• Bob Puglisi

Gate 11 and hostages in the park – September 2020

Gate 11 opened at the Burbank Theatre Guild in 1985. This was its world premiere. The play is best described as a hostage/hijacker drama by J. Reed. The author could have been anonymous because we never met him, and he never came to the theatre. With a cast of 20+ characters, the theatre was turned into an airliner. Upon entering the theatre, most of the audience was unaware that they would be participants in a hijacking.

The theatre was under the artistic direction of two young actors. This was their first production. The play’s executive producer was Joan E. Nelson, a woman from Las Vegas. We found out later in the run that the playwright J. Reed was Joan Nelson. Her young son was in the play, and she wrote it as a vehicle to help promote his acting career. Gate 11 refers to an airline arrival/departure gate.

At the time, this was pre-911, there had been many airline hijackings. The author was also making a statement about them. Oh yeah, I played President Assad who was an Osama Bin Laden type or maybe President Assad of Iraq. I was directly responsible for the hijacking.

In the first act, the plane is taken over by armed hijackers sitting among the audience members.

At intermission, the audience with guns aimed at them is led out of the theatre, and into the park where the theatre is located, and surrounded by the hijackers. On our first weekend, several kids riding bikes through the park during our intermission noticed what was going on, reported back to their parents who subsequently called the police. The entire audience and actors were back in the theatre and Act 2 was underway when we heard a helicopter circling above. We were unaware that the police had arrived and didn’t find out until after the show.

The incident made quite a stir. I think it made the local TV news. Needless to say, it boosted our attendance for the rest of the run. Most performances were sold out. I can’t say for certain, but some believed that Joan Nelson called the cops for the publicity and the story about the kids was untrue.

One of the fun things that happened, the actor Roscoe Lee Browne came backstage after one of our performances to congratulate us on a great show. I will never forget Roscoe saying in his gravelly voice, “You guys scared the s**t out of me.

It was a great opportunity for me as an actor. There were so many good actors in the cast you couldn’t help but shine. I dressed as an Arab with a turban (which was a little controversial for a middle east despot to wear a turban). I also wore robes and spoke with an accent. We received rave reviews in the Los Angeles newspapers. There was an agent at the play who like me and signed me as a client.

Ironically, a few years later, that agent and her agency ran into financial trouble and Joan Nelson took over the agency in which I was still a client. Joan liked me and for a short time, she represented me. After that, I don’t know what happened to Joan, her husband, and son. They may have gone back to Las Vegas.

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