Laughter Through Tears

Picnic-dancing-scene-Kim-Novak-hot-heatIt’s been over a week since my last post.  I had a show on Saturday night that I was nervous about, I felt that I had to conserve all my creativity for that.  It ended up being a great show and my set went pretty well, if I say so myself.  That being said, all I can think about is the saying that goes something like, it never went as good or as bad as you think it did, which, of course, I only think about when something goes well. I tried googling the expression, but just came up with a lot of articles about this.

Anyway, I will tell you what I talked about on Saturday.  The theme was theme and the show’s host, my good friend, Traci Swartz, asked us to explore our themes.  What’s your theme?  Everybody comes to Hollywood with a theme.

A couple weeks ago, I was at home by myself with the dogs on a Friday night.  Eric was in Temecula visiting his parents.  There is something that I like about being home by myself, like it’s a little date with myself.  I had a nice bottle of wine, some leftover pizza I’d made (in my show, I said I’d made a delicious turkey sandwich, which was an unintentional lie, I found some old notes, indeed it was pizza, not that it’s integral in ANY way to this story), and I curled up on my couch like the Little Mermaid to watch Turner Classic Movies, specifically, an interview with Kim Novak, the notoriously shy pinup girl from the 50’s and 60’s, most famous for movies like Vertigo, Pal Joey and of course, Picnic. I’ve always been a little judgemental about Kim Novak’s Madge, that she was a little too much of a movie star in the role, but listening to her talk about the film and the character, I realized I’d been wrong.  Much of Novak’s own life echoed Madge’s and I understood how Madge’s beauty was a burden for her.  Novak spoke of director Josh Logan’s autobiography where he commended her performance and wrote that Novak wore her Queen Neelah crown as if it were a “crown of thorns.”  And I think throughout Novak’s career, she always had to fight to be seen as an actress instead of as a movie star.  

Later in the interview, Robert Osborne (and let me just take a moment to say how much I love Robert Osborne, no one could be the spirit and voice of Turner Classic Movies better than him) asked her about the movie Liebestraum she made in 1991.  She said that she’d been nervous about making a movie, because she had not made one for a while, but when she talked to the director, Mike Figgis, she felt like they were on the same page.  Then when filming started, things went awry, she and Figgis had problems communicating.  She became quite emotional sharing that she wanted to talk to him about it, to get things on track, but she didn’t and that she regretted it.  Fidgeting with a crumpled tissue, tears streaming, glistening down her face (even today, nobody cries more beautifully than Kim Novak), she confessed, “I just couldn’t make a movie after that.”  Maybe it was the sauvignon blanc, maybe it other things, but I immediately burst into my own, less videogenic tears.  It resonated with me, because I have my own tormented relationship with acting, that at times, it’s just too painful.  And I have this thing about how much we all need our art to survive.  We are all artists, and that’s not to say we are all good artists, but I believe it’s something our souls need.  

And then I became VERY emotional, I got up from the couch and walked into my bedroom and flung myself on the bed where Millie (named after Picnic, btw) was on her pile of pillows, licking them.  I took her into my arms and buried my face in her fur, drowning it in my tears.  I wept for Kim Novak, that I’d been so judgemental all these years about her Madge, for her hypersensitivity, that she might someday act again.  I wept for myself, weeping for the acting class that I left because the teacher told me my Vanya was too weepy (can you imagine?), for the fact that I had not had an audition in weeks.  I wept about my day job, that has become increasingly soul crushing.  And I wept about a few others things, too.  And the weeping sort of turned into wailing.  It turns out, I had a lot of pain that night.  Ricky had joined Millie and me on the bed and he couldn’t understand what was going on.  I was moaning and wailing.  Millie was growling because she doesn’t like anyone touching her pillows.  And then Ricky started howling.  Wail, growl, howl.  Wail, growl, howl.  We made for a loud, dramatic chorus.   While I was weeping for all that made me heart break, I had a little out of body experience where I could see, or rather, hear, how we must have looked, and it made me laugh.  Actually, it made me laugh pretty hard.  And then as I lay on the bed, tears, growls and howls subsiding, I immediately felt better, something had been released.

Big surprise here:  when I was little, I cried a lot, and I always remember my mother holding me, patting me on the back, saying, “It’s okay, get it all out.”   I think we all have a few themes, one of mine is that I cry, a lot.  Someone once told me that I luxuriate in my tears and if I wasn’t so true, I would have been offended by such an outrageous statement.  But we need our tears, as much as we need our laughs.  Stresses and sadnesses and hurts build in our body until there has to be a combustion.  

I feel like Robert Harling really nailed it when he wrote Steel Magnolias, that there is something synergistic about crying and laughing, that not only can they feed the other, perhaps it’s their job to feed the other.  Either way, I agree with Mr. Harling and Truvy Jones and Dolly Parton, in fact, it is my theme:  Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.

