The week before Thanksgiving was one I will never forget. My first musical stage play, High and Mighty, was gloriously produced by Southeastern Louisiana University. The creative team and cast, led by Jim Winter, was the A Team by all standards. I had the opportunity to work with people whose professional accomplishments I had only admired from afar up until this point. The production far exceeded anything I had hoped for, but something else began to factor into the whole experience; something I had not planned. You see, immediately after the production was placed on the calendar, I sent letters (the old fashioned kind) to all my friends and colleagues around the country whom I thought might be interested and/or supportive. The script had soft appeal to most, simply because they are my friends, but it had hard appeal to a handful of people because the characters, along with bits and pieces of the story are based upon them. Yes, fictionalized, but still rooted in a version of my friendships with them. Our young adulthoods, put on display for the world to see. It was all heavily embellished, of course, but still…still.
I must admit, it was with tender trepidation that I invited them to attend the show. Why? Because they might not like what I did with and to the characters that were born out of them. Over and over again, I warned them that “I have taken great liberties with your character. She is based on you, but I have heavily embellished and fictionalized the story and your…her…characteristics. I have made her a touch more desperate than you ever were. I have given her a fondness for the drink that is greater than anything you ever displayed. Etc, etc, etc. Hope you like her! HA! Ha ha! Ha. ha….”
Never in a million years did I expect the two main character’s muses to fly across the country, on the same day, to see the show. After all, production dates were nipping at the heels of Thanksgiving. Surely, these people would not be able to fit my little play into their lives. I had not even seen one of these women for over twenty years. Surely they won’t come, I told myself. Then, I will be off the hook of worry. Wrong. Not only did the two main characters show up, but so did another woman who is simply referenced at the end of the play, but never actually seen. Yikes.
The good news is that these three women, all of whom I met at an Upper East Side Presbyterian Church in the 1980s, were honored to be featured in my script. They got kick out of the fact that I wasn’t afraid to blow them up a little. Ok, a lot. Prior to the performance on closing night, they sat at my dinner table, eating my gumbo while I picked at my serving, warding off the nervous demons in the pit of my stomach. We all giggled, toasted and roasted each other just as we did over two decades ago. It all felt as though twenty five years had blown by in a second. My past washed over me in waves of mixed emotions; melancholy, gratitude, fear, joy, anxiety. At the performance, the two women flanked me like bookends. As the last word on stage was spoken, each of them grabbed a hand from me and gave it a squeeze, punctuated by tears and then a hug. In that moment, I felt twenty five again, but without all the weirdness of life’s uncertainty. At that moment, my heart was so full, I thought it might tip over. At that moment, I remembered why I love the theatre so much, and why I love these friends.