broadway production of Sly Fox, starring Richard Dreyfuss, I wore this big late 1800s dress with a bustle. While making my seductive, sultry exit, my dress got caught in the door as I closed it. The scene was still taking place on the other side of the door, which had a frosted glass window. So, for the rest of the scene, you could see me yanking at my dress trying to break free.
A few weeks after Hurricane Sandy, my husband calls me five minutes before I was supposed to go on stage. He came home, and our apartment was completely flooded. Inches of water covered our floors; it didn't come from a storm. A neighbor was doing renovations, and some pipe leaked onto our bed and all over the floor. We were afraid to stay there because it was so much water. My husband got someone to vacuum up the water. Our kids ended up having a fun new game — jump over the huge lumps in our warped hardwood floors. We had to move out, do a complete renovation — throw out all our beds, furniture, carpeting, bedding, books and some clothes. It was definitely a New York disaster!
The Brown Out of '03! In the summer of 2003, I was performing in the Off-Broadway musical The Thing About Men at The Promenade Theatre. I remember being onstage during tech week with my co-stars Marc Kudisch, Ron Bohmer, Daniel Reichard and Leah Hocking when BOOM — all the lights in the theatre went out. Thank God for stagehands, as you immediately saw several Surefire flashlights lighting our way like an Aerosmith concert. God bless stage hands (especially my husband, Local 1 stagehand Brad Robertson).
Our lighting designer Ken Billington was quick on his feet as he jumped up and ran out to the street at 76th and Broadway. He was the first to figure out that it wasn't contained to our building alone, but that the street lights were out as well — a much larger problem. Cut to: Tech was canceled that night; people were stranded from getting home; food was spoiling; air conditioning was not working, and it was hotter than a crotch.
Like most "disasters" though, and like our show, it really brought out the best of this group and New Yorkers in general because people had to pull together. Folks who lived nearby let people stay at their house. Everyone in the neighborhood was sitting out on their stoops and enjoyed having "empty your freezer" parties. I can nary think of a place I'd rather be in a situation like this than in the greatest city in the world.
I went to Mizzou [University of Missouri] for undergrad, and an alum of the theatre department created a program where students submitted scripts and, if chosen, could present their piece at the York Theatre. Two projects I'd been cast in were picked, and up to New York we went. One evening while waiting for the subway, I noticed a little "mouse" darting from the wall to the edge of the platform and back again. I tugged on a colleague's jacket, "Look at the little mouse at the end of the platform!" He told me it wasn't a mouse. Yes it is! He calmly tells me, "No, Lacretta, it's a baby rat." It can't be a baby rat because it's so small and cute. No sooner had I said those words that several tiles fell off the wall and what seemed like a swarm of rodents tumbled out onto the platform. I froze… I knew I wasn't going to get very far. Thankfully a train approached, and they all scattered away as it pulled into the stop. Rats or not, that could have easily become more disastrous than just seeing them scampering around down there. But seeing all that was enough for me!
Well, growing up in New York City, there's been a lot of mini disasters. Let's see… The worst personal disaster that ever happened to me in New York City was [when] I was on my way to Rent, and I was crossing 7th Avenue. It was right after the show had opened, and I got hit by a bike messenger going like 40 miles per hour. He nailed me — sent me back like 15 feet — and I sprained both my wrists and bruised my coccyx bone. I got pretty torn up by that guy. That was my worst!
Honestly, 9/11 now that I think of it. I was rehearsing for Noises Off, and I had come into the city — at the time I was living on Hastings-on-Hudson — and I remember getting off the train. They announced on the train coming in there had been a plane that had gone into the World Trade Center, and then they announced another plane… [I] walked out of the terminal, Grand Central, and got into the subway, and when I walked out of the subway, everything had changed. People were sobbing, crying, running every place. It really felt disastrous. I finally made it to the rehearsal, and all I had time to do was call the people I know and just say, "I'm okay, and this is what's going on." They canceled the rehearsal, and I stayed at Alice Ripley's apartment, actually. Then I decided to walk up Park Avenue with everybody and take the first train out [of Manhattan], and I didn't know how I was going to be able to get out that day. I just remember the world had shifted.
When I first moved here, I lived in Jersey City, and I was installing an air conditioner in my window, and it fell out four floors, and I had just bought it at Crazy Eddie. Remember Crazy Eddie's? It just fell and smashed. Luckily, it didn't hit anyone in the street… And, when I first moved to New York, it was all porn theatres and crack whores and stuff, so every day walking down the street was a disaster! … It was nuts just walking down 42nd Street. You took your life in your hands.
