Wham, Ma’am, Thank You BAM!

Turturro braves chill for Peter Brook party

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BAM Artist Circle Chairs Chuck Nathan and Alisa Levin with John Turturro and wife Katherine Borowitz.

As John Turturro approached the head table, the president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Karen Brooks Hopkins, rose from her seat. “I present to you the consul general of Sicily,” she said in jest, introducing the actor to her tablemates, a group that included South African Consul General George Monyemangene, his wife, Louise Monyemangene, and Mr. Turturro’s better half, Katherine Borowitz.

It was a frigid night, smack in the middle of the city’s latest cold snap. Inside the grand foyer of the Peter Jay Sharp Building, however, the atmosphere was warm and bubbly. Many had braved the elements for BAM’s 2013 Theater Benefit, an evening honoring renowned British theater and film director Peter Brook and celebrating the U.S. premiere of his latest (quite beautiful) production, The Suit.

For his part, Mr. Turturro was very late. He plopped down directly to Shindigger’s right with a clownish wave, just in time for the main course, having already missed a delicious vegan spiced butternut squash and sweet banana soup.

A server rushed to Mr. Turturro’s side. “Are you vegetarian?”

“Um, no!” he shouted, reaching for a hefty portion of red-wine-marinated beef tenderloin over a less-hefty portion of saffron couscous, quickly polishing his plate clean. For a moment, Shindigger was concerned as the actor began eyeing the Mikado yellow floral arrangements. Would he devour those as well? No. He just wanted to wave an approving fork at the bouquet, it seemed.

Turning then to our left, Shindigger wondered if Mrs. Monyemangene was accustomed to sitting so far from her husband, who was positioned at the table’s opposite end.

“Oh, yes, all the time,” she sighed, confessing that this was her first BAM experience. Shindigger assured her that she was in for a treat and even convinced her to trade in a chalice of chenin blanc for the merlot we were drinking.

“Indaba wine is very popular in South Africa,” she explained.

Be that as it may, the merlot was delightfully jammy and eased our still-frostbitten soul; we refilled frequently. Ms. Hopkins soon moved to the podium and, standing beside BAM executive producer Joseph V. Melillo, addressed the room.

We spotted the artist Francesco Clemente, his wife, Alba Clemente, and former dance and theater manager Harvey Lichtenstein—namesake of the glorious Harvey Theater, where we would soon be seeing The Suit.

Eventually, man of the evening Peter Brook took the stage: “Theater is where the past and present meet,” the legend said. “That is something that can only happen in theater. That’s the strange nature of theater.”

When dinner concluded, guests were asked to enjoy dessert and then make haste. Hot beverages were wisely dished out in to-go cups. Before exiting, Shindigger struck up a conversation with Mr. Turturro.

“I live in the neighborhood and have been coming to BAM—” but that was all he could mutter before an elderly patron barged in.

“You’re too young for that part!”

The man, whose name we did not catch, was referring to Mr. Turturro’s upcoming turn as Halvard Solness in Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder, to be performed at BAM this spring.

“Actually, he’s supposed to be my age,” Mr. Turturro responded. “They always cast him a little bit older.”

“Oh, I remember it as Oskar Homolka,” the well-heeled Ibsen fan continued, recalling the late Austrian actor who played the part in a 1957 TV dramatization.

“Nah, it’s supposed to be like a guy 45 to 50,” said Mr. Turturro, now age 55.

“Really!? Feeling that old? Feeling that life is over?”

“Nice to see you,” Mr. Turturro said, turning back to us with a subtle eye-roll.

“I’ve been coming here since I first saw The Gospel at Colonus. I’ve worked here; I’m a supporter and subscriber,” he continued. “I’m looking forward to the performance.”

With that, Shindigger exchanged a glass of merlot for black coffee and headed toward the Harvey Theater beside Consul General Monyemangene.

“We want to really congratulate the cast and producers of The Suit—it’s a fitting honor,” Mr. Monyemangene told Shindigger before boarding a shuttle that was transporting guests the several blocks to the theater to avoid the arctic chill.

After watching the powerful apartheid-era drama, Shindigger caught up with its radiant star, Nonhlanhla Kheswa, at a VIP cast reception in the lobby of the Harvey Theater. “Being welcomed so warmly by everyone has been so rewarding. I’m not a Brooklynite!” she said.

(Knowing that the Soweto native started her career at age 16 in Broadway’s The Lion King, and overflowing with merlot at this point, Shindigger must admit coming dangerously close to asking Ms. Kheswa if she didn’t think we should audition for the role of Simba. But she continued the conversation, mercifully saving us the embarrassment.)

“I like everything about The Suit, mostly, but I love working with Peter Brook. He’s so insightful, so wise,” she said, standing alongside her boyfriend, whom she met at a local restaurant.

“If I could just stay in Brooklyn and not have to live in the city, I would,” she confessed. “I really dislike being in the city.” Judging from the recent cultural explosion in the area surrounding BAM, she may just get her wish.