I kept apologizing. In rehearsal this afternoon, as I wrestled with Allison Gregory’s fierce modern Medea in the final moment of the play – when she finally steps forward not as a woman of fury but as a woman of grief. Not as a murderer, but as a mother who has lost everything. I was so full, brimming, with heat and rage and terror. The strange ingredients of loss, when melancholy becomes explosive and deafening. I kept apologizing because I couldn’t control it; I wasn’t wielding my emotions like a tool, like subtext, like “the fuel that fires the engine of action” that I teach my students. I was just overcome. I’m so sorry, I kept saying.
This deep, hot, unwieldy grief is in me and I’ve been its container without release since my brother Frank passed away in 2013. When I lost him, suddenly Acting felt useless. Artificial. A distraction from the real life that plays out in the sun. My work, always everything to me – the answer to every equation. The clearest way to express joy or profound love. The most noble forum to share, purge, make sense of injustice and heartbreak. When Frank died, suddenly it seemed clear that the work I’d made my life had actually been my greatest hindrance. I’d spent my whole life in rehearsal – pretending to be people I wasn’t, developing imaginary relationships – while the people I loved were out in the air, living. Or suffering. Needing me. Instead of standing next to them, I turned around and traced their shadows over and over again without ever turning back to catch a real look at the sun. In 2013 my bones were still bruised from birthing my last show, Riddled, which did not go on to lead the life I’d dreamt for it (this is how it goes sometimes with children), and suddenly my appetite ran dry. I didn’t want fiction. I wanted family. I wrapped my limbs around the people closest to me and tried to stare directly ahead.
It was never really what I chose, I think, to do this sort of thing. Theatre. Telling stories out loud in front of strangers. It was always just the simplest solution. My natural form. How some people take to swimming. That is how I stepped onstage. And as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never really been able to fully know myself in any other way, or to understand the way the world works or the ways we humans flail around in any other practice. I tried to go to business school. I tried to get married. I’ve tried driving back and forth across the country again and again. And I tried to give it up when I lost Frank. I tried so desperately to just be a normal fucking person. Scared and sad, I refused to reach into the mire of my emotions for any elective reason.
But today I did. For Medea. And for Allison, and my beautiful friend Micky, and for my scene partners Keiko Green and Connor Toms who rang out like church bells filled with talent and promise and voice. And it felt wonderful. Like I was a well swollen with groundwater waiting to be sprung, waiting to be funny, to collide with an audience, to listen deeply to another actor with full presence, to feel. Scared. Sad. Outrageous.
I’m out of practice. But I think it’s finally time. To make something new. To step inside fiction in order to really, really get at the truth of things. Of course (the thing that terrifies me most) when I take pen to paper I can only write about Frank, really. The mettle in my bones points to great purpose, like a magnet gripping North. I write about Frank, about Adam, about my brothers and their wonder and deep wisdom nestled inside their autism and delusions, about my father’s magic and the way he accidentally set the house on fire and smiled when I took a picture. About my mom. The pageant gowns she’d sew for me, directing all her time and patience and loving attention to getting me ready to go out and stand in front of other people and smile.
We’re doing an invited reading of NOT MEDEA this Wednesday 7/8/15 at Seattle Repertory Theatre at 7pm. Send me a message if you’d like to be on the list.