Al Pacino: One Night Only

The fleeting nature of Broadway in our save-and-share culture

Before we were married, my wife and I would celebrate our own Christmas a few days before the actual holiday by exchanging gifts the night before we split to go to our respective parents’ homes. Now that we’re married with a kid, we obviously travel together — first to one set of parents, then the other — so there is no longer any need to exchange gifts beforehand. However, sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise. For example, this year my major gift was so enormous that it would have been stupid to transport it all over the place, so I opened it up last night at home. Last year, I opened my major gift early not because of size, but because of time.

My wife had somehow secured two tickets to the see the revival David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway. However, the tickets were for December 23, 2012, so she needed to obviously give them to me before Christmas. It is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received, not only because Glengarry is considered a modern American classic and I would have been excited to see any cast revive it, but for another reason: Al Pacino.

Like so many others, Pacino and Robert De Niro are two of my favorite actors and it’s an accepted fact that they are two of the greatest film actors in history, regardless of how their current projects may impact their legacy. However, not too many people realize that Pacino cut his teeth in the theatre and still has a deep love for the stage. When the announcement was made that Pacino would be starring in the 2012 revival of Glengarry, many thought that he would once again play Ricky Roma, that cocky character he portrayed in the 1992 film adaptation, a role that earned him both an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. However, that had been twenty years before, so Pacino wisely (and bravely) slid into the role of aging salesman Shelley Levene (played by Jack Lemmon in the film). Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this actually made me more eager to see the play.

I had made a passing mention of all of this to my wife when I read the news, but quickly forgot about it. Like most people that always know the right gift to purchase, she did not forget about it. After opening my gift, I was stunned. Not only was it a surprise, but I just couldn’t believe that I would be only thirteen rows from the stage where Pacino would be performing. I don’t lose my mind when I meet celebrities, even those I admire greatly, but this somehow felt different. My wife had never seen the film, so she was going in fresh. She was also eager to see a couple of actors from two of her favorite TV shows (Richard Schiff, who had played Toby Zeigler on The West Wing and John C. McGinley, who had portrayed Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs).

On the night of the show, we dropped the kid off at my in-laws’ in north Jersey and made our way into NYC. We had a wonderful dinner and then walked towards the theatre. As we approached, I saw “PACINO” on the marquee and my excitement jumped another notch. We made our way inside and found our seats. The Schoenfeld is tight inside, so it’s a more intimate setting than some of the other venues on Broadway, probably why they chose it as the location for Glengarry. The curtain came up and there was Pacino, all five-foot-nothing of him. He’s tiny (most actors are), but he radiated. I kept knocking my leg into my wife’s, whispering “It’s Pacino! It’s Pacino!” over and over again.

The show was great, even exceeding my substantial expectations. The New York Times disagreed, and I’m certainly biased, but Pacino’s performance was captivating, particularly watching him physically shrink as Levene’s secret slips out.

The biggest takeaway for me, even more so than sitting near Judy Reyes and seeing Michael Chiklis in the bathroom, was that it was over. That performance wasn’t coming back. There would be more shows — the play had about another week or so before finishing its run — but I wouldn’t be at them and there wouldn’t be any way to save it. In our world of hyperconnectedness and YouTube, everything is saved, cataloged, and preserved. Commercials from my childhood that I thought were lost forever are just a click away. Every film and album can be accessed on a phone. Nothing is lost anymore.

Except what happens on stage.

Walking out of the Schoenfeld that night, I was hit with the reality that it was over. I still have VHS tapes of Michigan basketball games from the Fab Five. I have tracked down and saved every song on which Nas has ever appeared. I have two copies of The Godfather trilogy (just in case), but this was gone. I have the Playbill and the ticket stub and even a poster, but the show itself is just a memory. There are clips of the performance on YouTube, but I avoid watching them because it’s just a tease that will only make me want the whole thing even more. Instead, I find myself watching the press conference that occurred before the show’s run, possibly because it still feels like it’s in the future, rather than the past.

It struck me that this was how everything used to be, not just before the Internet, but always. Before digital photography, if your film ran out, you didn’t take any more pictures. Before the VCR, TV shows were only shown once (except reruns) and movies were never seen again after leaving the theater. Before the 8-track, the music you heard in your car was only picked by someone else. Before photographs, there were only paintings. And so it went.

We are spoiled and that makes us complacent. Our current save-and-share culture prevents us from actually enjoying a moment because we’re too busy documenting it. We immediately file it away with the promise that we’ll revisit it later. Later never comes. Sometimes a sunset should be enjoyed live and in person without being Instagrammed. Perhaps a major reason why that night still resonates with me is because I wasn’t able to become desensitized to it by watching it repeatedly. That still doesn’t change the fact that I wish I could watch Pacino play Shelley Levene somewhere other than just my memory.

Christopher Pierznik is the author of nine books, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle. In addition to his own site, his work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.