Endurance of

This year’s model of roommate had moved out. Normally such an event was a jubilee, setting Mandy on a frenzy of reclaiming the space and cleaning it completely, but her apartment, the upper of a duplex, was being covered in a slow dustfall and the stairs had more cobwebs than Miss Havisham’s; depending on when Mandy was leaving for work she could see a thread here and there, glinting in the sunlight. She was the host at a restaurant, The Junction, a job too boring to describe here. The only reason she continued was the owners, an old married couple, who were so nice, unless you came in with people and kept on your phone. Then they would shuffle by and whisper, “a screen is not a face,” which terrified everyone and delighted Mandy.

Honestly, the old married couple was not the only reason for continuing at The Junction – just the more entertaining one. There was also Mandy’s vocation, music, and she didn’t want any job competing with it, although recently she wondered if vocation was a word used for work that needed justification, to oneself or one’s culture. After a decade of writing and recording and gigs, with indifference from both the industry and the internet, there was just no compelling argument to continue that would hold up in the court of her mind. Nevertheless, some tired fantasy persisted that her music was worth defending.

Tired was the appropriate adjective, because lately, when Mandy tried to write, she ended up taking a nap. To be fair, LCD Soundsystem’s new album wasn’t helping. The songs were filled with white man spoken word about how he’s “still trying to wake up” and “got nothing left to say” and “in no place to say it” and MANDY COULD NOT STOP LISTENING.

But not tonight. A friend had invited her to a workshopped reading of a play. Mandy filled her travel mug with mostly Bailey’s Irish Cream and a little coffee, sipping it en route, ensuring she was in tipsy-top shape from the beginning. Attending a play of any kind is a perilous endeavor, let alone an original one that has not yet seen the darkness of a theatre.

Titled The Endurance of Light, it concerned a scientist attempting to recover from a miscarriage by having imaginary arguments with Hildegard of Bingen and Albert Einstein. Such a premise would interest anyone, but Mandy hadn’t read the premise, and anyway, it was better to be surprised. As the lead, her friend gave a detailed and dense performance, like a deep barrel of rice, imploring you to reach a hand in. Mandy put a hand in, then the other, then her feet, and by the end she was in the barrel; it was that good of a performance, and/or maybe that good of a friend, and/or maybe that good of a play. Afterwards, Mandy meant to just congratulate the playwright, but soon she was talking about the theme of “dryness” and suddenly her throat tightened and a half lid of tears closed over each eye and then she was leaving the theater.

It was the Bailey’s, it had compromised her sobriety more than expected, Mandy thought, but she drove anyway, went straight home. She baked a frozen pizza and resumed watching a BBC series from the early ‘90s, Prime Suspect, with a young(er) Helen Mirren. Had Helen Mirren ever been young? Even in the mid ‘70s, opposite Laurence Olivier in a piece by Harold Pinter, she seems in full possession of self. Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect, Jane, is obsessed with her work; it returns the favor by depleting her energy, time, relationships. To Mandy, this seemed like a fair deal: sacrifice a life for a sense of purpose. It was almost biblical.

Mandy was on series 3 of Prime Suspect, which follows the murder investigation of a rent boy. In a scene near the end, Jane is interrogating a man, Edward Parker-Jones, whom she knows to be guilty of numerous child rapes. Edward is a serpent, though, and the harder she squeezes, the more he slips. Out of ideas and in a fury, Jane begins reconstructing the night of the murder but is unable to finish, her voice choking on itself, face turning away, only to hear Edward reply, “no comment.” As he walks out, his lawyer assures Jane that “[she’ll] never have a case.”

Just then fellow officer reminds Jane that a journalist has been brought to the station for questioning, because they interviewed the boy hours before he was murdered. Entering the interrogation room, Jane asks if the journalist is still looking for a scoop. “I’m paid to expose the truth. It’s my job. A bit like yours,” the journalist asserts. “It is criminal that a man like Edward Parker-Jones is allowed to gain access to young children and all with the blessing of the social services…” Jane pauses in mid-rant. “A young boy called him the ‘Keeper of Souls’…it was his nickname. Good headline, isn’t it?” She slides the case file on the table towards the journalist, who stares at it, then Jane, asking, “Is Parker-Jones going to be charged?” But Jane leaves, closing the door behind her. The journalist opens the file, the music intensifying, the camera zooming closer and closer on a story waiting to be written.

