Visitation

Tuesdays at Nine, the cold reading series which I co-host and co-curate every week, has a set formula for the evening’s presentations.  We put up four multi-character pieces (i.e. plays, filmscripts, webisodes, that sort of thing), with a musical guest in between them performing two new songs.  Before all of that, we put up a solo piece – an excerpt from a novel, a solo show, that sort of thing.  It’s a strict formula that still allows for a significant measure of variation.  With the solo pieces, for instance, it’s just as likely for us to put up a piece a writer has written for somebody else to perform – a character wildly different from them in terms of age or gender, for instance – as it is for the writer to read the piece themselves.  As a result, it’s entirely possible for an actor to come to Tuesdays and be asked to cold-read a large monologue for somebody.

This must be understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the tale I am about tonight.

We’ll call the actress in this story Phoebe, since I’m not trying to embarrass her.  And she has nothing to be embarrassed about; she’s a fine actor, and so we selected her to read the monologue going up as last week’s solo piece.  (It was actually one of three connected monologues, each with a different performer, that went up as the “solo” piece.  Told you we had a significant measure of variation.) It was one of those moments when a performer connects with a piece on a level that can’t really be explained, when the material resonates at the deepest level of the actor’s soul.  So it was no mere reading.  Possessed by the spirit of the character, Phoebe was not content to hold still behind the music stand.  The muse pulled her to and fro as she gesticulated furiously, pointing to the heavens.

Until she shouted out in pain.

It would have been easy to think it was part of the performance – most in the audience did, at first – but I knew the script we were putting up and I knew this wasn’t part of it.  Phoebe had exerted herself so ferociously, and caught herself at a sufficiently awkward angle, that she’d injured one of her joints.  We stopped the reading for a few minutes, so she could go and get medical attention.  (She’s fine, otherwise I wouldn’t be posting this.)

After the delay, the evening proceeded as normally as possible.  It was a good evening, in fact, with a lot of strong material and heartfelt performances.  But Phoebe’s injury cast a pall over everything for me.  I kept wondering – was there anything I could have done to prevent it?  I stress each week that it’s a workshop for new writing, and with the focus on that the actors don’t need to do anything other than sit in their chairs.  Was I not clear?  Not authoritative enough?  An actor had gotten injured on my watch – was I at fault somehow?

These thoughts plagued me all through the night.  The next morning, of course, I woke to the news that Christopher Durang – for my money the definitive American playwright of his generation, the master of absurd satire – had passed away.  I was heartbroken, though as Durang had been suffering from aphasia for a few years I wasn’t surprised. 

And then, everything became clear.  Because it fits so completely with the oeuvre of the man.   “I dislocated my shoulder doing a monologue” is as completely Durang a thing to say as possible.  In fact I’m pretty sure it is a line of his dialogue.  (Probably from ‘dentity Crisis.)

And so I choose to believe that, before his spirit took his final leave for parts unknown, the spirit of Christopher Durang chose to visit our Christopher Street theatre, revealed itself to the unsuspecting Phoebe, and blessed us with one last piece of theatrical mayhem.  I suspect that any weird and wonderful mishaps that any theatres might have experienced that night may have had a similar, supernatural explanation.  At any rate, as somebody who came of age with his works, and who’s trying to keep his spirit alive today (along with the actors who show up every Tuesday), I find some comfort in the thought.

Plus we had an earthquake and a solar eclipse within a week afterwards.  That seems on brand as well.

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