Around 1970 a friend from college called asking a favor. A friend of hers was moving from Eastern Washington to Seattle. Of course I offered a place to stay, without consulting my roommate who graciously shared her room. It was the friend of a friend so we took in a virtual stranger.
Our guest somehow had a date the first night she arrived. We met him and couldn’t understand the match except that she was rebelling against the world. She got a mundane job and there was no mention of how long she would stay. Her date/ boyfriend was there all the time. She tried to break up so he tried stalking.
One night we found her curled up on the floor. He was outside with a gun. They had both been drinking. Fortunately my date (#34 Quick Like a Band Aid) worked that summer as a security guard and took over to get the guy out of there. We hoped that was the last of him, but his swagger either intimidated her or made him oddly appealing. He was back.
So here’s an image you never forget. We walked into the apartment another evening to a clunking sound, only to see the boyfriend in the kitchen hitting himself over the head with my giant rod iron frying pan. I could barely lift the thing so you’d think one clunk would do it. If his skull cracked it didn’t stop him from taking another whack. Bam! And bam again. My date disarmed the guy of the weapon/ frying pan and got him into some sort of grip. I’m pretty sure that was the last we saw of the guy. We wondered later what he had rejected in the kitchen as a makeshift suicide implement before he grabbed the pan. I never fried chicken again.
After a couple of months our temporary roommate left. I was not straightforward about asking her to leave, just eager for her exit. There were more adventures with her other odd boyfriends. Fortunately I don’t remember them.
A man who was very involved in community theater in this area arranged for a table read (actors at a table reading the script) of my first stage play. You really don’t know if dialogue flows or gets stuck until you hear actors occupying the character. Imagine a composer of a symphony, good or bad, never hearing the work performed.
No one threw rocks at me. In fact that reading led to the first production. The same man produced the play, bringing all the elements together, the theater, director, props, even advertising. It was my first playwright experience. A production was scheduled with opening night of my 45th birthday. The rehearsal phase taught me that the work no longer belonged to me and depended entirely on the director and the actors. I learned to get out of the way.
And I gained a new respect for community theater where everyone throws themselves fully in to the long hours and weeks of rehearsals. After many years in New York and seeing just about everything on Broadway, it was startling to see the work that goes into these productions, just to tear it down after only eight or ten performances.
For that first reading at the table, the producer brought in a very senior actress. She read the part of a 90 year old woman with an appropriate tone and frailty. We did not know her real age. She hadn’t been on a stage for 20 years and had no intention of returning. So I schemed to try to convince her to walk into the hard physical demands of rehearsal and performances. I lied, and got her to help read at the auditions. When he heard her, the director was convinced. He tried to coax her saying she could play the entire part in a wheelchair, and didn’t need to attend every rehearsal. She looked at us, folded her arms and said, “You only live once.” She was the first to memorize her part and never missed a line or a beat.
The theater was intimate, meaning small. But I didn’t know if anyone would actually show up. The audience was half packed with friends and acquaintances who didn’t know if I could write. But it was a genuine success. I survived the performance, the audience laughed at the intended times, and there’s nothing as satisfying as the sound of an audience laughing at the jokes.
Anyone who ever put words on paper in the form of a stage play has imagined a curtain speech. The cry of Author! Author! Probably in New York, but this was pretty great. I had not in fact imagined that I would be coaxed on to the stage with the actresses and director. No thought in my head of what to say. And that’s when it happened. I did not acknowledge the man who had started it all at a conference table in his office.
The day after the last performance, the man in my life and I left on vacation. Two weeks later I tried to contact the actress who had come out of retirement for me. She had finally told us her age, 83. I couldn’t reach her because the day after the last performance she fell and broke a hip. I never knew if my pushing her to do the part led to her fall but we became friends. Of course she’s gone now for a final curtain call.
The same man produced the play again in a much larger theater. But he moved out of this region years ago and I never knew where he went. I’d like to apologize for not thanking him from the stage on my first opening night.