Salempost 8: opening

We opened last night. It’s a word that Miller uses in a Quaker fashion in the play: “I want to open myself!” screams Abigail when begins to “confess” to seeing the devil. “Proctor, let you open with me now” I say to him in 2.1. The Quakers speak of openings a great deal, as a kind of spiritual peeling open, when God rushes in and revelation abounds.

Someone in the Crucible cast has approached me to talk about recovery from alcoholism. Last night I gave him a manual of sorts, wrapped in brown paper, as an opening night gift. Is it a sign that, in good Quaker fashion, I am letting my life speak? Our opening went well. I was a bit too careful through some sections, marking it so as to be sure I didn’t screw anything up. Susan has taken young Claire under her wing, and is teaching her how to warm up before each show. I am reminded of me and Mark in Jason. I had an interesting talk about crying with Julianna who plays Abigail. She is fresh in the revelation that it’s okay not to cry, and that we make way too big a deal about “drying up”. I have gone through a great journey with this. My inability to cry in a scene I selected to work on from The Seagull sent me into therapy in drama school.

I find myself crying occasionally at the end of the courtroom scene, when utter chaos has broken out, and the girls led by Abigail have succeeded in using hysteria to hijack the proceedings. Here was my small opening the other night: my reaction to this moment is somehow connected to a desperate woman I never knew, my grandmother Lillian Lehman Lloyd. She was my father’s mother, and was a deeply frustrated actress and, though there was no language for such a diagnosis at the time, she was also probably manic depressive at least, bi-polar at worst. Beginning when my father was in high school, she began to behave self-destructively and attempted suicide several times, finally succeeding while my father and mother were on their honeymoon. She put all of her dramatic aspiration into my Dad, who while not an actor, nevertheless translated her desires into a deep interest in stage management and production. I have always felt that my life as an actor is in some mysterious, D.N.A. kind of way connected to her thwarted dreams. As the girls whip around the courtroom in screaming possession, I feel Lillian’s insanity, born of her crushed creativity the world had no home for in the mid twentieth century.

I find myself crying more regularly at the end of the play, usually prompted by Proctor yelling “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” It is a moment of great pathos which Chris delivers painfully. As in Quaker meeting, I am moved not only by Chris’s ministry, but also by my being surrounded by those I love: Ceal as Rebecca Nurse and of course Susan as Elizabeth, tears dripping down their faces. I am responding as much to the collective feeling around me as I am to anything I may be generating inside. My friends open me up and God rushes in.

Peering out into the audience through my tears last night, I noticed the grey hairs filling the first several rows of the theatre. The thought flitted through my mind: it looks like a Quaker meeting, all those grey hairs. The two gatherings I love the most, the theatre and meeting for worship, are populated mostly by the elderly. I must do something about that.