I witnessed LiLo’s stage debut from an altitude of ten thousand feet.
When I bought my “restricted view” ticket for the opening night of Speed-the-Plow, I wondered what shade of red Lindsay Lohan’s hair would be for her stage debut. Would she go au natural, like the Parent Trap? Prairie Blonde Companion? Or would she look the same as when I last saw her on a pirated episode of Lindsay on OWN — ginger and pixilated.
Now, as I climb approximately three hundred steps to the Upper Circle section of the Playhouse Theatre, I realize why my cheap ticket came with a warning: “seating is very steep and not suitable for vertigo sufferers.” One would think that the “upper” circle would be for “upper” members of society, but West End theatres are like Titanic in reverse: all the peasants sit above while aristocrats like Billy Zane (who isn’t really there) and Peter Dinklage (who is actually there) slurp champagne below, close enough to the stage to smell Lindsay’s last cigarette on her breath. From my perch in Row G, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, I could see straight down the shirts of the elite — if I wasn’t so scared to look down.
It’s not that I’m scared of heights, but maybe slightly allergic to them. Like, one time I went to the viewing deck on the Eiffel Tower and almost passed out. My desire to see LiLo’s next comeback (would she wear her wig from Liz & Dick?) cancels out the fear gripping my bladder.
Maybe because of our four-year age difference, Lindsay has always felt like a neighbor’s cool older sister. She went to summer camp before I was old enough (and played strip poker before I knew what strip poker was). I coveted the badass sk8r girl blonde highlights that won Chad Michael Murray’s heart in Freaky Friday.
I always connected to the way all of Lindsay’s characters wanted something more: to be the lead in the school play, a rock star, a racecar driver — whatever. Other girls in the Disney high school of that time weren’t as ambitious: Hilary Duff accidentally became an Italian pop star; Amanda Bynes tripped into being Colin Firth’s long-lost daughter, and Mary-Kate and Ashley consistently played characters named Riley whose biggest problem was whether their Parisian hotel had room service.
Just like any younger neighbor that’s grown up and moved out of town, I keep an ear out for details about how Lindsay’s doing. No matter what, I always think: “Well, that’s okay. She’ll be home for Thanksgiving. She’ll figure her shit out.” And maybe she will on this stage. Tonight.
The lights go out and the audience acts like we just won the Super Bowl. There’s hooping, there’s hollering, there’s gnashing of teeth. We are all here to pay our respects to Our Lady of Lindsay; we are all here for her.
I hold my breath through most of Act One, thinking the air in my lungs will keep me lighter in case I fall off this balcony — the edge is fifteen rows in front of me, but in the dark, it feels like my chair is parallel to the ground.
Lindsay’s character barely appears in the first half of David Mamet’s play. She’s Karen the sexy secretary, a role originated by Madonna. The impatience for her entrance is palpable as Hollywood producer Bobby (played by Ricahrd Schiff from West Wing), makes bets his co-worker, Charlie (Nigel Lindsay), that he can sleep with Karen.
The play is based off of Mamet’s real movie-making experiences, which, judging by the strained, suspicious relationship of these men interested in only making movies that sell, wasn’t any fun. The two actors yammer back and forth so fast — “You’re a whore, Bobby!” “If I am, then so are you, Charlie!” — I almost don’t notice when Schiff calls for a line. A female voice from the wings puts him back on track quickly, and the snag passes without interrupting the momentum. I’ve seen a lot of theatre — a lot of not so professional community theatre — and I’ve never heard an actor call for a line during a show.
When Lindsay finally walks onstage, everyone around me looks at each other: “Should we clap?” We don’t want to distract her. We want this to be the best comeback of all her comebacks. She says her first line, “Yes.”
We are giddy. Her hair is OWN-documentary orange, pulled back in a low-maintenance bun. One of my neighbors giggles in delight, moving enough to disturb my equilibrium, and I hold on to my arm rests as hard as is possible for someone who can only do five push-ups (on her knees).
Between Lindsay’s modern extensions and Nigel Lindsay’s fake 1950’s Jersey accent, I’m having a hard time figuring out which decade this production is set in. Perhaps it is a testament to the timeless dog-eat-dog nature of Hollywood. “I’m disappointed,” one of my fellow third class passengers whispers. “I thought she’d at least try a British accent.”
Intermission comes too soon. Lindsay has only said five or six lines, but they were memorized. We heard them. We are witnesses. Take that, tabloids! Linds isn’t a lost cause after all. I’m so exhilarated that I loosen the grip on my chair enough to clap my hands a few times.
