Monday, March 10, 2008

Friday night I went to a production of Corpus Christi (sp?) the Jesus play by Terrance McNally, which was in town briefly. It was at Grace Cathedral; Diana, Phil, Jonathan, Scott, and Leo all came too. The acting was strong, especially Jesus, who was tall, thin, with a heart-shaped face and a sweetness that shone through every moment--he really moved me.

In the production I saw of this play in Edinborough eight years ago, the cast was all-male, and I think the script was slightly different. In this show there were five or six women now playing male apostles. A lot of gender-mixing. The actors were all incredibly sincere, and as we were in the front row, I saw many real tears being wept onstage.

The problem was their tears shut down my own.

After the Edinborough production I remember being hit with so much emotion I couldn't move. I was weeping and shaken to my core.

This time it was the actors who were having the experience, and the audience was witnessing it. Diana stayed with us all weekend so we had a chance to discuss it. Apparantly, this is a well-known fact among theatre directors (I just am only now discovering it.) If the cast is sobbing and crying, then the audience doesn't get a chance to. In the stage directions for Rabbit Hole, for instance, the actors are instructed not to cry except in certain very specific places--just once or twice. The tears belong to audence.

The next day, Saturday, Diana went off to interview the actor who played Jesus as research for a book she's writing on the effect playing these roles has on the actors.

It is an interesting question, how an emotion can be shared, or not, how it can be passed around or "put on" someone else. Not only in theatre, but in life off-stage as well. I remember several difficult relationships where I felt like I was "carrying" the depression for the other person.

What makes the difference between sharing an emotion or putting it on the other person? In close relationships, why does one person often assume the mantle of the strong together character while the other partner acts out the fear and vulnerability and grief?

In my relationship with C now, it feels like we take turns being strong or being vulnerable. We have both been both. In my first marriage I was the identified patient. When things got rough--abortion, suicide, chronic illness--I collapsed in grief. My husband buried hikmself in work and didn't cop to his darker emotions much; and when he did, he didn't do it in "my" language, so I wasn't as open to hearing them as I should have been.

I've learned that I can't share vulnerability and strength equally with everyone, in every relationship. Some people resist switching roles--they cling to their fallback identity, whether it is victim or tyrant, superwoman or injured child. Some people really are too fragile or too occupied working out what they need to work out in one aspect of themselves to be able to play with wholeness.

I know a woman who denies every bit of her own aggression. She won't use swear words and she winces when other people do. She can't stand being teased and she never teases anyone. I described playing tennis to her, how satisfying it is for me to thwack the ball really hard, how healthy I feel afterward, all my frustrations discharged on the court. Limp with health. She shuddered.

"I couldn't do that."

I told her how C and I trash talk each other: "Prepare to meet your Maker. I am the Merchant of Death." "I am the Dominatrix of Doom and I am going to grind your ego underfoot."

She winced. "I could never do that."

I am so grateful to have a companion who will play with the shadow. Who will tease me about mine, who will acknowledge his own, who will bat it back to me, fiercely or gently, but always with honesty. When there is no room for shadow play the relationship dies.

This blog was supposed to be about art and life, but lately it always comes back to love. I feel a little embarrassed about that--I do want to debate important questions relating to Art and life and playwriting--but I can't keep from singing about what is uppermost.

Most of Saturday I sat in bed and worked on the first draft of an essay I want to send to Modern Love, about C and his cat, and love in middle age, and fear and committment. I sent it out to my dad and sister and a bunch of my friends. Of course dad loved it. Some friends liked it too. C had the thankless job of pointing out places where I could have gone deeper. (Another friend, via email did the same.)

It's hard to be the partner of a writer--well, I should say, it's hard to be the partner of me. When I write something, a poem, an essay, and it's hot off the press I can't keep it to myself--I have to share it. I want immediate feedback. When it's fresh and new and still dripping with vaginal juices from the birth canal though, I am not always the most receptive audience for criticism, however gentle and correct. I argued with C at the kitchen table about his thoughtful comments. A short time later I came around.

Sunday, we cleaned out the laundry room, where David has been storing his tools, bike, a playhouse he's building for his daughter, and other items. I had to negotiate fiercely for the space. My space. Our space--space for C to set up a workshop to make more ladders and work on house projects. Once David had moved some of his things, I threw away a bunch of stuff. Old identities, the struggles of the last fifteen years. I feel like I'm dumping my old life, at least the worn-out no longer useful parts of it. It feels great. There is so much that I am ready to leave behind.

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