I don't remember whether I have ever mentioned in this column that I am radically opposed to audience participation in the theater. The specter of being led up onto a stage haunts me even in dreams. The other night I explained this to a nearly naked young man who led me to a seat in a cabaret show called The Hole. He was an usher, but wore a loincloth and a cape.
"Look, I don't want anyone sitting on my lap," said I. Seeing that I was being given a seat on the stage itself, I repeated this most vehemently, giving my credentials: "Journalists cannot interact with actors." Once I had been assured of this, and taken a few sips on a gin and tonic, I felt better about it all. After all I was there not to see tits & ass (of which there is lots), but to laugh with Paco León - the Spanish comic that I always remember in the Metropolitan Museum, because he is identical to one of the ancient encaustic portraits from El Fayum in Egypt. Every time we pass the visage of the youth with marked cheekbones, curly hair and huge eyes, we think, look - Paco León.
And we said it now. Indeed Paco is a classic - the only one who can convince me to get up on a stage, seated in the front row, where a dancer can stick his ass in my face, as indeed happened, and I did the right thing by placing my hand on one of his scrawny buttocks, to the joy of the crowd.
Paco León, he of the Metropolitan, came out on the stage with a rat. Yes, a rat. A fat one with a long tail, atop a small high table. Paco recited a monologue of love to the rat. As he neared the end, the rat made as if to jump down onto the stage, and I made as if to jump off it. I had never been so close to a rat, unless you count the ones that scuttle across the sidewalk in New York, or the white ones in laboratories, which are kept in cages, where rats belong. Rats are smart critters. Paco León's rat was trained, of course, and I swear the damned thing had learned the monologue by heart - a feat of which many journalists, and some actors, are incapable. This was why he made as if to jump, knowing the end was near. Fortunately Paco was quicker, took the rat in his arms and petted it.
In the intermission Paco came over to me and embraced me, with the same arms that had held the rat. I felt a frisson, why deny it, but remembered that a woman who says to a man, "wash your hands before touching me" does not deserve to be loved. Paco was leaving the show that night to film a documentary on his mother, his sister the actress María León, and himself.
That mother must have some right stuff, to have given birth to two such actors. I met María León last summer. She, too, looks like an El Fayum portrait: huge eyes, marked cheekbones. The next time I pass her portrait in the Metropolitan I'll say: look, María León. Besides, the other day I saw her in La voz dormida, and her graceful presence sticks in my mind. There is not now in Spanish cinema any actress so pretty, who at the same time can so enchantingly play a peasant girl without leaning too heavily on the popular language, or playing dumb, or vulgar, or exaggerating accents. May she get all the roles she deserves. I don't know whether the film is a good one. Good thing I'm not a film critic: I only have to talk about what I like. And what I like about that film is what happens to her, which is worth the ticket price alone. Nor do I know whether I like the other night's cabaret show. Good thing I'm not a theater critic: but for Paco alone, it was worth the trouble sharing the stage with a rat.
Well, I also liked a woman - an obese acrobat dressed as Marilyn Monroe. You have to be made of cement, not to get a laugh out of a huge fat woman flying through the air. And you have to be made of ice, not to melt at the sight of these two classics, María and Paco, born of the same mother.