Tomorrow night we open a play structured like this:
Act I: Daily Life
Act II: Love and Marriage
Act III: You can guess what it’s about
It’s a play I first did 15 years ago, and it was the play that served as a kind of starter pistol for this life I’m in now. My ties to this play feel like thin, silvery ribbons. 15 years ago I was in the second year of my first marriage, my sister was pregnant with her first child, both of my parents were alive, I discovered I had a half-sister I wouldn’t meet for another seven years.
A cast member informed me that on this day in 1938, the play premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Before it made it to the stage, however, the playwright had been in Zurich and was having trouble writing the final act. No wonder – it is devastating, and rightly so. In Act III, my character is dead, in her grave, and is doing her best to be ready for what’s ahead.
When I was watching my mother die, I remember feeling light, poreless, as if I had no texture. My mother died in Phoenix, and it was regularly 110 degrees of dry, oven heat. Sometimes I would escape quickly into the outside, only to be struck by that radiant, throbbing hot. After a few minutes, all I could stand, I would slide back into the cool dim of the hospice and smooth lotion onto my mother’s hands.
There is something untouched, unknowable about watching someone go.
Again and again in this play, all of us, all 34 cast members, watch someone say Wait! One more look. And then she says goodbye to all the things in life that we never really pay attention to. Food, Coffee, Hot baths. Mama and Papa. I think of my mother. And the mother and father I’ve never known. And the father who sends me cards at Easter because that’s what his wife used to do. And through it, I sit, and wait, and think only of what’s ahead.