Tag Archive | Saint Joan

REMEMBERING JOAN

“The light comes at the same time as the Voice…I would that every one could hear the Voice as I hear it.”

Every actor has at least one dream role they must play before they die. For me, that role was Saint Joan. I still consider her the most profound and invigorating acting challenge of my life and I am deeply grateful I got to play her before I was too old. I do, of course, wish that I could go back and take another crack at it, knowing what I do now, with all of the experience I’ve gleaned since then. Joan is notorious, though, for being a tough nut to crack and I know that I did the best I could for her at the time. I’m sure the timing was right, anyway, because spending countless hours in her skin gave me the courage I needed in other areas of my life back then.

Any time I write about Joan, I mention that she won’t leave me alone, and that she still crosses my path even 12 years later. I was looking through a box in my closet the other day and came across this photo that I hadn’t seen in forever, that I had completely forgotten about. Sure enough, it was coming up on an important date. Jeanne D’Arc died on this day, nearly 600 years ago. It’s obvious to me that her spirit lives on.

HIT BY AN ‘A’ TRAIN

A Train

I don’t think I realized how much the play I’m working on would get under my skin. All of them do–even the scenes I explored in acting classes–but there have only been a few roles that yank me so far in that it’s hard to find my way out. Saint Joan was the big one. She followed me around everywhere, wouldn’t leave me alone. She was the most demanding of anyone I’d ever played–both emotionally and physically–and I was stick-a-fork-in-me done by the end of that run. She still crosses my path here and there. This time, it’s more the subject matter that’s getting to me…or maybe the head-space of a character who feels so guilty and responsible for a tragic outcome that she can barely live with herself.

I’d read Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train a couple of times over the years and always wanted to work on one of the scenes in class. I never found a partner to do it with and my understanding of the play was superficial at best, kind of like–I want to play a good lawyer scene. And then I actually got cast as Mary Jane and was excited but for a good stretch of my rehearsal process it all felt really distant from me, as if this was the first character I’d ever tackled who had nothing to do with me or my real life. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that every character who enters my sphere has something to do with what I’m currently and personally grappling with, so I couldn’t understand why Mary Jane didn’t. Until she did.

Digging into the text with my directors, we uncovered MJ’s history with an alcoholic father, her efforts at recovery through therapy and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, the inexplicable loyalty she still feels towards her father and his rogue sense of justice, the ego she’s developed over her plea-bargaining and trial skills, the poverty she lives in as an underpaid Public Defender and her working-class background that helps her identify even more closely with the clients she defends.

As I started to build from those facts, I realized how much I actually did identify with Mary Jane, even though the circumstances of our lives were different. I, too, come from a childhood that contained deep trauma, that was difficult to make sense of and that has had repercussions throughout my adulthood. I, too, have found myself believing that I could somehow reverse those experiences by falling in with people who reflected my upbringing in mysterious ways. And I, too, have felt that encouraging a person’s (many different persons) potential strongly enough would be sufficient to change a life.

Then, add to that mix, the research I did into the criminal justice system; combined with the on-going despair I’ve felt about our country’s vicious track record when it comes to prison time, racism and police brutality; combined with the stories a former corrections officer brought into one of our rehearsals; combined with the experience of living in Boston again after 11 years away; combined with an incredible scene partner in the role of Angel who brings beautifully complex work to the table and…it’s a lot.

Since our last couple of weeks of rehearsal and into our run, I’ve had a very hard time shaking this play when I leave the theater. I can’t find a way to decompress after shows and I drive the long way home to calm down. It’s to the point where I can only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, my dreams are entirely from Mary Jane’s world, and I wake myself up crying, thinking that I’ve fucked it all up for good and destroyed a man’s life. And, at the same time, I’m so sad that our run is nearly over and I won’t get to continue on with Mary Jane indefinitely. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. But it’s such a rare and wonderful gift when this happens…for a character to blaze into my life with such intensity that I have to make room for her and learn what she has to teach me.

MY FRIEND MARC

August 20, 2009.

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. 
– Frederick Buechner

Another friend of mine passed away yesterday. I met Marc during the amazing experience of Saint Joan. He was cast in two roles in the ensemble and he was the costumer who created a gorgeous vision with no money and multiple trips to Goodwill. We got very close and he was one of my kindest, most vocal supporters. He often pulled me aside after rehearsal or a performance to tell me how much I had moved him at a certain moment. We were in a lot of scenes together so I often delivered text to him because of his generous spirit on stage. He was the first person to run backstage and check on me after I almost fainted during the opening prologue one night. He was a huge fan of old Hollywood and on one of our costume shopping trips he took me around Sunset Boulevard to tell me the history behind the architecture.

Marc was in his early forties and felt that, as much as he loved acting, it wasn’t enough of a passion for him to continue pursuing it. He thought that if he was going to make it as an actor it would have happened by then. He worked a full-time corporate job for Sony Studios but his passion was to become a candy/pastry chef and to open his own business. He was Diabetic and couldn’t eat any of the things he baked but he got incredible joy from the process. I had lunch with him last year and he told me of his decision to leave his job and go to culinary school in New York City. He had some amazing ideas about the kind of candy business he wanted to open when he finished- a unique, high-concept, shop where the candy, packaging, shipping, and storefront would all be inspired by his love of old Hollywood. We kept in touch sporadically and I heard that he was happy and loving his time in school and at an internship.

I lost touch with Marc for a few months and then happened to look up his Facebook page where I learned that he had come down with a severe case of Pneumonia. Upon admittance to the hospital it was discovered that he had a rare form of Leukemia. He underwent a brutal treatment regimen but it didn’t look good and he wanted to come home. Several of his friends went into debt to provide him with a medical flight- the only way he could travel. I e-mailed him when he got to Los Angeles to express my sympathy and to see if I could visit. He answered in good spirits, was still fighting, and said to come to the hospital any time. I sent him another message when I figured out a day but never heard back. And then it must have been a swift deterioration.

Marc had a great, gentle, humorous presence. He was a good friend when I needed one. He taught me a valuable lesson about seizing the opportunity to pursue a long held dream. Because of his willingness to take a risk and change his life, he spent what would be his last year in a state of joy and fulfillment. We don’t know how much time we are given but each moment is sacred and a gift.

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