September 22, 2018

Hello, Dolly! VST 2018 – Courtroom Scene

Another long post tonight. What? Two in a row? What’s wrong with him? It’s just that he gets to sleep in tomorrow for the first time in nearly three weeks. Whether he’ll actually be able to do so or not remains to be seen. I have the unpleasant feeling the eyes will flutter open around about 6:45 am when the alarm usually goes off. I’ll try to will it not to happen but I haven’t been sleeping well the last few months so I’m not going to be surprised by anything.

I spent the last day or two scurrying around looking for W-2s and tax returns for my bank. I’m refinancing the house from a 30 to a 15 year loan and I need to go through the unpleasant task of having Tommy’s name removed from the title. It seems wrong. This was very much the house he picked out that suited him and his interests. In some ways I feel like an interloper here, a caretaker who should be careful about putting too much of my imprint on the place. I imagine I’ll sell it in a few years as it’s much more than I need and I’m really not a yard person at all, at least in this climate. I have a real estate person keeping an eye out for an urban condo that might suit and in which I will be able to maintain until I’m carted off to the dementia unit.

Tonight’s audience for Dolly was more docile than last night’s. At least in the first act. They must have all slammed tequila at intermission as they came alive in the second act and were absolutely roaring by the time we got to the end of the title song. Of course, that number is designed to elicit audience response. (Change keys, go into four parts and start marching around the passarelle and the audience goes wild. It’s almost pavlovian.) As I’m standing on the stairs center stage for a good part of the proceedings, I have a lot of time to look at the audience and watch them clap and sing along and wave their arms. We’re doing the original Gower Champion choreography so you know it’s going to get those of a certain generation right in the nostalgia button.

On stage ordering the waiters around at the Harmonia Gardens

I was musing last night about what Tommy might have thought of the show. Tonight I was wondering about Steve. My time with Steve was more or less my theater interregnum. I had to give it up when I hit residency more or less. Every third night on call and theater do not mix. Later on in Sacramento, after I had finished residency and had settled into geriatrics with its easier hours, the first priority was still career building so I did very little. We became avid theater goers, befriended a number of local actors, and I was occasionally coaxed to lend a hand backstage. I did no performing. I auditioned for a couple of things on a lark but didn’t get cast but that was fine with Steve as he had had more than his share of nights sitting home alone when I was in residency and he always felt a bit slighted when I was out doing something that didn’t involve him. One of the few projects I did do was stage crewing/running sound for a production of Psycho Beach Party. Steve solved the problem of not wanting to be left alone by coming to every performance and sitting in the front row. He laughed uproariously at absolutely everything and had the whole audience keyed up every night. I had several discreet inquiries from various sources whether he was rentable as an audience plant.

Steve loved going to the theater and would go with me to see practically anything of any genre in any venue and always thought it was wonderful, whether it actually was or not. I honestly can’t think of anything we saw that he didn’t love. When life circumstance chased us to Birmingham, we went to a few things. The first thing we saw here was a production of Kiss of the Spiderwoman on the same stage where I’m currently performing and starring Jan Hunter who is now Dolly. If you had told me then I’d become a regular on that stage opposite the star of the show we saw that night, I would have thought you were not just mistaken, but plum crazy. Odd the surprises life has for us. Steve got sick within a year of our move so nights at the theater fell by the wayside and I didn’t see much for the next few years and then, before I knew it, I was in the middle of it all.

Theater is full of ghost stories so here’s the only one that personally involves me. I can’t explain it, but it may mean that someday I’ll be able to ask Steve his opinion of my second act. Steve died in August of 2001. This was about three years after we had left California and after about two years of serious illness from pulmonary fibrosis. I spent much of the next year travelling and trying to put my life and head back together. I was in the old house, the aerie up on top of Red Mountain, one evening about a year or so after he died when the phone rang. It was a woman I had known slightly through professional circles in California. She wasn’t a particular friend. I know she knew both me and Steve as he had met her at a couple of networking type events and, quite frankly, until she reminded me of her name and where she had worked in Sacramento, I had completely forgotten her. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then she said ‘Steve’s dead, isn’t he?’. ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘Last year from pulmonary fibrosis’. ‘I know’, she answered, ‘I was in my bathroom on the toilet earlier this evening when he stepped out of my shower and told me he had a message for you. He wanted me to tell you that he’s OK’ I wasn’t sure what to say to that so I think I said something non-committal about is he still there. ‘No, he disappeared, but I’ll let you know if he comes back’. I never received any further messages.

Now, it would be just like Steve to step out of someone’s shower when they are on the toilet. He had a rather simple sense of humor. I have no idea if this woman was pulling a prank, after hearing about his death through the Sacramento grapevine or if she has some sort of sensitivity that allowed him to reach through and send me a message. He died in the old house and for years, I waited for a sign or visitation, but none was ever forthcoming. Tommy died at UAB hospital and I doubt he’s hanging around there. I can see him popping up backstage at Red Mountain Theater or the Wright Center. This rather weird story gives me the comfort that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, and that maybe both of them are hanging around somewhere, just out of sight. I wonder if they’ve found each other and what they think of me when they compare notes. I have a feeling I’m going to be ganged up on when it’s my turn to join them. In the meantime, I can see them both sitting in the patron’s balcony of the VST together each enjoying Dolly in his own way. Steve with huge hearty laughs and complete engagement, Tommy with his incredible eye for detail looking for minute flaws and creating solutions so that his next project will build on what he learned.

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