Miss Tammy Grimes

I’m happy not to be a drunk 20something, stumbling through life in oblivion.

I fully realize not all 20somethings are suffering from inebriated idiocy, but when I went to see Tammy Grimes at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room, I had the displeasure of sitting near a dude and his lady — maybe they were 25 — who had been enjoying a few drinks before arriving at the cabaret.

Just what were they doing at a Tammy Grimes show? I’m certain they had no idea who she was or what kind of show they were in for. Chances are, they had no clue she was a two-time Tony Award winner (best actress, Private Lives, 1970, and best featured actress, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1961). They were likely ignorant of the fact that she was once married to Christopher Plummer or that she turned down the role of Samantha Stevens in the TV show “Bewtiched.”

What they saw, when the show began, was a 73-year-old woman, dressed all in black, emerge from the wings and begin singing the very old-fashioned “The Rose of Washington Square,” which then turned into a sprightly “Ring Them Bells.”

Grimes’ voice has always been more about character than about purity, which is why it was good for the theater. To the uninitiated it may sound like something akin to warbling and catterwauling.

Dude and Lady whispered and giggled — and drank — all through the first half of the show, which included a Tom Waits tune (“Martha”), some corny country (“Could I Have This Dance?”) and even a Jimmy Buffet tune (the sweet “He Went to Paris”).

Before Grimes could get to her signature tune, “You Better Love Me While You May” (from High Spirits), Dude and Lady up and left. Oh, thank heavens.

Grimes wasn’t for them, and I can’t say as I blame them. If you didn’t come into the Empire Plush Room already a fan, Grimes’ impersonal stage presence and her heavily scripted banter probably wouldn’t win any converts.

But in terms of watching a Broadway veteran whose friends numbered Roddy McDowall, Noel Coward and Kitty Carlisle Hart (who gave Grimes the turquoise butterfly pin she was wearing), the show was interesting, especially during numbers like Brecht-Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” and Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You.”

It was a little bit of Broadway history as Grimes launched into a few songs from Molly Brown (never a favorite score of mine) and even ncluded a little dialogue. She sang Harve Presenell’s song (“I’ll Never Say No”) and boasted that she could now sing it in his key.

Grimes never quite connected with her audience and remained seated — a la Mabel Mercer — for most of the 70-minute show. After her encore, “It Never Was You,” she didn’t stick around for the applause. She bolted back into the wings, and that was the last we saw of her.

It was a peculiar show — featuring the sterling arrangements and beautiful accompaniment of Dennis Buck — played out at a brisk pace. It seemed, in the end, like Grimes didn’t really want to be there, and if she had known that young Dude and Lady didn’t care for the act, Grimes likely would have shrugged it off in her uniquely unsinkable fashion.

Tammy Grimes’ show continues through Nov. 11 at the Empire Plush Room in the York Hotel, 940 Sutter St., San Francisco. For informationo visit www.theempireplushroom.com.