My Friend David

I’ve been trying all morning to remember when I met my friend Susan. And then of course David.

What is it about the people you’ve known forever? Is it that they’re such a part of your life — as friends, colleagues, neighbors — that it feels like they’ve just always been there?

It must have been 1986. Or 87. And I’m pretty sure we met at the Algonquin because that’s where I liked to go for meetings midtown and this was a professional meeting to discuss whether Susan would come on to my play, Spare Parts, that had just been picked up for production by Olympia Dukakis at her Whole Theatre.

For those of you who aren’t involved in theater or film, I’m convinced that one of the major draws is the communal nature of these arts. A production is a crucible and the team melds together. That community vibe is very addicting for those of us who spend a lot of our time alone writing or editing. And the people you meet in production often become lifelong friends.

Susan was pregnant — which was fitting for the play since it was about an unusual pregnancy — and we became very close driving back and forth to Montclair where Olympia had her theater. We also discovered we were neighbors on the Upper Westside. And in short order I met her delightful husband David and then, when she arrived, her lovely daughter Lucy.

The production was a success and moved Off Broadway and we became even closer, hanging out in cafes in the Village and taking the train back uptown after performances.

Later we’d work on a collection of short plays of mine that went on to a workshop in a theater in Colorado and a reading in New York that Susan directed. She won my heart forever when a family member whom I’d made the mistake of inviting to the reading, allowed as how she found it hard to believe that I could have written what had just received an ovation. Susan looked at her with undisguised disdain and then laughed and shook her head and left the table, right-sizing everything for me as she always did. The play, by the way, was later anthologized in “Best American Short Plays of 1992” so take that, you know who you are…

I got married and had Zoe and we all spent time in what became known as “Lucy’s Playground” because that’s where we’d see Lucy, more often than not hanging out with David.

David was a working actor, having appeared in everything from productions such as “Six Degrees of Separation” at Lincoln Center to innumerable stints as a lawyer or judge on “Law & Order” to all kinds of independent films. He’s wiry and athletic with a keen sense of humor and great eyes full of depth and compassion and mischief and I cast him in one of my first films, The Pilgrim. He played an Hasidic man trudging up the stairs in an apartment building who has an encounter with an Hispanic nanny who’s fleeing ICE. As always, David was full of wry jokes and good humor and delivered a performance full of pathos and irony.

David’s a swimmer like me so we’d see each other sometimes daily at the Paris Health Club in our neighborhood. We’d sit in the hot tub and dissect the news of the day and compare notes on everything we’d seen. Over time I saw more of him than I did of Susan who was by then Dean of the Theatre Department at Queens College and ridiculously busy. I meanwhile had headed into television — we both had families we needed to support.

But we’d occasionally head upstate to see them. They had a lovely house full of art and flowers and cozy places to watch the river on their doorstep. The peace I felt up there inspired me to look for a place of our own. And although they urged us to buy up by them, I’m a salt water girl so we bought a place out here.

It meant we saw a bit less of them as they were fleeing to their haven and we to ours. But we still ran into each other on the street in New York City and in the markets on Broadway and made of point of seeing each other’s productions. They liked to work together and were often doing challenging plays Off Off Broadway, Susan directing and David starring.

Lucy meanwhile became a marvelous jazz violinist and in fact was on tour in the Netherlands while Zoe was there pursuing an advanced degree in economics. David and I were tickled by this — our little girls taking the world by storm.

Last year I reached out to him because I’d read a script I thought he’d be perfect for and we went back and forth a bit about the writer and all the myriad details.

Production, of course, halted because of COVID. But he and Lucy and Susan were working on a charming little video for kids — Lucy playing all sorts of percussive instruments while David, in an armchair in their house upstate, read an uplifting fairy tale. Props and lighting and direction by Susan, of course. It was the perfect, cozy, magical antidote to the times and I loved seeing Lucy working with her parents and sent the link off to Michael and Zoe.

And this is how it goes with friends and colleagues and neighbors — even if you log less time together, you’re always so happy to see them and to hear their news and to follow their triumphs and those of their kids. They become part of your history and you of theirs. You can’t tell your story without them.

David died this morning from COVID. Susan and Lucy weren’t allowed into the hospital and couldn’t be with him although Lucy played her violin and the nurses held up an iPad so her dad could hear the music as he died.

My editor tells me to be upbeat and hopeful. And all the agencies are looking for comedies or OK maybe thrillers, but something anything distracting. And I get it. My husband and I turned off the news and binged “The Flight Attendant” this weekend because we needed a break.

But the truth is we’re hurting. And there are miles to go before we’re out of the woods. And I think, as Shakespeare advised, we just may need to draw our breath in pain for a bit as we tell our stories. If only out of respect for those who’ve died and the families who are bent over in grief.

Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic

@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.