The things I remember about theater I’ve worked on are behind the scenes – you don’t remember the way an audience laughed at a line on the third Friday, but you remember the story someone told in the bathroom between scenes, or the night something went wrong.
It’s been an honor and a privilege just to be in the same room with the folks who put together Raisin In The Sun at the Huntington. There was a lot about the people and the process to love (“there is always something left to love”) but there’s one moment I had to myself, which I will hold dearly to.
At the end of this production, Lena Younger says goodbye to her home and is helped into her coat and hat by the ghost of her husband, who’s watched over the family throughout the play. It was a stunning and beautiful moment, mightily theatrical; with no words this moment spoke powerfully about love, family, endurance, devotion, and a million other things that no speech could capture.
I never got to see it onstage. But I got to see something no one else did.
While Grandma said goodbye to the house, the rest of the cast and crew stood offstage awaiting curtain call (during previews it was the FULL cast; a few migrated to stage left by the time we opened). A monitor on that side showed the audience’s view of the stage.
Everyone done with their job, there were jokes, fussing with props and Kleenex, getting ready for curtain call, the typical business backstage. But every night, without fail, the tizzy resolved to silence and stillness as Grandpa Walter held out the coat for Lena. Everyone stopped, their eyes fixed on the monitor, their faces lit by love and something unspeakable. Even Li’l Cent, the Wiggle Worm who sometimes pretended to be a 9-year-old boy, stood still and stared at the monitor, transfixed, as if his soul knew it was a moment to be still for.
Here words fail me; they’re never much good compared to life. I have always been deeply moved by families of choice, and to see these actors and artists who loved each other so hard and so quickly, to see them absorbed and moved and unflinching from that moment …
Their faces lit by the screen, by love for each other and for history and for story.
One night I tried to take a picture and I felt ugly inside. Invasive. And also my gut knew that a photograph could not claim the moment.
So instead it’s something I’ll keep in the deepest pockets of my heart. Not a dream deferred, but a dream no less, of the possibility of unflinching love. At least for a moment, before the work begins again.
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