We close on Easter weekend — the holiest of weekends for millions around the world and in the extremely fundamental East Texas town where I was raised.
Bob Birdnow says, “Myself, I was raised pretty strict Catholic but had gone to Mass less and less over the years.” I was about to write something here like, “Myself, I was raised United Methodist (and, in a way, Southern Baptist, but that’s a long story) but had gone to church less and less over the years,” when it occurred to me that isn’t really true. I do go to church.
My church is the theater.
For me, the theater is what I was raised by my non-fundamental mother to believe the church should be: a place where all people and all questions are truly welcome. All the theater asks is that you respect the property and treat the people around you with dignity and respect.
For me and for other actors, the theater is also our larger community — like the church was for my grandparents. When there is birth or death or marriage or illness, it is the community that organizes to provide material and emotional and spiritual support. When you attend a play in Dallas — especially one that features local actors and designers and directors — you are almost never watching a group of strangers who have simply gotten together to put on a show. You are watching a kind of deeper community at work. And somehow, that informs and deepens the work they do.
For actors, the relationship between stage life and real life can be mysterious and, sometimes, striking. In the next play I will do, for instance, I play a man who dies at the end of the first act, ending a long and loving and playful marriage. The woman that wrote the play recently lost her husband to cancer, ending a long and loving and playful marriage.
Was the writing of the play actually the work of some deeper knowing? A preparation of sorts? And the making of a play now the translation of her experience into ritual — which is how religion teaches and reminds about the sacred?
In that scene, I die in the arms of a younger man. The actor playing that younger man is Clay Wheeler, who in real life is currently in a pretty serious relationship with my daughter. If their relationship lasts, then odds are good that Clay will witness my real death.
Was the casting of the play directed by some deeper and greater intelligence? Instead of reality translating into ritual, is ritual preparing us for some later reality?
And if so, what will Barry be remembering or rehearsing as Bob Birdnow on stage tonight?
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” says Hamlet. ”I’m no scientist,” says Bob Birdnow. ”All’s I know is it happens.”
It happens. Maybe all we can really know about any of it is that we are all in something together. A play. A life. And whatever the “something” is, it’s the “together” that gets us through it. More than that, actually. It’s the “together” that teaches us how to love it.
We’ll be worshipping and celebrating all of that with the characters of The Midwest Trilogy tonight and tomorrow night at Second Thought Theatre. All people and all questions are truly welcome. All we ask is that you respect the property and treat the people around you with dignity and respect.
Services start at 8.