The pizza was gone, and Mandy didn’t feel full, but then she hadn’t felt full since – regardless, she wasn’t hungry anymore. But she didn’t clear the dishes. She leaned back in the chair, laid a hand across her waist and watched the fade out.

This Other Love

When my best friend stood with her sisters in front of the parish for her profession, the choir listed the saints she considered an inspiration, including Dorothy Day, who is not sainted yet. “They made an exception,” said my friend afterwards. Day is exceptional: she co-founded a movement that is still moving across the world, was listed by Pope Francis as one of four great Americans, and, most recently and curiously, was called a “great dramatic figure” by America Magazine. Part of the reason for this new honor is her portrayal in This Other Love, a play by Patty McCarty, enjoying its premiere at Acacia Theatre Company, where I am employed as Business Manager.

The story behind the play is receiving as much attention as the story of the play. This Other Love was submitted in 1994 and sank to the base of a pile until the Artistic Director and I uncovered it in a move just over a year ago. The top page was a cover letter with a phone number at the bottom. There was surprise on both ends of the line: me, that Patty’s number hadn’t changed; Patty, that Acacia still had her number. I complimented her on the lyricism of the play, how its style was reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. After we had settled the preliminary terms of a performance contract, Patty told a friend, who is head of a university theatre department in Kansas City. “22 years,” he exclaimed, “that takes the cake.” “So,” Patty concluded, in relaying this exchange to me, “I went out and bought a cake.”

Not everyone celebrated. Many people in the Acacia community legitimately criticized weaknesses in the script, potential directors declined it, some Catholics expressed dislike for Day, and very few actors auditioned. The Artistic Director and I questioned the decision. And I didn’t fully stop questioning until opening night.

At the blackout before intermission, I chased the director as she escaped into the lobby. “It’s the play we read,” I said to her, the first of an embarrassing number of times I started crying that night. Thanks to some good readings by good actors, the lines I had read before were reading me: “For every step we take towards God, God takes a dozen steps toward us”…“When my brothers were little, my dad bought them the biggest red wagon he could find. He said they needed something they could just barely move if they leaned into it. Sometimes I feel like that”…“Don’t get crosswise with God. You will lose”… “The church declared her a saint. Sure it did. Maybe it’ll do the same for you. But first you have to burn.”…“He’s giving you the opportunity to burn yourself up in an impossible cause and you can’t resist.”…“It won’t work any other way.”

I knew it wouldn’t work any other way, I had always known it wouldn’t, the rest was pretense, or rather past tense: a resentment of how I’d been made, or molded, until the resentment became entitlement, a permission to medicate through selfish behavior, until the entitlement became bereavement, a deep grief over the folly of my decisions, until the bereavement became repentance, taking the steps, barely moving by leaning in, getting crosswise with God, losing, and burning burning burning. Sometimes because I am called to. Sometimes because I want to call attention to myself. Most of the time, because it has a gospel logic.

The stage lights dimmed and the house lights rose, a reminder that there was a talkback and I was the facilitator. Taking to the stage, I invited Patty and the cast to join. There were questions asked, praises offered, memories shared. At one point, Patty remarked, “I don’t want to be anyone but me right now.”

Earlier, under the influence of doubt, I had diminished This Other Love to my best friend, who lamented missing it due to the beginning of her biblical instruction in Rome. Now I felt an urge to capture the play in my hands, like a firefly, and release its energy to her. Surely she would need strength for picking up the burden that is light, the burden of light. Surely we would.

“Moral grandeur is not a contemporary trait,” writes Margot Patterson. “Whether we watch depictions of her on stage or come to see statues of her in Catholic churches, Dorothy Day is going to haunt us. Like Antigone, her story makes us consider our ideals and how much we want to live them.”

