Wednesday, May 12, 2010

True West (Winter: 1993)

My relationship with Maria was unraveling. My bass player had moved to Alaska, effectively folding the band. New York beckoned like a siren to a sailor who knew the legend. Sure I could listen to the voices but the rocks were littered with the carcasses of those foolish enough to risk the attraction. I was petrified, not in terms of fear, but fixed, fossilized prematurely.

Along came Sam Shepherd. A production of "True West" organized by the woman who'd done the choreography for "Kind Ness". She must have sensed my hair trigger mentality because she cast me as Lee, the desert drifter with a permanent chip on his shoulder as opposed to the repressed frustrated writer, Austin. Opposite me in that role she cast an excellent local actor named Chris Perrotti. A very interesting bit of opposite casting as Chris was much bigger than me. This made the intimidation factor at the center of the play very complex.

We began rehearsing. The actors playing our mother and Austin's agent respectively were weak but the play doesn't need all four to work. If you have the brothers down the thrust of the story happens no matter what.

Chris and I had a great working relationship. We enjoyed each other's company which is also crucial to the depth of the play. If there is only animosity the play is nothing but a cock fight.

The winter of 1993 was cold and wet. We put the play on out at Rhode Island College where I'd run the final race of my high school cross country career. I'd not been back on that campus since. The theater was a characterless auditorium, more like a high school events hall than a theater. But the set was excellent, designed and built by Bill Denise, and we managed to evoke the heat and desolation of a desert community in the middle of a New England winter.

I also recorded a couple of my songs to be used as sound cues. I clearly was over-identifying with the sunburnt brain-scape of Lee and I think it hastened my departure from my relationship and from my home state.

I would rub dirt all over myself to prepare. I didn't wash my costume between shows. I poured beer over my head (non-alcoholic, of course) and didn't shave.

It was a good show. The fight between the brothers that precedes the stand-off ending was brutal, and since the director was a choreographer she was great with the movement aspect of such a confrontation. I wound up with a phone cord wrapped around my neck bucking underneath my brother like a wolf caught in a trap.

The post show beer was always very sweet with this one as Chris and I continually needed to reconnect to keep the conflict at the center of the play from bleeding into our off stage interaction. We would give each other the tough guy side-hug and toast the other performance.

Lee is constantly haunted by the lure of the desert, by the purity of self-sufficiency and loneliness. No hassles, no people, no society, no nothing.

The parts of me that connected with that made for a very visceral play. But those parts also kept me on a path of self-destruction that I am just now coming to terms with. Unlike Lee I always tried to counteract those tendencies by embracing connection, by moving towards tenderness. But I thought I could have my cake and eat it too.

Don't kid yourself. That cake eats you, friends.

Within a few months after the close of this play, Maria and I broke up for the first time and I moved back home to save up money to move to New York. I would never perform onstage in Rhode Island again.

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