[Sarcastically] I guess I would say the day I won "Grease: You're the One That I Want" was probably the biggest disaster that ever happened to me. It uprooted from my nice home in L.A., my boyfriend, all my friends, and I had to star on Broadway…alone. And that, probably, is the biggest disaster I've ever been through. Again, I'm thankful for it, but… [Laughs.] Let's see… New York disasters. I would say any time I have to take a shower and quickly leave the house because I'll never get dry. I'll always have that sweat on my upper lip, and to me, it's about the little things! Wait, but I'll say my real biggest New York disaster is when I got mugged on the B train at 3 PM at 110th. I got beat up, and he stole my phone, but he's in jail, so that's good… Be careful, people. Don't wear flip flops and listen to your music!
There are two. One: I had a horrible, horrible breakup, and I was just devastated. I put myself through therapy, I wept as I walked down the Upper West Side. I was disoriented, and it really was the worst. Strangely enough, I had won a Tony Award for playing Snoopy [in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown], and then the show ran eight more performances and closed, and it was after this that this breakup occurred. And, as I was walking along Columbus Avenue in kind of a stupor of heartache, out of nowhere, something hit my head, and I'm covered in fluid. I couldn't believe what had happened; it was so shocking. I looked down, and I saw the remnants of a red balloon on my fingers. And, I had looked around and saw that across the street, outside of that public school on 76th or 77th Street at Columbus, a bunch of 13-year-olds [were] laughing so hard. And, I put together in the moment of the most terrible, devastating, personal pain that one of them had heaved a water balloon, and it hit my head and smashed my head. It was actually so shocking and also so comically maudlin. It kind of actually lifted me out of it because it wasn't a body that fell on me, although it scared me, like something really awful had happened — like somebody had dropped a bucket of urine or something from a fourth-floor window — except it was cold, and it was a water balloon. For a moment, I contemplated chasing the teenagers, then I thought, "No, I'm just too pathetic," so I went home wet and called a couple of friends, and we all started laughing. The other one was something not quite as sad as that, but I was scurrying around in my mid-twenties or late-twenties in New York, and at that time, I was running between one almost-nonpaying job to another, and I just had enough time to get myself a happy meal [from McDonald's] — whatever it was back in the 80s — and I was in Times Square, and it was raining slightly, and I was late for rehearsal. I grabbed myself a quarter pounder with cheese and a large coke, and I just slipped on this curb that was a little wet, and it was one of those times where I was falling with my hands full of the McDonald's, but I thought if I just sped up, I could get myself back up… But I just kept on running forward… and then finally fell flat on my face. [Laughs.] It was like a 25-foot fall. It was amazing. I ripped my jeans, spilled my Coke, spilled my fries… I was like, "Dammit. This really f*cking sucks."
I was living in Brooklyn, [and] I had just graduated college. I took a shower at 3 AM, got out, put on my towel… No, put on my underwear! I heard the sound of clankety-clunking. I didn't know if someone was tap dancing literally in my bathroom, if someone was writing on the typewriter… I finally realized it was a waterbug the size of Mount Vesuvius, and he was so big that him walking on the bathroom tiles literally sounded like Tommy Tune tap dancing, so I freaked out. I was in a towel, I remember...! I put on my underwear in case he could fly. I remember I [thought], "I better protect the jewels." I started chasing him with my sneaker. He ran into my hallway. I chased him out into the hallway, and my apartment door closed behind me and locked. It was 3 AM in the morning, and I was wearing underwear and a sneaker (and a gold chain because it was the 80s), and I was locked out of my apartment at 3 AM. It was devastating. This sounds like a crazy story, but it's true. I walked outside; I saw a person. And, I just started telling him the story: "You don't understand, this waterbug went after me" because I just had to vent to somebody. And, I said, "I don't have the keys to my apartment, but my roommate's mother does," and he said, "Well, I'm an off-duty cab driver. I'll drive you to your roommate's mother." And, I [thought], "Is this a snuff film?!" But I got into his car in my underwear… He drove me to my roommate's mother's house, and I woke her up at 3 AM, and I remember she was so mad at me when I buzzed her door, but I had no key, and she gave me the key. When I got home, I did finish off the waterbug. I now feel guilty about it because I'm a vegetarian, but I finished off that waterbug. It was devastating. Underwear. One shoe. Gold chain.
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)