A man who had suspiciously slipped out of the audience and into the backstage area of the Off-Broadway venue was spied by Abraham, who has worked with the troupe in the past. He alerted the house manager, Jody Christopherson, who screamed when she found a man crouching in the dressing-room, according to a spokesman for the theatre.
Abraham, who won the Academy Award for his work in "Amadeus," but is also a frequent player on New York City stages, confronted the man, who punched the actor in the face and escaped through the stage door. The company rushed backstage to assist.
The performance (part of a reading series investigating Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing) was halted while police were called and the performers checked their personal belongings. Actresses Martha Plimpton and Autumn Dornfeld discovered that a bag and wallet, respectively, were missing. Abraham, who was not seriously injured, was treated with ice at the theatre, and went to the police station with Plimpton, a spokesman said.
The presentation continued, with another performer stepping in for Plimpton.
"We are deeply grateful to F. Murray Abraham for his heroic intervention last evening, as well as to the entire acting ensemble that rushed to his defense," CSC artistic director Brian Kulick and executive director Jessica R. Jenen said in a statement. "This is yet another shining example of the resilience and deep dedication of New York's extraordinary acting community that not only stopped an intruder mid-crime but then rushed back onstage to continue the show. They have our deepest respect and thanks." CSC leaders are trying to determine if the man got into the show without a ticket, as he was clearly part of the audience.
The public reading-rehearsal of Much Ado About Nothing also featured Bill Buell, Oscar Issacs, Jonathan Cake, Herb Foster, Luis Moreno and Steven Rattazzi, under the direction of Michael Sexton.
One audience observer indicated that the intruder appeared to be quietly listening to his cell phone during the performance just before he slipped backstage. The warehouse-like CSC space is not a traditional proscenium venue, so access to backstage is within feet of the seating, depending on where one is sitting.
CSC executive director Jenen told Playbill.com, "During my six-year tenure here at CSC we have never had a criminal incident. For all public events we have a large professional staff working to insure the safety of our patrons, including our general manager, assistant general manager, box office and house managers, ticket takers and ushers.
"Backstage personnel for main stage productions include a production stage manager, assistant stage manager, one or two crew members and one or two wardrobe staff.
"Between our front of house and backstage staff we have always taken excellent care of both our patrons and our artists. Obviously, no system is fail safe, and even the White House has been susceptible to party crashers. The police believe that they have several leads thanks to security cameras and information gathered from participants. We will, obviously, be reviewing all of our security protocols to insure even further protection for the future."