Saying Goodbye

I do not want to write this blog post.  But I have to; a friend of mine passed away last week and it would be disrespectful of me not to say goodbye, however painful it may be.  His name was Tom Bozell; he was a terrific actor who I knew and worked with over the last decade at the cold reading series Tuesdays at Nine.  I’ve been co-creative director of that series for the last five years, but Tom was an established regular – a legend, really – when I first started going and was one of the first people there to befriend me.  He was a powerhouse of an actor and a huge part of our weekly institution, and his absence hurts.  I wish we’d had a chance to tell him just how much he meant to us, how much we respected his artistry and passion, while he was still here to appreciate it.

Except, fortunately, we did.

Another member of our community, a wonderful actor/playwright named Arielle Beth Klein (you can find some of her work here), has been developing a script through our program entitled Obit.  It’s about a man dying of cancer getting closer to his somewhat estranged niece, as she helps him settle his affairs.  (And yeah, that description stings right about now.) Since the first installment of it was read, about two or three years ago by now, Tom has portrayed that man.  Has embodied the part completely.  And two months ago, with the line between character and actor becoming ever fainter, we put the piece up in its entirety as part of our First Mondays series.

Tom was notably thinner that evening than the last time I’d seen him, but other than that illness had done nothing to diminish him.  Tom was the sort of actor for whom the word gravitas was coined, with a rich Midwestern broadcaster’s voice commanding authority.  Which meant that emotions, when required, came roaring forth like a hurricane; when moments of fear and weakness were required, seeing them embodied by one normally so forceful and vibrant made those moments hit like thunderbolts.

I do not know how many of the people packed into that theatre – and I’m not boasting idly, we really did pack them in that February night – realized that they’d be seeing Tom perform for the last time.  And honestly, I’m not sure we actually did; despite his illness he kept performing, kept living as authentically as its possible to do, right up until the end.  But the air in that room was thick with the sense of it, that our friend was sharing with us the raw truth of what he was going through.  And while it was frightening in the moment (and wonderful and thrilling and standing ovation-worthy, let’s be clear), looking back it now, it’s strangely comforting.

We got to say farewell to each other.  Tom got to say goodbye to us in exactly the way he’d want to – center stage, giving a bravura performance.    I take what solace I can from that fact.

Goodbye, my friend.  I’ll see you at the afterparty.

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