Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kind Ness (Winter: 1992)

Having made the decision to proceed chronologically, I am still not quite prepared for today.

I finished up "On The Verge" at URI, ending my college theater career once and for all. I moved into an apartment in Providence with a good friend from high school and a college friend of his. We shared a giant three bedroom apartment for $450 a month. Yes, we each had to cough up the giant sum of $150 a month.

I was taking in a paycheck doing children's theater. I can't really quantify how much I was learning in that arena but suffice it to say that room after room full of eight year old audiences will hone your energy real quick if you have any talent to begin with. Those kids don't know about TACT so they will just start talking to each other or themselves if they are bored. So you better be interesting. It should be like military service in France. Obligatory if you want to be an actor.

To augment that salary I was still working several shifts a week at the group homes. This combination of income made making my rent a piece of cake.

I sought out other opportunity in the strange little theater world of Providence. There was a notice put up for auditions at Perishable Theater for a play called "Kind Ness" by Ping Chong. I signed up.

I got the part and my life was changed forever.

I was still dating Marissa when rehearsals started but before we opened we'd broken up for good. I remember one rehearsal in particular I showed up at Perishable in tears because I'd finally broken it off with her. I wasn't sad that the relationship was over, no, that was definitely the right thing. But it served to show me how lost I was, how far from a true connection, how alone.

"Kind Ness" was like being thrust inside one of Joseph Cornell's boxes. Everything was beautiful and strange. Everything had multiple meanings. Stories existed on a basic plot level but also spread out to stranger places, twisting in and out of reality like a skein of mineral woven through coal.

Kate Lohman directed, being the first person ever to cast me who wasn't in some way connected to the University of Rhode Island. This was a big boost for me, to know that my work translated to strangers and wasn't only a function of familiarity. She was great to work with. The play is very conceptual and she'd clearly thought all of that through but the main thrust of her direction dealt with the relationships.

Chong's play tells the story of a group of children. We follow their lives from elementary school to young adulthood. They get their hearts broken, they go off to the Vietnam War, they sell out, they have nervous breakdowns. In other words, they are like everyone else.

But one of them is different. Buzz. Everyone remembers when Buzz came to the school for the first time. Buzz is a gorilla.

A kind of love triangle ensues between my character, Buzz and Lulu, the pin-up free spirit whose lack of inhibition sends her down a frightening path of her own.

We watch the innocent games that they play as youngsters shift and morph until they are hardened young adults still gunning for that kind of abandon without any of the freedom they didn't know they'd taken for granted.

It is a devastating work, one that I continue to think about all these years later.

A woman named Maria McManus was cast as Lulu. I knew no one in the cast which was also something new for me. I remember being very nervous on the first day of rehearsal, a table read of the play in a brick conference room at Perishable headquarters. I was literally in my first adult phase even though I was twenty three years old.

I was about to grow up fast.

I was still reeling from my breakup with Marissa. I was struggling to adjust to living on my own. I was in shock at my college life having ended. I threw myself into this play as if it was the last thing on earth.

Weeks went by before I started relating to the cast as actual people, so deep was I into the world of the play. Everyone gathered at a local bar one night. Maria and I wound up sitting next to each other and flew into a monster of a conversation. I don't remember the details, Maria might. But I walked away stunned at the connection I was feeling.

And worried. Maria had just gotten married a couple of months earlier.

I tried to divert the feelings. I wondered what to do. I was coming off a relationship that had in retrospect been nothing but a physical attraction wrapped up in a false connection promoted by the unity of a cast. I sure as hell didn't want to go down that road again, especially with a married woman.

I was also coming to terms with how negative my outlook on the world had become. Aside from my wonderful theater experiences, my personal life had been turbulent to an almost absurd level in college. It soured me, made me mistrust everyone, discount everything.

Somehow the connection I discovered with Maria changed all that. Coming so fast on the heels of such a disastrous explosive relationship, it made me realize that yes, I was a moral person, I did have standards, I didn't want some empty fling, I wanted a real relationship.

Unfortunately the person I discovered this through was already in a real relationship.

We tried to ignore it for a time but then it became impossible to get around it. We had a lunch near where she worked, to talk.

It is hard to go back to these moments now. So much has happened. Almost twenty years has passed. She ultimately left her husband to be with me. We broke up once in Providence, got back together once I moved to New York, got married, had the amazing Cashel, got divorced ourselves.

But that lunch was the start of it all, really. I could tell that she was confused and half-heartedly hoping that I would be up for some illicit connection. But I simply couldn't bring myself to open that particular can of worms. I had to protect myself.

And throughout it all we were performing this amazing play, this strange fever dream of a vision. At the end of the play my character Alvin has lost everything. The girl he has loved since he was eight has chosen a gorilla over him. The gorilla, Buzz, was his best friend. He went to Vietnam and came back in a wheelchair. His existence has eroded, like a majestic rock at the confluence of a river and the sea, ultimately worn down to a minute pebble.

This situation would drag on for months after the play closed. I wrote songs at a feverish rate and the pain forced new levels of artistry out of me.

I was so young.

It seems impossible that I could have been so young. I felt so old at the time, so burdened. I left the cast party closing night feeling as if I was driving over the edge of a horizon, but not the horizon I grew up with, the real horizon as I knew it to exist.

No, the horizon I sped towards was as it seemed to explorers of yesteryear, a mythic drop which lead to God knows where, who knows why. I screamed as I drove, thinking that I would never ever recover, just hoping that I wouldn't fall forever.

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