Cliff and Susan

Between productions at a theatre company, it can be slow. Paused Ingmar Bergman movie slow. During these periods, Cliff, the Office Manager, spent most of his time trying to do tasks that couldn’t be done yet, trying to create tasks, or trying to do other people’s tasks without offending them. He was a taskhole. If it was a how-slow-can-you-go day, he would read plays that the Artistic Director was considering for the upcoming season. Sometimes he would just read random plays from the theatre’s library. That’s how he found Quality Street by J.M. Barrie, also known as the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Quality Street is kind of Napoleonic-era hybrid of Taming of The Shrew and Cinderella, only it doesn’t feature a shrew, or a fairy godmother, just a Phoebe, who feels her potential has expired, her looks have faded and life is a memory. Cliff liked her immediately. Plot had never been a priority to him, but for the reader, we will chart some of Phoebe’s course. As a young woman, she loved a certain Valentine Brown, a man who, typical of men, didn’t realize his love until enlisted in the army and serving in another country. Increasing the tally of cruel incompetence, Valentine had recommended an investment, to which Phoebe and her sister, Susan, devoted all their savings, only to see them evaporate.

Upon Valentine’s return, years later, they are operating a school “for genteel children,” though such a phrase flatters itself more than its subject. Valentine is shocked at the sight of the once sprightly “Phoebe of the ringlets” – older, tired and overworked – which she interprets as rejection. Through a comical series of misunderstandings and opportunities, she finds herself impersonating a younger and invented relative, Livvy, with the intent of reviving Valentine’s interest, or perhaps, having her revenge.

Cliff simply static clinged to this play. Was it his desire to be desired? His terror of being discovered? His fascination with the stage directions, which felt like a novel and read like a diary? Whatever the reason(s), Cliff wanted the company to produce Quality Street. He wanted a Barrie fan to direct it. He even wanted to play a character. Not Valentine – not any of the men, actually. He wanted to play Susan, the sister of Phoebe. He wanted to play Susan as a brother.

Here, perhaps, it is important to note that Quality Street is in the public domain. It was now in Cliff’s domain. He was going to remodel. No, not remodel, just redecorate. The Artistic Director believed the script was overrun with characters, needing some reigning, some discipline, some editing. Cliff agreed, although he would clarify it was simply the long distance relationship between one era and another; in person, in performance, it would be perfectly relatable, as is.

But he agreed; he didn’t want to jeopardize the Artistic Director’s approval or anyone else futzing up the script, although he was going to futz it up. While that was a crime, it was still legal, so there wouldn’t be consequences. Admittedly, Cliff wondered if, as a writer, he was violating some literary equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath? Maybe, and to justify it, he repeated to himself that the editing would be a minimally invasive procedure. Not long after beginning, however, he found some tumors:

MISS SUSAN. Phoebe, I have a wedding gift for you.

PHOEBE. Not yet?

MISS SUSAN. It has been ready for a long time. I began it when you were not ten years old and I was a young woman. I meant it for myself, Phoebe. I had hoped that he – his name was William – but I think I must have been too unattractive, my love.

PHOEBE. Sweetest – dearest –

MISS SUSAN. I always associate it with a sprigged poplin I was wearing that summer, with a breadth of coloured silk in it, being a naval officer; but something happened, a Miss Cicely Emberton, and they are quite big boys now. So long ago, Phoebe – he was very tall, with brown hair – it was foolish of me, but I was always so fond of sewing – with long straight legs and such a pleasant expression.

PHOEBE. Susan, what was it?

MISS SUSAN. It was a wedding-gown, my dear. Even plain women, Phoebe, we can’t help it; when we are young we have romantic ideas just as if we were pretty. And so the wedding-gown was never used. Long before it was finished I knew he would not offer, but I finished it, and then I put it away. I have always hidden it from you, Phoebe, but of late I have brought it out again, and altered it.

PHOEBE. Susan, I could not wear it. (MISS SUSAN brings the wedding-gown.) Oh! How sweet, how beautiful!

MISS SUSAN. You will wear it, my love, won’t you? And the tears it was sewn with long ago will all turn into smiles on my Phoebe’s wedding-day.

