Sunday, February 15, 2009


Ever have a day when you feel you're living a fraction of a second behind or ahead of everyone else? It's like when the sound isn't quite synced up with the visual in a film - and you wonder is it me or is the sound fucked up? That was the good part of my day.

I awoke completely out of sorts. I felt like I'd had nothing but fever dreams all night. A splitting headache screamed hello to me just as my eyes cracked open, and my legs wobbled zigzaggedly as I got out of bed to turn off the alarm - which is across the room for very good reasons. I figured this was simply a result of the very spicy Thai food I ate last night as part of our stay-in Valentine's Evening - which also included watching the three Peanuts Valentine specials on DVD. (On a side note, we discovered that Michael really is Charlie Brown and I am Schroeder.) But as the day unfolded, things only went more askew.

I drank my coffee. I drank a liter of water. I ate some protein cereal. I did some stretches for my achy muscles. I tried desperately to fling off the muck - whatever it was. But the tension was building within - heart rate rising - dizziness coming on. Yep. Anxiety. This was going to be what I have come to call "one of my bad days." I would almost welcome the full-on panic attack. If you Google it you get told they last only a few minutes, and as long as you remember they are harmless and cannot cause any permanent harm, then they get easier and happen less frequently. Problem is - my panic attacks are in slow motion. They tease first from a distance by pouring a little kerosene in my stomach and lighting it on fire. Then they attach rubber bands to the back of my scalp and pull me slowly towards the floor. Then they nuzzle my chest with brick noses that weigh a ton and prevent me from breathing. And then worst of all, they slide into my thoughts and make me wonder if I - like my grandparents, my mother, and other relatives - if I too am battling a kind of madness. And this can last anywhere from an two days.

Dread already break-dancing in my gullet, I discovered that my sister's phone had been disconnected. And then I discovered through friends that she has not been seen for a few days. And then I did the perfect thing...I went to Portland Center Stage where I had my ticket to see How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Fin Kennedy.

My intellectual assessment of this experience is quite simple. This is the best show I've seen on a Portland stage in maybe five years. The play is dramaturgically daring and refreshingly contemporary in style. The themes resonate deeply. The acting was superb all the way around - with particularly fine turns by Cody Nickell and Ebbe Roe Smith. The scenic and lighting and costume designs were in perfect alignment - and Jen Raynak's sound was what I call "stupid-good". I mean can this woman get any better? Jesus. And Rose Riordan has put on Midas gloves this season and turned her shows to gold with knock out direction. She's always strong - but the match up of her aesthetics with both The Receptionist and now, this production...well, it makes for some fine, FINE theatre.

My personal / emotional experience was nightmarish at best. I can't think of a worse place to be than this production if someone is anxiety prone - or having an ongoing long attack. The design and space configuration is deliberately claustrophobic. The sound is loud, disturbing, and coming at you from all sides. The lights menacingly strobe and toggle between colors. The set explodes forth one nightmarish surprise after another. Blood flows from noses and knuckles. Characters are either mad, going mad, or were already mad to begin with. And in this performance, I had an assist-dog in training behind me who - bless his canine heart - was terrified by the sound and lights and kept trying to get up and run down the aisle. And I kept thinking, my sister has disappeared. And then at one point, I found myself weeping as I watched the character "Adam" laughing himself into tears in a bathroom - and I thought...this play is about me. And then I looked around, and I thought, this play is about everyone. And then I thought, this play was not a good idea today. And then I thought, this play is perfect for this day.

I walked out of the theatre, looking stoned, I'm sure. And what happens next? So back up... Before the show, I saw a cute gay couple sitting in the lobby. One of the men looked very familiar. After the show, they were a few people behind me as we were exiting the theatre...and as I got to the middle of the lobby, I turned around again - determined to figure out this familiar face...he sure looked like...

And the guy makes eye contact with me and says, "Are you...?" and I say, "Mike?" And he nods. And we hug. Yes. Mike Ryan. College classmate, one year ahead of me at SMU. Brilliant actor. He now teaches acting at Santa Cruz. I had a huge crush on him in college and was envious of his girlfriend. It's been fifteen years, and now he's introducing me to his boyfriend, and I think, "Damn, the missed opportunities!" Turns out he came up here for Valentine's Day with his boyfriend and he's good friends with Cody and Kate - who are both in the show - and...

blah-blah-blah-serendipity-rah-rah-reunion-kiss-kiss-buh-bye- see-you-on-Facebook!

And this made me think further about identity and how people change and how I have changed and how life changes me and how I change my life and what keeps us from all running away? And then I sat in the lobby eating pretzels and drinking a coke, and I worked on my new play while I waited for Michael to get off work, and I talked to various PCS folks, and we all love the show, and on and on...and it was nice, but it wasn't altogether real, because the sound was still not in sync. Not fully. I was sitting in the lobby. But really, I had no idea where I was.

Now it's late. I found my sister. I had dinner. I had a mini-breakdown talking to Michael. I watched Big Love and The United States of Tara. I have posted many congrats on Facebook to the "Disappear" folk. And all I can do now is go to bed and wonder about tomorrow. Will I wake up and will things once again feel steady?

Do they ever?

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