We’ve been going to Playmakers for years, always with tickets to Cheapskate, er, Preview Fridays. They’re a good deal. A season ticket comes to, oh, $13 a show or so, and for that you get your equity acting, the occasional Judd Hirsch-Rosemary Harris blockbuster, and to say a word for the home team, one nifty performance after another by the regulars, Ray Dooley, Julie Fishell et. al. What could be wrong with that?

Well, nothing except that it’s Preview Friday; we live in Raleigh, and the drive over at the end of a tough week is a pain. So after missing, like, three out of five shows last year–and yes, I know they make it easy to trade ’em, but the drive over is still a pain Monday-through-Thursday–we didn’t renew this year. Which is how, in a roundabout way, we came to attend the current production, Side Man, on Saturday. Opening Night! A friend comped us the tickets. I do not know how much they cost. But I’m going to find out, and then I’m going to see what other luxuries can be eliminated from our budget to make room for this one. (Those burgers from Char-Grill, for instance. How long can it take to cook a burger?)

Because here’s the thing. Preview Friday is to Opening Night! what Char-Grill is to the Angus Barn, except Opening Night doesn’t cost all that much more if you can somehow get tickets–but that’s another problem, since it looked to be sold out.

The first thing that’s different: the audience. Preview Friday attracts cheapskates like myself, who don’t–how to put this nicely?–dress well. Yes, it’s theater, but it’s not the theater. Opening Night is the theater, and you are a patron of the arts, you and Bill Friday and a lot of other well-dressed folks you think you recognize but have never actually seen up close before. Lest there be any doubt of your status, Playmakers impresario David Hammond himself comes onstage before the performance to chat you up and mention how a well-considered financial contribution would serve us all quite brilliantly.

As I say, we’ve been going to Playmakers for years, but we’d never laid eyes on David Hammond before.

We had a chance to meet him, though–David (Dave?), Julie, Ray and all the other stars of our company–at the gala reception following the performance. Been going for years. Gala reception? Never heard of it. Wine and little sandwiches and elegant dips and a sleek wait staff at our beck-and-call. Preview Friday, the peanuts were a buck-fifty. Well, we’re not going back. I have seen the future, and it’s got free Chardonnay. Side Man, by the way, was terrific. We all thought so.