Veteran actress Viveca Lindfors, whose stage and screen career spans half a century, was slashed across the face and ear early Saturday by a member of a gang in New York's Greenwich Village. But, after leaving the hospital with 28 stitches, she managed to perform at a Saturday matinee, reading poetry with her theater troupe.
In the same neighborhood, minutes before the assault, the attacker, described by Lindfors as a white man about 19 years old, also apparently slashed Dennis Beal, 36, across the face and neck. It took 40 stitches to close his wound.
In a city where random violence often appears routine, the crime and the pluck of the actress struck a nerve. Members of the audience applauded when she appeared to read poetry less than 12 hours after being released from St. Vincent's Hospital.
"He must have taken my face in his hands and cut me at the same time," Lindfors, 69, said after the performance. " . . . It was pure violence, pure violence, and that's disturbing."
Police said Lindfors and three friends had just emerged from a condominium in Greenwich Village and were talking on the sidewalk when a group of five men and two women, by the actress' account, ran past, and the man slashed her. Police said the same man apparently cut Beal on the right side of his face from the bottom of his ear to his throat. Beal was walking on the street when what is believed to be the same gang came up behind him.
Detectives said the incidents occurred within five minutes of each other and 3 blocks apart. They said robbery apparently was not the motive.
Lindfors said the attacker was a tall white man, and other members of the racially mixed gang appeared appalled at what he had done. The attacker said nothing to the actress during the slashing, but Lindfors said one of her companions later told her that other gang members were saying: "What is he doing? What is he doing now?"
"I think the gang was not really with him on doing what he was doing," Lindfors said.
After returning home at 5:30 a.m. from the hospital, Lindfors surprised family members by getting up 4 1/2 hours later and preparing to go to the small second-floor studio near Times Square where her theater company had scheduled a poetry reading.
The gray-haired actress, who was born in Sweden and came to the United States in 1946, read several poems before talking with reporters at the end of the performance.
Shaler McClure, an actress in the production, said Lindfors had called her at home to announce that the performance was still going on.
"When I first met her for the first performance in June, I was very nervous about going on with very little rehearsal," McClure recalled. "Viveca said, 'You'll do just fine. In this business, 90% is just showing up.' And that's what she did today."
Lindfors, who has appeared in dozens of theatrical productions, motion pictures and television shows, and who is a founder of the Berkshire Theater Festival, said she went on stage "as a way of getting yourself back into normality."
"If you lie there, thinking about your . . . " She began to laugh before the sentence was completed. " . . . I don't know any other way to deal with it than to try to get my group together to do poetry and try to get yourself above it somehow."
She said she hoped the slasher's companions would turn him in. "I am just hoping people in the gang will get in touch with their morality and give him up so he can get some help.
" . . . This kid must have been very passionate, very turbulent, and if you could channel that quality into something creative, he might become a very important human being," said the actress, who has appeared in productions ranging from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" to "Brecht on Brecht" to "Pal Joey." She paused for just a second. "I think he is now a sad character."