Larry David, back in New York to headline his first play, recently visited his childhood apartment, in Sheepshead Bay, to see whence his “no hugging, no learning” viewpoint had sprung. Standing in a cement courtyard just off the Belt Parkway, the co-creator of “Seinfeld” and the creator and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” said, “This was my little world.” Four identical red brick buildings framed the winter sky. “When you wanted your friends to come out, you’d just scream at the windows.”
Wearing a charcoal scarf and striding backward, tour-guide style, David noted, “We used to play skelly here, and I had a fistfight there.” He laughed so joyously, recalling the ancient triumph, that his bat wings of hair bounced. Unlike his crabbed screen persona, David is lithe and friendly, with perfect teeth. But he’s not sentimental. “I’m not really flooded with memories here,” he said, winding up the nostalgia tour in four minutes. “And I’m hungry.”
As his hired S.U.V. sped off, he said that arriving onstage at the age of sixty-seven wasn’t the culmination of a lifelong dream: “I never gave Broadway a thought, growing up—I didn’t really have ambitions. My parents wanted me to be a mailman.” He pondered that missed opportunity. “They did get out of work early, and there was also a rumor—a rumor!—that there were sexual encounters.” He took so many odd jobs after college, he went on, that “my mom sent me to a psychiatrist.” The default to kvetch was set. “In terms of writing, family is the gift that keeps on giving.”
David’s play, “Fish in the Dark,” is a farce about a contentious Jewish family whose secrets erupt in the hospital room of a dying patriarch. “I didn’t want to be in it,” he explained. “Unfortunately, the older-brother character sounded way too much like me. I can’t stop it.”
At the Kouros Bay Diner, David hefted his bound volume of a menu: “This is one of these Greek menus that are extensive. This is crazy! This is the biggest menu I’ve ever seen in my life!”
The waitress came by. “Do you have fresh grapefruit juice?” David inquired. She shook her head. “O.K., I’ll have a Pellegrino.” Her pencil didn’t move. “A sparkling water?”
“Seltzer,” she said.
“Seltzer! There you go,” he said. “I’ve been away too long.”
A heavily made-up woman passing by cried, “Larry David!,” and plopped her shopping bag on the table. “You’re Larry David! Do you come here often?”
“About once every forty years.”
“Can I take a photo?”
“Um . . . O.K.” She began fussing with her phone, muttering, “I hope I can figure this thing out.” Two minutes later, oblivious of David’s consternation, she began snapping, pausing to delete and reframe. “O.K. All right,” David said. “Got it? O.K.? All right? O.K., great, goodbye, thanks!”
He asked what his companion was having. “I can’t order unless I know what everybody else is getting,” he said. “I don’t want to lose lunch.” Then, the necessary rigmarole concluded, he declared that writing for the stage had proved challenging. “I thought, I can write in as many sets as I want. They told me otherwise. And apparently I have too many scenes and too many characters—eighteen!” The acting was different, too: “I learned I can’t turn and face the person I’m talking to, and that I can’t look at the audience. I said to the director, ‘Suppose a character is acting like a jerk. Can’t I turn and’ ”— He rolled his eyes and tilted his head: This guy! “She said, ‘No! You cannot!’ There’s a fourth wall.”
Still, David said, he was enjoying it all much more than he expected. In fact, he really couldn’t complain. “But I’m done with new fields of endeavor,” he added hastily. “This is it. I never had a bucket list, and, if I had, this wouldn’t have been on it.”
What does he make of setting a Broadway record for advance ticket sales—$13.5 million? David broke into a huge grin: “Maybe I’m popular!” He ate some turkey club. “But in a way it’s not so great. Because it could have been a win-win situation. If the play was really good, it would have sold anyway, and, if it stank, it would close in a week and then you go home. Now if the play stinks it’s win-lose: it keeps going, but . . .” But everyone hates you for making them shell out to see it? “Exactly!” he cried. “It could be the worst outcome possible!” ?
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