Tuesday, February 23, 2010

'The Craving For Experience'

Guess what? Its been snowing all morning here in Austin, big thick flakes spiraling down on greenish grass. It's really quite beautiful, as I haven't seen snow falling in quite some time. I thought Baby would try to catch every snow-flake as she does the rain, but she just acts like its something she has seen before. I had to leave her last night for several hours. When I returned, she would not let me out of her sight. She insisted on getting on the bed with me, which she usually doesn't do, and slept there all night. We are indeed, joined at the hip.

Last night, I had dinner with my friend, Allen _______, from the old days at Playwright's Theatre. He treated me to sushi, which I'm still a novice at eating. Well, not any more! It was great! We had a great visit, I haven't seen Allen for ten years or so, well, he did come to the show, but we didn't have time to catch up.

Allen was and is a phenomenal actor, musician and artist. I was fortunate to have worked with him several times at Playwright's Theatre. He played one of the roles which has to be my all time favorite of any play I've every written. He played Spencer, the brain-damaged pig hunter in The Pig Hunter of Blue River. He embodied the role! The play was directed by Jere ______, who was also in his perfect element.

One of the mysterious qualities of a play, is the energy each play and its production bring with it. It was the kind of play that became surrounded by crazy people, and a play that also drew a very strange audience. It was the play that 'one of the teachers' in the theatre community told her student, (who played the mother in the play) to get out of the play as soon as possible because it was conceived by the devil. It was pretty funny really, but at the time I kept thinking, "Maybe I am trafficking with the devil on this one…" All I was attempting to do was bring the horror genre to the stage. I think we accomplished that, but there were moments of black comedy that arose from the play, and of course, there was definitely horror. The play takes place in one of those ramshackle places you find in the middle of the Arizona desert, where as you drive by you think, "Who could possibly live there?"

Memoir excerpt

"My mother's habit of moving often also became a source of various images and recalls. As we travailed through the deserts of the Southwest, I became aware of all the little gas stations, cafes, and stores that were a part of the long drives of our departures and arrivals. While passing by an old abandoned gas station, my imagination would collect thoughts steeped deeply into nostalgia, vividly rendering images of the people who lived there. Where did they go, and why? Were they still there somewhere in the debris? I later wrote a play called, 'The Pig Hunter of Blue River' to further this part of my imagination. The play takes place in one of these abandoned places in the desert. In this story, the people are still living there, trying to hang onto the old cans of food on the shelves, the peeling paint, the rusted gas pumps, the smell of mesquite bushes, cheap beer, ripped up furniture, and the forever expanse of the desert horizon. It is the monsoon season, the clouds and the dust hang in the air like some strange atomic mist. The javelina pigs who where once desert dwellers now inhabit the trash dump, waiting patiently for the opportunity to attack the house and humans who inhabit it. These strange creatures of the desert, hunted and taunted by 'the pig hunter', are the demons and monsters of my childhood, who have come to pay a visit.

I am sure that my fascination with the desert landscape came from these sojourns. I stared out the window at the desert for many an hour. During the periods we lived in Phoenix, my secret places and playgrounds were beneath the hearth of cactuses. The smell of the monsoon coming in, preceded by great clouds of dust, is a continuing theme in my plays and writings. The mystical nature of the desert, the ghost images of cowboys sitting around campfires, (real and imagined) the creatures that rattled, slithered, and sang under a star filled night are branded into my sub-conscious, with a fire of the summer heat…"

End of excerpt.

It was a wonderful visit I had with Allen, a definite bright spot in the days at Playwright's Workshop Theatre, and wonderful to recall some of the memories. The amazing thing about recalling stories of a theatrical adventure, are the back stories that occur while we are making the play, and of course the journey of 'being' in the play itself. Both of these dimensions tend to get swirled together in one large surrealistic story, the tales themselves coming out in a recall like some long ago dream. Allen, like many actors and artists, has the ability to tell a great story about his experiences. Some great stories, we both agreed, were the stories about our mutual friend and actor, Jere________. Jere made choices that were often so surprising, (especially in rehearsal) that you could only stand there with your jaw dropping while having your own private theatre show evolving before your eyes. Because theatre is an art form that lives in a particular moment, quite often the most dazzling moments of a production happen in rehearsal, and if you were a director or someone who happened to be at that rehearsal, you could witness some mind bending theatrical moments, Jere was brilliant at creating them. One image that I can see perfectly to this day, was a moment in Under the Desert when Tom, (played by Jere) is questioning Ellie about her inability to 'play' anymore. Jere started stacking chairs, stools, and anything around him that was not fixed, on the top of a table that gradually became a large sculpture, perfectly embodying the language that the play demands. It was both brilliantly childlike, and strangely macabre in the mind of this 'adult' Tom character. It is often only in retrospect, and with a continued life experience that one can even begin to analyze a moment like that--that once occurred. Wonderful memories. I think this is why theatre artists get 'addicted' to theatre, because it so often teeters on the edge of the miraculous. Jere was also a brilliant director, and I feel lucky to have been directed by him, and to have him direct some of my plays. I've said it before, but it needs saying again. Its so interesting what we choose to glean from a memory from the past. Perhaps it is our own pathology that chooses the positive or negative parts of stories we have lived. A memory, however, is wonderful in that in retrospect, we don't have to experience all the exterior and interior realities that were coloring our experience, instead, we can recall them in a wonderful perfection.