Gingerbread Rogers

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When I was 28, I lived in San Francisco. I went there to do a play and met a guy and we fell in love and I ended up staying there for a year and a half. The play, written by David Dillon, was called Party, and it was about seven gay guys who get together for a party and end up playing a truth or dare type game and guess what, everyone gets naked. (It was the 90’s.) I played Andy, the innocent one, who at one point emerges from the kitchen buck naked only to lick whipped cream and M&M’s off a guy’s bare torso. (It was the 90’s.) Every night after the show, I would come out the stage door and my boyfriend Gary would be waiting for me on his motorcycle. Because there was a certain amount of attention for the play, there were always people waiting outside to meet the cast as we exited. Still playing a part, I’d shyly and politely wave to the fans and get on the back of the Gary’s motorcycle, put on my helmet and then we’d ride away. We’d ride down Geary on our way to our home near Alamo Square Park and we’d sing songs we’d made up at the top of our lungs. Our favorite was this uptempo modified version of Dolly Parton’s tearjerker Me and Little Andy. Basically, we’d sing the song to the tune of Lullaby of Broadway. “Ain’tcha got no gingerbread, Ain’tcha got no caaaandy, Ain’tcha got an extra bed for me, me, me, meeee. Hey! I’m little Andy!” Just reading this, I’m pretty sure the memory is not completely translating to the page, and I suppose that’s okay. When you are in love you have these inside laughs that only make the two of you giggle and they don’t really make sense to anyone else. Even our nicknames for each other didn’t make sense. He was Gorgeous Rogers and I was Gingerbread Rogers.

Alas, we eventually broke up and I moved back to Los Angeles. For a few years after my return I had a very difficult time moving forward. Every guy I dated paled in comparison to Gary. Superficially, they weren’t as well dressed or as cute or as financially secure as Gary, but mainly they could not make me laugh the way Gary made me laugh. One day, a couple tormented years later, I called Gary to tell him I could not talk to him anymore, with tears in my voice I said it was just too painful. He kind of laughed and said, “But Gingerbread, why?” I said, “And you can’t call me Gingerbread anymore! It’s too intimate.” He said okay and then I told him I’d call him when I was over him and he said okay.

I’ve probably only seen him a handful of times in the last 10 years. I did eventually get over him. I’ve spent time with his current partner of 12 years, a guy that I like a lot and the two of them have built a fabulous life together. As for myself, I met Eric a few years ago, and I’d like to think we, too, have been building a fabulous life together. There are many things I love about Eric, not the least of which: he makes me laugh.

Which brings everything up to yesterday when I picked Gary up at LAX. He’s in town for a conference and I brought him to his hotel and Eric met us there so we could have a quick drink before Gary went on to a dinner that was part of the conference. The meeting was friendly, jovial, uneventful. We talked about the things 40-something urban gays talk about: real estate, New York, Bravo, our dogs, Barbra. I was waiting for them to bond over their shared feelings about my driving skills, but thankfully, it did not happen. Then before I knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and Eric and I walked away, on our way to our own dinner at a restaurant that the two of us like going to together. It was so regular but it was also a special moment for me. For years, I wondered if I would ever love someone as much or more than I loved Gary and as it turns out, I would and I do.

Notes from the William Inge Theatre Festival

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It’s 1:30 am and I’m in bed, trying to go to sleep but I can’t turn my brain off. I spent the day and evening taking in the William Inge Festival here in Independence. It’s an annual theatre festival and I have not attended one for over 15 years. There were several highlights but the big one for me was a talk with the actress Elizabeth Wilson. You might not know her by name but she was Ralph Fiennes’ mother in Quiz Show, Dustin Hoffman’s mother in The Graduate and is perhaps best known as Roz in Nine to Five. Most recently, at 91, she was in Hyde Park on Hudson as Franklin Roosevelt’s mother. There’s not a scene she’s in that doesn’t belong to her. I’m still thinking about something she said today. She was talking about working with Kim Stanley in the original Broadway production of Picnic. She said Ms. Stanley revealed so much that it was like she had no skin. As she said it, she grabbed her arm and pinched her skin. She told us that Inge was the same way, giving everything he had inside of him. Another woman in the panel, actress and writer Barbara Dana talked about how magical it had been to watch Elizabeth play Sonia in Uncle Vanya in the early 70s. And because I’m always thinking about age, I did the math and realized she was over 50 when she played her. Sonia is around 20. I have such a habit of limiting myself, doubting what I am capable of and there’s something so brave about a 50 year old playing a 20 year old. It reminded me to always see the possibilities. She also was told us a piece of information about Dolly Parton that surprised me and no, it’s not what you think. Anyway, it’s now 2:30 and I’m even more tired, but I wanted to share a little about my day. And if you ever see a 47 year old me playing Tom in The Glass Menagerie, you have Elizabeth Wilson to blame.

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