Invalidpost 5: finale

Invalid has come and gone, I have begun teaching at UArts, co-teaching at Arcadia and running “The Barbara Lewis Acting Teacher’s Workshop” at the Wilma Theatre. Susan has begun rehearsing this year’s panto, Robin Hood, after having taken three trips up to Chatham to see her Dad during the run of Invalid. He is holding on in his new, fragile plateau, ensconced in his living room with his books, music and TV. He told Sooz he was going to try and make to Christmas, and then “take it from there”. People’s Light has taken the unusual step of having MB understudy Sooz, a sign that we all understand how unpredictable Dick’s future is.

Invalid was a romp, and though it didn’t get great notices we delivered the laughs at all the right places. t was an exhausting journey for me, being a combination of physical exertion and psychic focus, made all the more challenging by the fact that I smoked throughout the entire run. This I blame partially on Jud, who became my “smoking buddy”, and MB, who also smoked through the run. We would gather for a nightly cig outside the theatre after the shows, they sipping beers or whiskey, me sipping diet root beer. What a shitty example I am, I thought, puffing away, I hope none of my students surprise me after show.

Apparently, I stole the show. This is what trickled back to me through friends who paid me lavish compliments about Thomas and Louise. Louise frequently got a hand at the end of one or both her short scenes in act II, and I was astonished to occasionally receive a hand at the end of Thomas’s absurd speech after his entrance in act I.

I fell in love with Thomas, who adored playing with his red string, and was gleefully happy to hear the “Insolent Modern Opera” Jud and Joey performed hilariously towards the end of act 1. Blanka paid me the compliment I was looking for when she told me that she had to look in the program to figure out who was playing him. Louise was an exercise in pure comic precision and commitment. I was especially proud of my first two minutes on stage as Louise: I entered skipping rope, delivered my first line, turned around while skipping and doubled back to Steve, sat and executed a sequence of comic takes with him with lines while tying a noose out of the skipping rope hidden from the audience’s view, then displayed the noose on a punch line. I am clear that I was able to accomplish this in part because Lillian was demanding yet affirming, and because she made me and Steve drill it backwards and forwards.

Of course, I didn’t steal the show. But I got some wonderful feedback. And my success in Invalid was also connected to something that transpired with Fava. I had internalized something about the nature of comedy that both rooted and propelled me. I wish I could put into words what it was.

I was talking to Deb about a compliment paid to me recently, and acknowledged that something tectonic has shifted since being denied tenure.

“What do you think that was?” she asked.

“I think I’ve given myself permission” I replied.

“To do . . . ?”

“To do whatever I want.”

An enduring image from Imaginary Invalid is from the finale, when Steve as Argan puts the Pantalone mask on. This was Lillian’s invention, an attempt to link Argan finally with his company of actors (us behind him in faux commedia masks), and also with the commedia tradition which gave birth to the character Argan through Pantalone. It muddied the whole “Argan becomes a doctor” joke a bit, but never mind. Steve put the mask on and spoke a couplet, which ended with the words, “May my feelings last for centuries”. And several times I was overwhelmed with the sense that Moliere himself was with us onstage: Moliere, the young French actor brought up in the remnants of the commedia tradition, transplanted in the 17th century Parisian suburbs; Moliere, who was desperately ill when he wrote his last play, this comedy about a hypochondriac; Moliere, who died hours after his fourth performance of Argan. And there was Steve, a chain smoker, associate artistic director of our company, donning the Pantalone mask in Moliere’s play, the audience’s laughter still ringing off the walls. And a little prayer filled my heart: yes, may your feelings last for centuries, they already have and they will continue, feelings that lift and lighten a darkened world.

And this: around my neck now is small silver cross which I found at my dressing room table when I arrived there at the beginning of tech. I pinned it up above my mirror so it was obvious and visible to anyone who might have come looking for it. But no one did. So at the last performance I knew it was for me. It hangs around my neck on a silver chain next to another spiritual symbol: a small triangle inside a circle, the symbol of The Rooms.

The cross is the third spiritual symbol I have acquired through acting. The first was during my first show in Philadelphia – Travesties directed by Blanka. Sitting on stage as Lenin, I opened a prop book and a prayer card with the Blessed Virgin bathed in golden light dropped in my lap. As Lenin, I engaged in some Soviet heresy: I surreptitiously stuck it in my jacket pocket and took it home. Six years later, on opening night of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Arden Theatre, a cast member gave me a small portrait of Jesus in a little oval, gold metal frame. This was a joke, you see, because I played the Sagot the art dealer, who has a comic monologue about how he can never sell pictures of Jesus because they creep people out. This little Jesus, who shyly pulls open his gown to reveal a passionate heart on fire, sits on the bookcase next to my bed now. The prayer card has been lost. But six years after I acquired the portrait, I acquired the cross.