October 12, 2008
John Preston was one of the first actors I ever hired. I was starting an Equity theater in Alabama, and the opening play would be A.R. Gurney's interesting comedy The Middle Ages. I went to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival seeking a Tom Hanks type for the lead, saw the student scenes and selected John for the iconoclastic Barney, a romantic, endearing character he played to perfection. Later I would use him as the mentally-challenged Ellard in The Foreigner, in which he was hilarious. John is an innocent, an engaging actor who is as much fun offstage as he is on.
He went on to work for a number of seasons at the
Elizabeth Hayes, John Preston
in The Middle Ages, Jubilee Fish Theater,
Fairhope, Alabama, 1989
Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where I followed his career and kept up with his life for years. When he played a dynamic and impressive Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet I took him aside and asked, "When are we going to see your Petruchio?"
"As soon as they do the play!"
Obviously I was on to something, because Alabama Shakes slated The Taming of the Shrew the next season and indeed John was spot-on as Petruchio in an offbeat interpretation of the play, setting it in the U.S. in the 1920's, with Petruchio a visitor from Texas to a hotbed of Chicago gangsters. He was delightful. I was impressed that the Texas accent worked with Shakespearean English, and John said that was one of the easiest parts of the role.
I lost touch with him when I moved north last year, but was pretty sure he was working in New York. His email address had changed and I hadn't been able to contact him when I saw his name -- now (probably for Union reasons) "John G. Preston"-- in the cast list of an off-off-Broadway production of a new play called Taboos.I ordered my ticket and planned to surprise him, not that I knew how to notify him of my plans anyway.
The ticket was for the matinee yesterday. It being a beautiful fall day, I was excited at the prospect of seeing my old friend again. I chose my outfit carefully, and even put on a little makeup. I Mapquested in half a dozen places on the Internet to find the little theatre just south of the Village, finally deciding just to get off at the Christpher St. stop on the PATH and walk until I found it. I wrote a little note to be delivered to him backstage, asking him out for coffee after the show so that we might catch up, exchange phone numbers, and maybe plan to see each other again soon. On such a nice day, all things seemed to be possible. Except what happened.
I arrived at the box office in plenty of time. I told the young man in the box office that I was there to pick up my ticket for the matinee.
"That show closed last week."
I protested that I had a ticket, reserved for months. He said it had closed anyway. I said I hadn't been notified. He said they had emailed some people. I told him I was a friend of a cast member and would like to get in touch with him.
"They're gone;" he said. "They're all gone."
Okay, I lost this time. I had in my mind the way the day was going to go, and it didn't. These things happen. I was in Manhattan. Did I want to go to Macy's? Did I want to pick up that lamp shade I needed? Actually, I didn't feel like doing anything but going back home.
In case you think I'm writing this for your sympathy, you're not 100 per cent right. I know actors, and suspect that John or somebody he knows will Google John G. Preston at some point soon and he'll know I'm looking for him. I'll let you know how that goes.