by Stephen Sachs
She called to take me up on my offer. I struggled to place who she was. A young woman from my Playwrighting Group in Hollywood willing to volunteer to usher at my theatre in Beverly Hills for the perk of seeing our long running hit play for free. I pretended to recognize her name but my mind raced. Who was she? A fellow writer? An actress?
“Sure, you can usher,” I muttered distractedly to the mysterious voice on the other line. “Be here at the theater tonight. Wear a black skirt or slacks. A white blouse. I’ll show you what to do.”
Part of my job as the theater manager at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills was to recruit volunteers to usher. The theatre was enjoying a celebrated 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s play about friendship and romance, Love Letters, starring a rotating parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Richard Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. Because the celebrity roster changed every week, recruiting volunteer ushers eager to see the play wasn’t difficult. It often meant mobilizing a house staff of enlisted actors, wannabe screenwriters, middle-aged theatre junkies, and westside seniors looking for something to do. Then came the phone call from the enigmatic young woman.
She arrived that night precisely on time. I was standing in the theatre lobby, busily counting programs for that evening’s performance. I turned and glanced at the front entrance. Gliding in through the glass doors, the sun setting behind her and highlighting her slim form, strode a beautiful blonde in a black skirt, a white blouse, flashing a warm, inviting smile. My body jolted, even in my pressed suit. I stopped breathing. This is Los Angeles. Attractive women are everywhere. Something about her was different.
My hands shook as I demonstrated to her how to properly tear a theater ticket stub. Did she spot I was trembling? She leaned forward. Her warmth smelled delicious. Inside the theater before opening the doors, I stumbled down the carpeted aisle of empty seats with her, doing my best to outline our audience seating protocols, all the while my thoughts catapulting into a pathetic frenzied mantra, Ask her out, you idiot! Ask her out! Don’t let her get away. When the night’s performance ended, as we picked up littered programs from the floor and flipped up the seats, I asked her to join me for a bite to eat. She said yes.
We strolled south down Beverly Drive to an Italian restaurant still open and had pizza. Over wine, I explained that I was coming out of a long-term relationship and just wanted to stay casual. She confessed that she was ready to give up on dating and didn’t know how to be casual. We talked, we laughed, and we closed the place down.
Soon, we were catching new plays at The Music Center, having a ball at a jazz club in Encino, savoring intimate dinners on Melrose. We’d step out of my small apartment in Beachwood Canyon for late night strolls through the Hollywood Hills, talking non-stop, plotting our careers and confiding aspirations. The production of Love Letters at my theater provided the perfect background for our blossoming relationship. The play chronicles the bond that develops between a man and a woman as they share their hopes and ambitions, their dreams and disappointments, their triumphs and heartbreak.
Because Love Letters starred a new pair of celebrity actors each week, our theater was bombarded with flowers delivered to the stage door by fans. I would collect the dozens of bouquets and vases and display them around our lobby, filling the entranceway with bright color and sweet fragrance. Never imagining that one bouquet would help change the course of my life.
Late one night, following another sold out performance, I was locking up the Canon Theatre for the evening. The audience had gone home, the theatre was dark and empty. She was waiting patiently for me outside as I closed. We were on our way to a party in Brentwood. It was a warm August evening and she wore a lovely white linen dress. She beamed, fresh and radiant. I grabbed a large bouquet of flowers from the lobby and presented them to her with a flourish under the front marquee outside. She blushed and kissed me. We then turned and walked down Canon Drive to the car.
What happened next is difficult to describe.
As we strolled down the narrow sidewalk, she suddenly took my arm. We marched forward, arm in arm. I then glanced at her. At the two of us, together, arms interlocked. My suit. Her white dress. Flowers clutched in her hand. In that instant, I saw us. In a flash, time stopped, collapsed, and rushed forward. It was like peering into a looking glass, a crystal ball and a rear-view mirror, all at the same time. I saw our past, present and future together, as best friends, as life partners, as husband and wife, compressed into one perfect vision. I saw it.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” I whispered.
A recognition of the other.
We were married, exactly one year from the night we first met. One year to the day from that first afternoon when she stepped through those glass doors and into the lobby, and my life, forever.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. Stephen and his wife, Jacqueline, have been married twenty-seven years and have two sons.