I just traded an afternoon in Central Park for David Hyde Pierce’s tour de force performance in the Manhattan Theater Club revival Accent On Youth. The only downside: this old gem (written in the 1930s) whizzes by too fast.
Accent On Youth is the story of a successful, sophisticated fifty-something playwright who’s a bit stuffy. He’s confounded when his gorgeous young secretary confesses that she loves him madly.
I was still marveling at the fresh, postmodernisms in the old play when poof! David Hyde Pierce and superb comic actor Charles Kimbrough (stiff newscaster Jim Dial on Murphy Brown) were holding hands for final bows. Amazingly, I’d had no sensation of blood draining from my brain. Yes, I’m one of these amoral people who may slink at intermission into rhythmically marching bodies on the sidewalk instead of trooping back in to submit to a final act.
I’m awed by Hyde Pierce’s actorly gifts. In this play he mixes gravitas and antics to create his dimensioned character. I loved it when he petulantly says he hates audiences, and then he slowly turns, flips up his jacket tails and moons us, fully clothed (I assure you) in dignified brown tweed.
Here’s why I also take personal pride in him—and please don’t be too embarrassed by my inappropriate ebullience. Years ago, the man slept in my bed for a week (I was away on business). He was a struggling actor; he hadn’t yet played Niles Crane, the persnickety younger brother on Frasier, which he helped make one of the two best TV comedy series ever. Truthfully, I never even knew Hyde Pierce—he was a friend of a friend, hired to look after my huge poodle.
I remember being startled at my first glimpse of David’s lush blond hair and his billowing blue oxford cloth shirt—how did a starving actor look so, well…rich?
But my appreciation of his work transcends our bed connection. I love him (as in fan love) for making me explode in laughter again and again. I totally lose it when “Niles Crane” gets bullied into timidly singing with Elvis Costello at Café Nervosa, the fictive Seattle coffee house (I’ve got it on permanent Tivo). I gasp for breath as “Niles” gets into the spirit of things, dancing and singing wildly, but more and more spastically.
Back to the timeless Accent On Youth, whose author Samson Raphaelson wrote the screenplay for other masterpieces like Ernst Lubitch’s Shop Around the Corner and Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Today I silently applauded when Hyde Pierce—as the successful playwright—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 appreciate Raphaelson’s infinite twists based on emotion: he deftly motivates Hyde Pierce’s character to test his much younger fiancée by coaching his more age-appropriate romantic rival.
A few years back, I watched Spamalot close to the stage to witness Hyde Pierce mugging. I know he’s about to do something hilarious when he clenches his teeth in an underbite. What a hoot!
I waited chatting with elated tourists seeking his autograph in Shubert Alley. When I reminded him of our tenuous connection, he confessed, “Oh, yes and I let your dog off the leash. I know you forbid it. It took hours to find him.”
Then and there under the white lights, I had a serious anxiety attack. Maybe Woody Allen was right: it doesn’t pay to get too close to genius.
Susan Braudy is the author and journalist whose last book, The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, was nominated for a Pulitzer by publisher Alfred Knopf.
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