Monday, January 28, 2008

Oh my. Oh my oh my. Here I am in the home of my old friend Ruth and her girlfriend Mchelle; hushed snow, New England rocks, and bare trees. Ruth and I took a long walk through town, talking, talking. A chance for me to digest after the pressure cooker of Detroit, and all the learning that went on there.

Saturday's two shows went very well. Sunday afternoon matinee I snuck in the back incognito in sweats and a T-shirt and watched grown men wiping their eyes at the end of the play. They laughed and cried! The play works! It needs a new title and a little more polishing, but it does work. Sunday morning we stopped in at the JET offices and the director, Nick Callani, waved the newspaper at us. We got a great review! The reviewer loved the play, and she understood it. She got it. And there were THREE big photos of the actors! I hope that draws audience.

Sunday night Evelyn and I went to see The Rabbit Hole, the play that won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. It was pitch perfect. Not one false note. The cast and production at the Meadowbrook Theatre were superb. The play is wrenching. It deals with the aftermath of a family's grief when a child is killed in an accident--but it is cleansing and achingly human. It deserved the Pulitzer.

Afterwards we went out to dinner with some of the actors and I heard how detailled the script was. Apparantly the writer punctuated the lines, not necessarily according to the rules of grammar, but exactly as he wanted them said. In revision, I would like to do that with Saying Kaddish, or whatever it will end up being called, so that nuances are clearly marked, and there is less room for misinterpretation. The script then becomes like a musical score. Suzan-Lori Parks writes like that.

Even though I am 95% happy with the direction of my show, there are a few key places where I wish I could change things. Evelyn had urged me to come out earlier, when they were still in rehearsal, but it felt too stressful snd expensive, making that many cross-country trips in the middle of winter. And truth to tell, I don't know if I could have articulated what was needed then. As Grace Paley said, "It takes a long time in me between knowing and telling." I had to see it several times, watch the audience, digest, and also talk with the dramaturg and other people to begin to arrive at directorial opinions.

Evelyn said to me quite fiercely that it's my play and I need to be as committed to it as a mother is to her child. And I am, I am. The problem is, I've just birthed two other play-babies in the last year or two and I've got another couple brewing in my belly. Kaddish is seven years old and yet still in diapers as this is its real premiere. And it still needs more tweaking and polishing --and a new title.

Anyway, it was three days full of swimming, theatre going, and a marathon of listening. My brain is tired from paying so much attention. C says this is an education I could never get in an MFA program and he's right. One thing I learned that I already knew was that I need to work on my energetic boundaries. Theatre is an intense little world--and of course Jews are an intense people--and put together the combination can be both stimulating and draining. The problem is that I am an incurable listener, always hoping I will hear that illuminating nugget. And often I do. It's just that I have to sit through a tsunami of stories to get there and that becomes exhausting.

Another thing I found out that it cost about $40,000 to mount my show and JET will be content to break even. (Maybe they will even make more--I hope they do.) For that reason, a title that can entice people away from Netflix and out into the cold to buy tickets that cost at least thirty dollars had better be catchy and attractive. So far I haven't been able to come up with one. Help!

The most precious thing I gained were new friendships--with the actors, director, artistic director, and JET's dramaturg, Kitty Dubin, whom I immediately felt as a kindred spirit. A fellow playwright, she understood exactly what I was going through--that it was not all fun and glamour, but work in progress, and she offered exactly the right words of empathy and affirmation, and most importantly the receptive listening that I needed.

It was like water in the desert to be truly deeply listened to--amazing how not very many moments of that sufficed to help put me right again. The other way I kept some clarity was by swimming as much as I could, in the beautiful Olympic sized JCC pool. Stroking through the water, I repeated the 23rd Psalm to myself, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," but what I needed in that moment was the prayer of St. Francis of Assizi, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace...Grant that I may seek/not so much to be understood as to understand..."

In this way I tried to let go of any frustration I felt. I am overwhelmingly blessed to the point where I need help processing some of the blessings. God help me stay in pure gratitude and not descend into nit-picking because of the anxiety all this evokes. My ego feels like a raw red squalling baby. I don't know whether to feed it and comfort it or try and shoot it with a tranquilizer dart.

So many things have come up for me at once in the last few days--the themes of the play, loss, jealousy, family, regret, not-listening--and the Jewish theatre culture is not unlike the warm, conflicted, funny, sad, intensely irritating world I grew up in. I was back home all right! I'd stepped back into the culture that first nurtured me as a child, and was now nurturing me as a novice playwright. How fitting.

I've been frustrated at how hard it is to reach C. Dropped cell phone signals, busy schedules, and most of all the basic impossibility of translating all this into spoken words in a short coherent phone call. I remember when I was in Africa last summer; many of the people on our trip tried to call home. I didn't. That was a good choice. It's too hard to send a boatload of personal and ancestral grief mingled with hilarity through a skinny phone wire.

Right now I'm just so grateful to be in the quiet coziness of Ruth and Michelle's home, sipping tea and blogging while Michelle reads and Ruth prepares a course she is going to teach. In the silence I can hear myself think for the first time in days. I feel back home.

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