— From EF —
Touch is amazingly powerful. It can’t be packaged or monetized or tweeted — you have to get the real thing, in person. There’s a subset of child abuse that’s labeled “failure to thrive,” and one of its big elements appears to be an absence of loving touch. When I get a really good massage (thanks, Ed) I can’t tell how much is due to the skill being employed and how much is just the delicious feeling of hands-on. Hell, my spirits lift if somebody’s cat comes and sits on my lap.
So it was a Big Deal that our family was together this week. Jo had to leave Fra back in Italy this time, but CB, EF, Eli and Jo could hug, and did, repeatedly. And this time we had Meg to wrap around, too.
It starts at the airport. There’s the first glimpse of red hair in the corridor, the grin, the whoop, the sprint, and the embrace. The joy isn’t even diminished by the non-appearance of the suitcase. We amble arm in arm to the car, I unpack the meal I brought to compensate for Delta’s niggardliness. The back seat has been laid flat and equipped with sleeping bag and pillow, and after dining, Jo wraps up warm and zonks.
Eli and Meg come to Lear again on Friday, and Jo is sitting next to them. Afterward, there’s the wad of five, hugging again. God, it feels so good, and I can feel life and joy seeping back into my thirsty bones.
Sunday matinee is the final performance at The Emerald Tablet, and Eli and Jo come to help strike, pack, and load out. When our job is done, we all go have dinner at Brandy Ho’s, beaming at each other across plates of delicious spicy food, and then walk back to the car together. Father and son in front, mother and daughter hand in hand behind. That beautiful, small, slim hand, with a good strong grip.
OK, people, hug whoever you can, right now.
— From CB —
Last week we drove back from San Francisco after the Saturday performance of Lear, ravenous and exhausted, sat down to a 1:00 a.m. omelet and wine. Elizabeth went into the office for a quick check of email, said “Let’s light a candle for Judith Malina.”
So we lit the candle on our dining table and cried briefly, then ate our food.
My direct contact with Judith Malina was slight. We saw three of The Living Theatre’s productions during their national US tour in 1969 which she described in her memoir The Enormous Despair. We were introduced to her and to her partner Julian Beck by a mutual friend, but that was just a “Hi.” “Hello.”
Those performances: one I thought was crap, one breath-taking, and one I hated for its first four hours and fell under its spell by the fifth. But it was during the time we’d just started our first ensemble, and the sweat and risk and rabid commitment of that group were deeply inspiring.
Years later, on a second US tour, they were blasted with a wave of the most devastating reviews I’ve ever read. Another inspiration, in a way: they kept right on working.
Many years later, in the late 80s or early 90s, I picked up a used copy of her Diaries at a book stand in the East Village. It was written during her twenties, during the first years of The Living Theatre. Shortly after, I met her, the same woman probably in her late sixties. Long after most critics had consigned The Living Theatre to ancient history, she was performing a duo show with her new partner Hanon in a dismal little theatre in the far reaches of the East Village. It was the only comic piece I’d ever seen them do: a mash-up of the history of The Living Theatre, their own love life, and a suspense adventure permeated with the philosophy of Wittgenstein. We spoke, and later, she and Hanon came to see our show Rash Acts at Theater for the New City, and we talked long into the evening over beers at a local dive.
Her sweet intensity — and yes, there was a sweetness under the burning ideology — was probably more striking in one of her stature. You don’t expect that Mosaic energy in such a tiny woman. Or the durability to survive forty years in the wilderness, knowing she’d never settle in the Promised Land.
I have a problematic relationship with theatre. It’s been my life, it’s what I know how to do, and I’ve witnessed its power. Yet, more and more, I find it boring, fraudulent, childish, near intolerable — paying twenty-five to fifty bucks to be water-boarded by well-rehearsed actors. And then, of course, I’ll stumble into a show that puts me into giddy orbit; or, with our own audience, we’ll shoot the rapids, feel that incredible rush, and be right back in the game.
What I valued in Judith Malina was, above all, her endurance. She had skills, she had energy, she had ideals, she had moments of genius, but those matter little in the grand scheme of things. At the end of the third act of Lear, exhausted, with two more acts to go, it’s the bulldog grit of Malina and her kind that tells me, “Just do it, jerk, that’s what you’re here for.”
— From the Fool —
I was on a bus, and this old lady sat down by me. She was chewing gum or maybe her lunch, but she kept on chewing it. Then she wadded her transfer and stuck it under her butt and said “I’m Trudy.”
I didn’t know if she was talking to me, but I said, “Hi.”
“Whatta you mean?”
I just smiled and shrugged, so that was all the excuse she needed to tell me her dream. She kinda gathered up her facial expressions and blew the whistle and they started to play.
She’d dreamed that her car stopped in the middle of a road, and by that time it was a school bus. There’d been kids in it but now there was just waste paper and leftover lunches. Who knew what happened to the kids? So she got out and started to walk through the cornfield, but the corn was so high that it disappeared into the sky, and all that was left was a big vacant lot with weeds and a chain-link fence around it.
“That’s okay by me,” she said, “cause now corn is all GMOs.”
Then she knotted her brow, and it seemed like her hair got whiter and her eyes got tiny or her glasses got thicker, and I knew there was a nightmare coming.
“That’s when I saw the gorilla.”
The gorilla dragged its knuckles through the weeds, and then it spotted her. The fence gate was unlatched and she tried to close it, but the gorilla got there faster and pushed it wide open. He glared and banged his chest and rumbled and roared.
“So I told him, Get the hell outta here! And he turned around and went.”
I wondered what happened next, but that was it.
Still, it gave me a lot to think about. Why do old ladies dream about gorillas? What happened to the kids on the bus? Is all the corn GMOs and where did it go? Does Trudy tell her dream to anybody or was I special? Dreams are supposed to be symbolic, so might be the gorilla was something like arthritis.
At 15th Street she felt under her butt, unfolded the transfer, and got off the bus. I noticed her dress had a kind of blue-green weed pattern, pretty much faded. I don’t think there’s a bus at 15th to transfer to.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2015