Along with the theater adage “Another opening, another show” comes the less celebrated “Another closing, another final curtain”. The premiere of my World War II stage drama Riding the Comet has come and gone.
By all accounts it was a great success. Flattering reviews were printed which is always nice. But going in, I knew it was the audience I had to impress. I suspected this show’s tragic but hopeful ending would elicit a range of reactions. I was right. And like one of the characters on stage says, “Everyone reacts to tragedy differently.”
I shook many hands of audience members throughout the three week run. I looked into many pairs of eyes. People got it. I believe they genuinely understood the themes of the piece. But it was up to each person to react in their own unique way—and they did. Audience reactions ran the spectrum of emotions.
Excited. Sad. Stunned. Shocked. Angered. Relieved.
I witnessed grown men wiping tears from their eyes. Several older viewers who remember WWII all too vividly, described Riding the Comet as “almost too real.” Some said it was one of the best plays they had ever seen.
Taking in the reactions of an audience is pure gold for a playwright. The collaborative effort with the actors, director, producers and crew is at least half the fun but we write for an audience. There’s an unquenchable thirst for us to learn more about how people see our work. How it affects them. What they liked. What was funny, sad, elevating. What they may have learned.
Then only two days after Riding the Comet closed I received the playwright’s golden gift. A new member of my writers group whom I had only met once the previous month presented me with her reactions to the play. Fittingly, she wrote them down in prose.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to attend a play written by someone you know, well I can tell you. It’s different.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to have a chance encounter with a young man at a writer’s group at Barnes & Noble during which he tells you the premier of a play he has written is about to take place and he would like for you to attend, well I can tell you. It’s grand.
Taking my second row seat in the 30 – something row theater, I was filled with an anticipation I have never felt on Broadway. Well, maybe with the exception of the performance by the love of my life, Jeremy Irons. I was also on the second row for that and could see the veins in his hands when he took his final bow. Those hands and many of his gestures during the play reminded me of a man I once loved in real life. That was eerie.
Anyway, getting back to “Riding the Comet” — the play written by my Barnes & Noble acquaintance — my anticipation was triggered and fueled by the realization that in a couple of weeks I would be able to sit with him again and probe into what it’s like to see your creation being performed by gifted actors — young and old — who want to give it their best — break a leg — to make your creation shine.
This powerful drama — birthed by him — brought forth from his psyche to my psyche. A true energy exchange if ever there was one. Over the course of two hours, I kept thinking I have met this man. I can ask him why the young girl did not inquire about the blood on the floor in her house. I can ask him why the Americans were not wearing uniforms. I can ask him where in the world he had heard the song he chose for the young girl to sing: “Playmate come out and play with me and bring your dollies three. Climb up my apple tree. Slide down my rain barrel. Climb out my cellar door and we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.” A song out of the 40’s and 50’s which was an essential part of my childhood and now all these years later was causing streaks of electricity to course through my body at the sound of it.
Art, literature, drama, music leave imprints on our psyche and we exchange them with one another through painting, writing, performing, singing. I now feel a connection to this young man I can never feel to Eugene O’Neill regardless of how many times I see “Moon for the Misbegotten.”
So, you see, it’s different — better — to know the artist — to feel the possibility of a connection. Now I understand why people get books autographed. I have always poo-pooed the act — thinking it a waste of time to stand in a line just for someone to sign a name on a title page. It’s a connection, of sorts.
I left the theater speechless and told the young man so as I shook his hand before exiting.
“That’s nice to hear,” he said, “that it had that effect on you.”
The play was powerful and just as powerful, for me, is that I can say, “I know the playwright. We had a chance meeting a long time ago — before he was famous.”Judi Walker, 10/4/11
Making this piece even more special is that I know the source. I know she wrote this of her own accord, without solicitation. She wrote it from her heart because she enjoyed the experience. Judi is a woman with a good deal of life experience. She’s well read, well traveled and quite articulate. To know my play made such an impression on her is most gratifying.
I would tell her: I am just as moved by your homage to my play as the play moved you. Thank you for sharing this.