This is one of the strange natures of the alcoholic mind in regard to how it recalls memory. For some reason, the alcoholic mind is unable to recall the sufficient negative effects of something that happened while drinking a year, a month, a week, or even a day ago to create an impact that can overcome his craving. (I just paraphrased, but the principle is correct) Normal people usually cannot understand why someone would get themselves in the same self-destructive mess that may have just occurred when some catastrophe has just happened. Why would this person ever want to drink again! The recall of feeling or craving that occurs during drinking overwhelms any negative impact. Isn't that interesting? Perhaps it is why I can color my memories in such a positive way. I either don't recall the 'downside' sufficiently to make it a variable, or perhaps I choose to see only the water in the glass very full. So, perhaps there is a definite 'upside' to being alcoholic, knowing that negative events occurred, but only ultimately feeling the endorphin filled engrams of a perfect memory.

I know that some of you may feel uncomfortable when I refer to addiction and alcoholism, but trust me, I've had sufficient research to call myself an expert on how this occurs. But perhaps the upside to this kind of mind enables one to be obsessive in the pursuit of something, and perhaps my passion and obsession for theatre has always been an attempt to arrest what was a very real addiction—that could only be controlled by channeling it into something else. I may be a certified theatre addict. The upsides to this are experiences that are so vivid and miraculous that it is often a mystery to even explain it. If you could experience what it is like to arm wrestle Jesus on stage to answer questions I have asked about a 'failing of religion' experience, or take a road trip with Hamlet to discuss women, you would fully understand why I continue in spite of a seeming loss of everything. Is this some full-grown elaborate psychological rationalization? Perhaps it is, but that is what a zealot in the art world can do, change the invisible mysteries into something tangible that we can watch, hear and observe, to make sense out of something that is truly baffling to us as humans. Can you think of any other form that can do this? I can only think of the time when I walked into the Museum of Modern Art for the first time, or had a dream that I truly understood as something that made an impact on the way I saw life. Perhaps this is the wonderful variable about growing older, in a paradoxical way, the understanding of our own mortality helps spring forth an evolution of immortal revelation—that become as real as something we can touch.

So, I received a reply back from the theatre I was seeking to re-mount 'Bohemian Cowboy' and it looks as though I'll be doing Friday nights there as well as starting an acting class. If I can hang on a little longer, I can make this entire Austin journey work. I'm a little anxious, but excited once again as possibility becomes as an electric impulse. Lots still to do today, hope your day was a valuable one, I hope your day was filled with, well… Hope!

Oh, watched Julie and Julia late last night, loved it! Very inspired film. It will make you feel good! Bon Appetite!


Gerry said...

Wow! Some real writing chops here. I was excited. You swept me along especially since I saw both of these productions you write about, and your recall got me all excited again about theater and those wonderful moments that make the chance to do it a highlight of your life. Called Ronda to finalize plans to see Joyce Gittoes tomorrow in "A Lesson before Dying" at the Viad Building. I love the lunch before, and then seeing an actress I have known for many years get to do what she loves the most, grace the stage with her strong voice and earthy vitality. I remember Allan and Jere and I remember Max McQueen writing in his review of "Pig Hunter from Blue River" that even the rednecks were shaking their heads as they walked to their pickup trucks after seeing this play. Remember the guy who played Otto's dad sitting in the audience applauding his son every night and Allan eating a can of corn for supper? Damn where did you get that bit from? I still eat can of corn suppers. Doc makes fun of how much I love canned corn. Javelinas used to come up to Gary's backyard along with the coyotes. And the corn in Under the Desert! Oh you described those theater memories very well, my son, I am proud of you.

Chuckh said...

I think your memoir and your blog are wonderful, they tend to blur into one another and it almost seems they could be used as one in the same, to the same effect.

kanyonlandking-annk.blogspot.com said...

And then there was Rhoda's baby havelina that practically slept in her bed. It would squeal wildly if she happened to go in the other room..provided many a laugh until spring came and it ate too many dandelions. Who would know? I loved this very vivid entry about the 'pigs' and a contact with a friend!

krissy knox said...

I would like to see Julie and Julia. By the way, I found you through DB's blog. I checked you out bc I found your comment fascinating! Interesting post! take care, krissy :)

krissy knox :)
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