Mind • Memory
I sat in the balcony of a theatre at the University of Michigan tonight watching the first dress rehearsal of my dear friend Tim Ocel's production of Cloud Nine, byCaryl Churchill. I was there because a) I love Tim, b) I love universities, c) I love students, d) I love process, and e) I love theatre and actors (though I will deny this last point if asked about it in public). But mostly I was there because I needed to remember.
When I was in college, over twenty years ago, I was in a production of Cloud Nine. What I remember as being a very good production of Cloud Nine. With what I know was a truly great group of actors whom I still adore—each in their respective ways—to this day. Every one of them. We had a wonderful design team. And we had a director who was—looking back on it—a sort of sleeper, sneak-attack great director.
I can remember our act one like it was just a moment ago. Line readings, both mine and everyone else's, blocking, costumes, even lighting. Funny thing, though: Act Two? Not so much. Actually, almost nothing. I could remember who played who (the second act moves some of the first act characters forward in time with doublings that do or don't resonate in particular ways) but that's about it. That bothered me. I had great feelings about having been in that show, I just couldn't remember half of the show.
Here's what I learned tonight in Ann Arbor: my childhood isn't the only thing I've suppressed. This is, as far as I'm concerned, not great news. I'd really thought that the curtain of mist was drawn neatly between my leaving high school and my arriving at college. Turns out the mist crept, or—and this is worrying—is creeping. BUT, and I say this with a huge sense of relief, you can't sit in a darkened theatre and watch your childhood played out in front of you. You can, however, sit in a darkened theatre and watch act two of Cloud Nine. And, tonight, I did.
Turns out I blacked out act two of Cloud Nine for the same reason I blacked out the first chunk of my life: I wasn't ready for it at the time. Simple as that. Watching the characters on stage tonight, particularly Edward, the character for whom I had responsibility, was sooooooo strange. I had no idea what they were about to say or do, but as they said it and did it my desiccated memory cells rehydrated. I remembered everything. Everything about my failure to "get" act two. Where I had absolute confidence—in college!—in playing the middle-aged, tyrannical, and irredeemably straight father of an Victorian English family in colonial Africa, I could not even begin to play a 20th century, young, doubtful, sexually ambiguous gardner who just wants a domestically and physically fulfilling relationship.
Could. Not. Play it.
(I would like to state, for the record, that were such an assignment given me now? I'd fucking KILL IT!)
But… it was a real gift to sit in that theater tonight and remember when I couldn't kill it. And to hear some of the wonderful words that are in that play that I couldn't hear back then, even with the repetition of rehearsal and performance.
And, in this chunk of my life, for which I often feel just as unprepared, they killed me:
Victoria: Would you love me if I loved ten other people?
Lin: And me?
You've got to respect a life that gives you multiple shots at "getting it." I know I do.