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Lost in Connecticut (or, The Understudy's Dream)

When I thought about writing this post a week ago, I thought it would be to tell you about the Understudy Run we had last Friday and how well it went; how the cast of "A Moon for the Misbegotten," Grace Gonglewski, Eric Hissom and Allen Radway, came to watch it and support us. It made me more nervous knowing Grace was watching than that the artistic director might be out there somewhere; after all, Josie is Grace's child and she had spent weeks nursing her and bringing her into full and healthy and beautiful life. I, on the other hand, had had four rehearsals and been trying out "The Think System," closing my eyes and trying to picture myself going through the farm tasks as smoothly as Josie must.

We made it through the play, and the cast was wonderfully supportive afterwards, which made me feel like a million dollars. Many of my friends and family were able to make it for the run and we went out afterwards for Mexican food on Chestnut.

It had been pretty obvious on Thursday that Grace had a terrible cold -- I sat in the audience that night, the night before our understudy run, and could hear her coughing between entrances, which are few and far between, since Josie is on stage for most of the 2 1/2 hours of the production. She's a consummate professional, however, and managed to hide her symptoms while performing. However, as her understudy, I began to receive calls from the stage manager on Saturday night, alerting me to her condition and that it was getting worse (ear infection and bad throat) and that I should be ready to get The Call. I couldn't sleep that night, waited for the call that didn't come on Sunday, and went to watch the matinee performance, which was beautiful (I always cry.) During the talk-back with the audience afterwards, Grace talked about her ear infection and said she couldn't hear anything out of that ear and all the sound cues were distorted and tinny, which is, of course, terribly distracting and distancing to a performer. But I began to think they were only letting me know about her condition because I was an understudy; people perform sick all the time, as Grace was demonstrating.

Then on Tuesday, I'd made an appointment for two of our kitties to go get their teeth cleaned, and my parents came to help me maneuver them and drive us to the vet's, and then offered to stay in the city with me to help me pick the kitties up that evening (my parents are like that.) So, we went out for breakfast and then went home and sat down to watch Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in "Love Among the Ruins" -- two great actors at the top of their game.

Cue cell phone. Stage manager. Grace can't go on tonight. Can you be at the theatre at 4:30?

I spent the rest of the afternoon going over my script in the bedroom while my folks were downstairs reading our books so they could run out and pick up the kitties when they were done with the vet, be with them while they recovered from the drugs, and then come to the show at 7:00 with Kyle, who was more excited than I was and had called all our friends to tell them. The strangest thing is that I wasn't nervous at all, after the initial electric jolt, and I really think I must have been in theatrical shock, looking toward the things that had to be done before 7pm and having no time for hysterics.

I got to the theatre at 4, met with the fabulous costume designer, Alison Roberts,who made a few minor adjustments with underwear and the second costume, had a speed-thru with Eric of Act 3 on stage, which is the most complicated act, both emotionally and choreographically, had a fight call with the other actors, since it's a pretty physical show, finished up in time for half hour call at 6:30 and put my hair and makeup in order.

The performance went by without mishap of any kind (aside from fumbling with the lantern in Act 2), but I knew I was on autopilot and didn't have the depth of emotion the play should have. I've done my homework, however, and understand Josie. I think any woman does understand Josie. Michael Walls, who so beautifully plays her father, said afterwards that she is the "female Hamlet" -- so there's a universality to her character that strikes a chord in us all. And she's wonderfully complex. I love her.

I never dreamed I would have the chance to play Josie; it was an unattainable desire, but it was there, all the time, for as long as I can remember.

And not only did I get the chance, I had THREE chances. There were two performances on Wednesday, at 2 and 6:30, and I got to do them both. And it was the 2:00 that gave me that feeling of being alive, of having stepped through the scrim of fiction/reality to inhabit that beautiful, poetic world of redemption and forgiveness. When I looked at Michael, it was Phil Hogan who looked back at me. When I kissed Eric, it was Jim Tyrone who clung to me. It was the connection we dream of having, we attempt to have, and sometimes succeed in attaining.

And it's a drug. Now that it's gone, I feel a hole in the center of my chest and don't know how to fill it up. The more I have, the more I want... that feeling of flight, and knowing that the most accomplished actors in the world are there to catch you and throw you higher than you dreamed you could go.

This is why we do what we do. It's worth the stress, the fear, the voice in your head telling you you can't do it. It's worth it all.

When I stood backstage at 2:00, waiting to make my entrance, I listened to Rob, the assistant stage manager, make his curtain speech. He ended by saying the role of Josie would be played, not by Grace, but by me, and I heard the loud groan of disappointment ripple through the audience. At curtain call, they gave me a standing ovation.

I'm glad Grace is better, truly (I'm not Eve Harrington, after all, and Grace is so perfect in the role), but I feel homeless. I filled a place on stage that is now being held by someone else. And it hurts. I can't deny it.

But I'll always remember I had a home in Connecticut, once.
Tags: a moon for the misbegotten, josie, understudy
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  • Happy Birthday, Mrs. Powel!

    Click to enlarge On February 21, 1793, just one day before his own birthday, President George Washington sent a birthday greeting to his dear…

  • My Grandpa

    Jonathan George Davis Jonathan Davis died Sunday evening, March 30, 2014 at the Bonnie Bluejacket Memorial Nursing Home south of Greybull, where…

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