Originally appeared The New York Sun.
Once, I had occasion to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. I was on crutches at the time, and at a reception after an opening-night performance of “The Dybbuk.” While leaning against a wall and eating a smoked-salmon canapé, I felt heat on my lower back. Smelling smoke, I craned my head to see a small candle igniting my shirt, and flames licking their way up toward my collar. The reactions around me were diverse and instructive. A woman shrieked, and a man laughed. But neither did anything. I picked up my crutches, hobbled to the open bar and asked them to douse me. Incredibly, the barmaid started by daintily pressing ice cubes against the flames, until I suggested that she just drench me with the contents of her bucket.