Almost 25 years ago we lived in the Pringle-Hopkins manor house in Darien, Ct. The house had a sign on the front porch that read, This house was here when the town of Darien, Ct was established in 1820. We weren’t rich. My husband had only been out of graduate school for a few years, but through a miracle we were able to rent the old mansion on two acres for a song. The town owned the house and had intended to tear it down and build low income housing on the property, but when the historical society learned of the plan they sued. Because the house was sitting empty during the lengthy court case, we were able to rent it. The same gardeners who took care of the town parks mowed our lawn. It really was wonderful.
It was a magical time for us. In the winter, the Christmas lights from the tree in the town square shone through the trees every hour we heard the bell tower chime Christmas carols. In the fall, we would rake together mounds of fallen maple leaves and run through them. In the summer we swam in the Long Island Sound.
My husband worked in Mid-town, New York and on Friday nights I would often get a babysitter and join in him the city. We loved (still love) the theater. I would dress up, forget about being a mom for a few fabulous hours and meet my husband on Broadway.
Our world and the world in general has changed since then. We now live in California, but a few weeks ago we took our daughters to New York and bought tickets to The Phantom of the Opera and Evita. We ate dinner across from the theater and were surprised by the long line forming past the marquee. Very few women wore dresses and even fewer men wore suits or ties. The line confused us until we got through the doors and realized that every purse and bag had to pass through a security check. It used to be that if you arrived late you weren’t allowed to your seat until intermission—that’s no longer true. An usher carrying a flashlight will escort you to your seat. And at intermission—it used to be that you could buy a fancy little dessert for an outrageous price in the lobby, but now you don’t even need to leave your chair. Someone carrying a big tray, ala baseball game style, will sell you a candy bar or a box of Junior Mints for $4 dollars.
Times Square is now closed off to traffic—pedestrians only for about three blocks. There are people dressed up as Disney characters, octogenarian females wearing nothing but tiny panties and stickers on their nipples, and men in tighty-whities and cowboy boots (it was hot.)
Can I clean up Times Square? No, I can’t. Do I think I can create a production has fabulous The Phantom of the Opera in a theater as jaw dropping gorgeous as the Majestic? Of course not. Will I still go to Broadway? At every imaginable opportunity. So do I have the right to whine? Sure I do. The world has lost some glimmer and shine because the theater is not the posh spot it used to be.
I’m not complaining. I’m only stating a fact. The Pringle-Hopkins manor house in Darien eventually did become a (very lovely) condominium complex for low-income housing. I’ve changed. Going to the theater has changed. The world has changed and it’s still changing and if we mourn that somewhere between now and then we’ve lost some swank and polish—there’s nothing to do but start polishing our corners of the world.