Thursday, March 25, 2010

I, Proteus

Nagle Jackson directed me in 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane' at Playmakers Rep in Chapel Hill. That experience was life changing for me in too many ways to count. It was my first Equity job, I met Melody, I got healthy for the first time in my adult life.

So when Nagle called me and asked me to come to Santa Fe for thirteen weeks to play Proteus in 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' I jumped at the chance. An actor had to drop out at the last minute so I didn't have to audition, I just had to get on a plane. My daily life was quite stressful so I'd be lying if I said that I'd have gone anywhere to do any play. The Santa Fe/Shakespeare connection was icing on a troubled cake.

The best part of this gig was that I'd be reunited with some old friends from Providence. Tim, Laura, and their son Revere. Or Reeve as I knew him. Laura and I had met while doing the play 'Kind Ness' at Perishable Theater, the same production in which I met Maria.

They'd lived in Santa Fe for some time and I looked forward to seeing them on a regular basis again.

I was housed in a pink adobe type hotel/apartment complex and given a Volkswagen Beetle with flowers painted on it to drive around in. They seemed apologetic about this but I was over the moon. I'd owned a Karmann Ghia in college but still vaguely remembered driving around in a Beetle with my folks when I was one or two.

I could walk to rehearsal, there was a pool on the premises, and I got a temporary membership at the gym up the street so I could work out.

The landscape was a shock. I'd never spent any time in the West. It took me about twelve of the thirteen weeks to acclimate myself. I wish I'd been able to shift faster but I spent much of my time like some New York cliche, chafing at the pace and style, bitching about how you couldn't find a newspaper and that life shut down after nightfall.

I could have been taking hikes, exploring the insane landscape of the Southwest, drinking in my surroundings. I was wound too tight from the stress of what I'd left behind to unravel in a new place. In fact, I think I just relaxed this past year for the first time.

We were to perform outdoors in a theater nestled high up in the foothills at St. John's College. The backdrop was unbelievably beautiful. The rehearsal space was in the center of town and our stage manager had taped out the dimensions of our stage in the room. It seemed huge and it was, especially when put into its actual context under the stars.

There must have been some amplification of our voices but I know we weren't wearing individual mikes and the performances were informed by how loud you'd have to be to reach 1,000 people sitting out of doors with all of the sounds of nature adding to the tapestry.

Nagle Jackson had a style so relaxed that it sometimes seemed as if we were barely rehearsing. I still am not sure how he did it. Especially since there was quite a bit of intricate staging in the play. It was like watching a lawn grow. You start with dirt and the next thing you know everywhere is green. And you don't feel like you did anything in particular to make it happen.

I spent a good bit of time outside of rehearsal sitting with Tim, Laura and Reeve in their apartment, talking about their lives, my life, life in general. Storms were brewing in my life (I was to break up with Maria in January in New York, it was August in Santa Fe) but in general I was content in the desert.

Proteus is a character who betrays his love to pursue the love of his best friend. He lies, cheats, and ultimately threatens taking the object of his affection by force. He comes to his senses and restores his friendship and his love. All is forgiven. Shakespeare was not rigid in his views of humanity. He created a character who could contain those complexities and he trusted the audience to accept it.

The legend of Proteus involves him transforming into various beasts even though he was nominally associated with the ocean.

I wandered around the desert like a chameleon pressed up against a kaleidoscope. The ease with which we mounted the play and the reunion with my old friends left me relaxed enough to be able to truly contemplate my predicament. I felt once removed from the stress but could see it playing upon me all the same.

At the time I couldn't help but view my desire to change my life as some sort of defect of character. I couldn't imagine choosing to be away from Cashel on a daily basis but I couldn't imagine staying married, either. It has taken me a long time to handle that juxtaposition, to believe that I can be a good father in spite of the dissolution of the union.

This has been difficult in my relationship with Melody, it has wreaked havoc in my sense of self, and it has left me at times completely lost. Just as quickly I'll feel one-hundred percent FOUND and at ease, which while reassuring is MADDENING in its unpredictability.

Tim and Laura talked me through all of this as it happened, not in spastic waves of emotion but over tea, calmly. I'll never forget it and I'll always be grateful to them for that. And to everyone else who approached my ledge hoping to talk me down from it.

And to Nagle Jackson and Shakespeare for giving me my day in the sun.

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