Tuesday, February 02, 2016

I'm never gonna dance again the way I danced with you

It’s Tuesday, and Beau Jest has been closed for three days. I gave myself Sunday and Monday to mourn, and today is the day I’ve given myself to officially say goodbye to the show. I’ll be ready to move on after today.

Monday was difficult. I knew exactly where my phone and keys were at all times, and it was the worst. When I said or did something funny, the room was mostly silent, and I felt the absence of 600 people’s joy. There was a thrill that was missing from every moment. I stayed in bed until noon.

I think the thing that will stand out in my memories of this show is the playfulness that infused us. We exchanged stories at the cast party. “We didn’t really have many things go wrong,” the THS cast said. I looked at Bryan. “I think we had something happen every single night,” I replied. Bryan breaking the remote, over and over again, and the final night that he caught it mid-air, and stood looking in astonishment at it in his hand. (“I’m sorry…I’m just really impressed that I caught that.” The audience applauded his sportsmanship while I smiled at him, open-mouthed in amazement.) The night Ben and Bryan missed their high five, TWICE, and I sat at the desk and laughed, trying to hide my face. The beautiful, beautiful night when the door-frame broke, and Ben embracing the comedy of it so perfectly, and Betsy and I standing hand in hand, trying to get it together enough to say our lines. I brushed up against that column of light every single night.

After months of rehearsing and performing, the set became comfortable in the way your own apartment does. I will miss the blue couch, it’s velvet brightness and the way I felt comfortable and safe in it. I’d lay on it in Act Two, facing the ceiling and hearing Joel psychoanalyzing, and sit up blinded from the stage lights to look at Bob and say out loud that I wanted to be with him. The yellow ottoman, with its one faint black stain on the side, became “my spot” during rehearsal. At the end of each performance, I could barely stay balanced as I turned and bowed while standing on it. My feet have memorized the distance between the phone and the desk, the couch and the bedroom door, the sideboard and the table.

“Take My Breath Away” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” will forever be Beau Jest songs. And “Careless Whisper.” Always “Careless Whisper.” On closing weekend, Jacob was in New York, and he told me later that he walked out of his hotel to a man playing the saxophone on the street, wailing “Careless Whisper” with all of the enthusiasm of Chris in his turtleneck. He gave him $5, because “he f***ing earned it, man.” I like to think that at the exact same moment, the song was playing in the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley, Utah…a cosmic connection. At the end of intermission, Bryan and I would stand backstage, ready to walk out in the black out, dancing to the Post-Modern Jukebox cover. Some nights Bryan would make up wildly inappropriate lyrics of his own. I would laugh while trying to get the left-over challah out of my teeth, knowing we were about to kiss a half a dozen times and not wanting to have bread in my teeth for it.

I was so nervous about the stage kisses before rehearsals started. But I’ve been baptized by all kinds of fire, and feel more capable as an actress having added the experience to my resume. I spent most of my life believing I wasn’t pretty enough to ever be a “leading lady.” I've come to see my own beauty over the years, but I've never thought of it as "leading lady beauty," and I spent the first few weeks of Beau Jest rehearsals believing that I was cast because I was funny, and that they just chose to live without the pretty. It was astonishing to realize, slowly and gradually, that others saw the pretty, too. I have never felt more beautiful during a show than I did during Beau Jest.

The dressing rooms were emptier during this show than “Oklahoma,” but it didn’t feel that way. Betsy and I would exchange stories while music rang out from my phone, and Ben and Bryan would come stand in the doorway, chatting while we got into makeup. Jerry would join long enough to make a “dad joke,” and Todd would poke his head in to say hello.

I think of everyone’s eyes, the way I learned to read them over the weeks. Their kindness as they asked about my dad, the warmth of their arms around me, the smooth tenderness of their hands as we stood in a close circle every night before the show. I remember the night of the Paris attacks, believing that laughter is the best way to fight terror. I remember nights when my ears and toes were icy with cold, while some of us stood in the parking lot under the stars, talking while the freezing air gathered in clouds around us. I started calling these times “Parking Lot Talks,” and I will miss them as much as I will miss standing in Sarah Goldman’s living room, trying to let her be brave enough to tell the truth.

On that last Saturday, I lingered at the theatre for hours, not wanting to go home, not wanting it to end. We all kept saying, “Let’s do another show together soon,” and I nodded. “Yes please!” I kept replying. I felt the question mark of the next few months loom over me for the first few days after leaving the theatre. But it’s faded into an exclamation point, my heart bursting with gratitude. That last night, as I teetered on the ottoman and bowing my head to 600 people, I thought suddenly, “I can’t believe I got to do this. Someone saw that I could do this.” And it was both a sensation of melting into disbelief, and flying straight upwards in celebration. It was the perfect gift, that moment. This show.


K + J said...

Oh liz, I can feel your joy flying through my phone. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute, and I so wish I could have seen this show. Also, you're beautiful. Leading lady beautiful. Also also (and,independent of the last comment), that wig! Who knew?

Anna Harrison said...

And may many more see that you can do it!