I recently traded a sunny day in Central Park to witness David Hyde Pierce's tour de force performance in the Manhattan theater club revival Accent On Youth.
The only downside -- this dazzling old gem whizzed by too fast in the dark theater.
Accent On Youth's the story of successful,sophisticated playwright in his fifties who "smells sixty" and who lives to write. Suddenly his life is unsettled when his twenty-something secretary declares she loves him madly.
I was still marveling at the post-modern relevance of the play written by Samson Raphaelson in 1939 when suddenly David Hyde Pierce and the cast including superb comic actor Charles Kimbrough (stiff newscaster Jim Dial on TV's Murphy Brown) were taking final bows.
There was no sensation of blood draining from my brain -- that I too frequently get in dark theaters. Yes, I am one of those amoral people who during intermission sometimes slinks into the pack of rhythmically marching bodies on the sidewalk -- instead of trooping back inside and gallantly submitting to the final act.
I am ridiculously proud of Hyde Pierce's superior, actorly gifts -- in this play he mixes gravitas and antics to create his slightly stiff, dimensioned character -- after petulantly saying he hates audiences, he moons us, fully clothed (I assure you) in brown tweed.
I have no real reason for my pride in his work, and yes you've every right to be embarrassed for me.
Here goes: years ago the hugely talented man slept in my bed for a week. This was when he was a struggling actor -- before he played Niles Crane, the persnickety younger brother with the unseen anorectic wife on Frasier, one of the two best TV comedy series ever.
It gets worse.
Back then I didn't really know Hyde Pierce -- he was a friend of a friend, hired sight unseen to take care of my large dog while I was away on business.
I remember being startled at my first glimpse of the young man's lush blond hair and his billowing blue oxford cloth shirt -- how did a starving actor look so..well...rich, I wondered.
But my appreciation of his work does transcend the bed connection.
I love (as in fan love) any guy who makes me explode in laughter as David does playing
Niles Crane. I totally lose it when "Niles" gets bullied into (I keep it on permanent Tivo) timidly singing along with Elvis Costello at the fictive Seattle coffee house. I am literally gasping for breath as he gets carried away, dancing and singing wildly -- more and more spastically.
Back to the timeless Accent On Youth.
Author Raphaelson also wrote classics like Ernst Lubitch's Shop Around the Corner and Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion.
Watching his play, I grinned at David Hyde Pierce's portrayal of the successful playwright who says of his younger romantic rival, "If he were in a play I'd have a theory [about his motives] but life never makes sense."
As a writer, I love the wit and wisdom of the play -- the infinite twists based on emotion: the playwright deftly motivates Hyde Pierce's character to test and lose his much younger girlfriend by coaching the young rival on wooing her.
A few years back, I watched Spamalot from a seat close to the stage so I could see Hyde Pierce mugging. Before he's going to do something ridiculous, he clenches his teeth in an underbite.
What a hoot!
Afterward I waited to talk to him with the huge crowd outside the stage door. When I reminded David, he said, "Oh, you know I let your dog off the leash. Of course you told me not to. It took hours to find him."
Then and there, under the white lights, I had a serious anxiety attack.
Like Woody Allen says, "Sometimes it doesn't pay to get too close to genius."
This article first appeared in West Side Spirit/Our Town