When last we spoke, I was being schlepped onto the Cork Theater’s stage to do a star turn in “Rapture in Suede,” a production with which I’d only become familiar moments earlier when I read my name on the playbill. Permit me to recall the last time something like this happened to me, when I was about to be lynched by a few hundred angry Bulgarians.
Now, I’m the kind of self-styled chap who is necessarily inured to the spotlight – as an accredited member of the media I’ve often moonlighted as the toastmaster type, gladly cutting ribbons, judging martinis, giving talks, leading presentations and generally being a self-inflated fish to any small pond in need. A panicked event coordinator will call, desperate for a last-minute replacement, and I’ll be there, especially if there’s booze, a buffet and an envelope with my name on it – though I’ve been known to waive my customary fee and just take the booze.
Such was the case when I was asked to introduce Krassimir the mime, beloved in his native Bulgaria, where, ironically, the young gallant was equally known as a “popera” singer who crooned operatic pop numbers to throngs enthralled. In an attempt to knit this schism in his career, he moved to Hollywood, where poly-hyphenate performers take to the fishbowl like mimes to glass boxes. I met him between pitch meetings while stringing for the L.A. Downtown News and wrote a feature about the “language of mime,” which inspired his then-handlers to ask me to introduce him at a live gig at the El Dorado in North Hollywood. I happily accepted (no envelope this time) and eventually found myself onstage in the midst of a glowing, spoken rehash of my article.
When I was about to bring out Krassimir, I caught his publicist’s eye in the wings. “Do more,” she yelped sotto voce. Seeing as I done my prepared bit, I obliged and riffed a little on Krassimir’s contribution to the craft of not only pantomime, but also “popera, a burgeoning new musical genre sweeping Eastern Europe.” The audience, it slowly dawned on me, was comprised of mostly Bulgarian nationals, who had about 60 words of English among them. I turned again to the publicist, who hissed, “He can’t find parking. Do five more minutes.”
Now, I can riff and by the loosest of definitions, it can be said that I can even improvise. But five minutes is an eon in stage-time. Moreover, my professional patter and persona is almost entirely dependent on my facility with the language, which was useless to the Bulgarians. Then, in a flash, it occurred to me – the people of Bulgaria and I did share a vocabulary – the universal language of mime. I had done the research, I knew Krassimir’s schtick – I’d just vamp until he relieved me. This glorious misstep would have been forgivable had I not positioned it as a parody of Krassimir himself by pointing at myself and uttering “Me, Krassimir” after pretending to be walking against a stiff wind and playing with an imaginary dog. Once the chorus of shouts and boos snapped me out of my stupor, I realized that I was not only offending a living Bulgarian national treasure, but that a mob of guys in back row had decided to kill me. I froze – just long enough for Krassimir himself, clad in a striped shirt and beret, to appear like an angel of mercy. He made like he had just pulled up in a fancy car, opened my hand and drop his actual keys in my palm as if I were the valet. I drove his pantomime car offstage and out the door.