Because I have the same view as a traffic helicopter, I notice a few things in the second half of the play that Billy Zane (again, not there) and Peter Dinklage (there) might have missed from their “nice” seats. For instance, one set of the box seats that were empty during Act One become occupied by an angular dude and small brunette. Is that you, Lohan sibs, Michael Jr. and Ali? (If so, shame on you for being tardy, but also, I’m glad you’re here. You missed it! Lindsay did some lines — the good kind — you’ll be proud.)
In the other box is a band of intoxicated men. I wonder if they are Lindsay’s friends. They gesture wildly with their champagne glasses, and when Act Two begins, someone in the group drops one onto the stage.
Lindsay prevails through the incident, shards of broken glass far away from the couch where she monologues. In the fast-paced scene, she convinces Bobby to make a movie about her favorite cult book in return for sleeping with him. From my height, I can’t see her bronzer or inflated lips — she’s just a girl. A girl who has played her own twin on more than one occasion.
Everything is going swimmingly: I haven’t plunged to my death and Lindsay is wearing the best turquoise heels in the world. But then I notice the script. It’s covered in pink highlighter and tucked between Linds and the couch cushion. She trips over some lines (as if we know the difference — until a few days ago, I was hoping this was a musical), glances at the paper, and laughs into an invisible camera. One of the champagne-chuggers in the box seat dramatically throws himself back in a rage of embarrassment. To make matters worse, someone from backstage yells her line and the scene squeals to a halt. Because Lindsay keeps laughing, the audience keeps laughing. I don’t see what’s funny. Are we laughing with her or because of her? I wish I had a parachute.
Lindsay picks back up where she left off, but the audience is already too riled up. The play goes into hyper-speed.
Bobby and Charlie go from calling each other whores to calling Karen a whore for using her womanly wiles to persuade them to produce the movie she wants to make. Even though Lindsay made a mess of her big monologue, the audience gasps when one of the men refers to her “pussy.” Hey, that’s my neighbor’s big sister you’re talking about! It seems like the three actors made a pact backstage — let’s just get this over with. They spit their lines out like watermelon seeds and rush through bows, Lindsay genuinely surprised when a brave lad in the front row rushes her a bouquet of flowers. We’ve already forgiven her.
Within half an hour, I’m back at sea-level, waiting outside by the stage door for the lady of the hour with about a hundred people. Though the crowd buzzes about the line incident, those sitting below the stratosphere didn’t notice the hidden script. I vow to take the secret with me to the grave and/or to whatever pub I end up at after this.
One of LiLo’s “people” announces that she will be out by 10:30, nearly an hour after the show ended. We wait, some with huge cameras, some bearing Mean Girls DVDs — it’s time to celebrate coming back from a come back! Hope is in the air. I dream out loud that Hollywood will announce plans for a sequel to The Parent Trap where Lindsay can reclaim her role(s) and finally win an Oscar. So what if a Tony isn’t in her future? Watching her old movies is like looking through a childhood photo album — I recognize my younger self and am happy to remember. After all, it’s my younger self who wanted more: to star in the school musical, to flirt with a boy in my math class, to stand out … and win Spring Fling Queen, of course.
I don’t feel like Lindsay owes me anything. I’ve blurred all of her roles together to form who I think she is. We’re all here because we want her to know we’re still on this ride with her. We’ll watch whatever she makes, just to get a glimpse of what our childhood selves could become. I mean, we are one group of dedicated fans. Some of us sat through Canyons, for chrissakes.
It starts to get cold and people give up, hugging their £4 programs as they head toward the Charring Cross Tube. I plant myself and stare at the stage door — if I survived for so long in low-oxygen conditions, sub-zero temperatures should mean nothing.
At 11:15, the minion returns and says Lindsay’s left through the front door.
A teenage girl bursts into tears. Grown men throw their programs on the cobblestone street. I hang around until even the paparazzi are gone.
I guess I don’t know when to give up.
Christina Wolfgram likes to French kiss her Masters degree in Professional Writing from USC. She recently worked with Los Angeles Magazine to launch their first ever car culture blog, L.A. Driver, and writes about everything from uteri to Pretty Little Liars. Her work can be found on BuzzFeed, FunnyorDie, YouTube, TVMix, and — once — in one of Russell Crowe’s tweets. Follow her on Twitter: @thecwolf