It was a scene Cliff couldn’t play, not at this company. But he could play it so well. Like Susan, he had been to many weddings, had given away the same gown, again and again, fully involved in someone else’s courtship and marriage, but feeling everything from the periphery, always out of sight, and yet, never overlooked by the author, right up until the end.

Surely by now the reader is a little disoriented, however Cliff has sworn me to secrecy about the ending of Quality Street, but might I remind everyone that the script is available online, to which, alright, I will not link here, but it’s easily found and Cliff is furious with me now. I would only exacerbate his fury with some theories on how dominant culture had not done any favors for him, just the refusal to truly represent people, instead pressuring them to plead guilty of their most unusual trait. Yet, in Quality Street, here Cliff was, represented and accounted for.

How could he cut the scene? How could he rewrite it? He didn’t need to make Susan in his image, she was already in it, she was a reflection, and you can’t change a reflection without changing the reflected. Naturally, he would still edit the play, he would still lobby for its selection and delight in its production, if that were to be. But he would not be written in to the story. He would have to write another.

Guest Lecture


Thanks for asking me to be your guest. I cannot promise a singing candelabra, but hopefully it will be entertaining. The reference is backward but I trust you understand.

First, a confirmation of the date and time. Wednesday, January 28th from 1:10 PM to 2:20 PM CST (Collegiate Standard Time; because in college, time is an illusion – how much you have, how few demands are on it. But that is my privileged recollection. Many students work and study, which sounds horrible, like vegetables wrapped in lettuce. It’s a low carb, low fun diet. How do they do it? They have to. I had a tortilla and mayonnaise to hold my vegetables. They had healthy independence.* My sympathy is often presumptuous.)

Anyway, I’m suspicious of my ability to teach anyone anything, but the benefit of lecturing is that no one expects to learn, just to be talked at.**

If I were practical, the lecture would be a list of how-to’s; but I’m not practical – not even with jokes. I don’t want anyone to feel deceived and not be my friend, Lori. And my how-to’s would be too specific. Like how to respond when an actor says your characters don’t have “the light of the living Lord” in them. Or when an actor says their character “doesn’t matter.” Or when the actor playing the character you hoped to play is not you. Actually, a lot of play writing is responding to actors, real or hypothetical. The hypothetical ones are easier to work with.

Lori, if you will suffer an oxymoron gladly, I want this to be an interactive lecture. I want to enter singing “Writers on the Form”, my Weird Al version of the Doors classic. I want to shoot T-shirts at the class. I want to ask one of the students to hold my notes and then shout “Where are my notes!” All of that is supposed to be interactive and yet every sentence started with I. But interactive starts with an I, and it contains a ve, which is German for we. So somehow I and we both have to get in there.

Perhaps I should just revisit the writing and production of Work in Progress from my perspective, with frequent pauses for nonexistent questions and some exercises in which the students eventually but dispiritedly participate as I overcompensate with enthusiasm until we’re all embarrassed but too proud to surrender. If things go really badly we can play 20 questions, because no one plays it anymore,*** and how must that game feel? Also it’s fun to say “animal, vegetable or mineral?”

Here is the tentadon’tgive-too-much-thought-to-this-woops-too-late outline:

I. Introduction (Hi, my name is Ben, which I will write on the board. See? I’m a writer.)

II. Why do I write? (Because when you finish, it feels good, like taking out the recycling. You’re not just throwing your life away, it could be lived by someone else. If you don’t recycle, I don’t know what to say to you.)

III. Why did I write Work in Progress? (“So no one else would have to.” That’s how Gus Van Sant responded when someone asked why he was remaking Psycho. There is no connection here, other than Gus and I have first names with three letters. And we are both gay, which also has three letters.)

  1. Reading of scene
  2. Discussion of scene
  3. Watching of scene

And – scene. Lori, I really don’t like outlines. Would it be alright if I didn’t do one right now? I’m sure there’s an outline in my future. Hopefully not a chalk one. Oh! Will there be a chalkboard I can use? For writing my name. I just assumed there would be. But all the chalkboards are gone, aren’t they. Gone to the past, where they will be useful. I will bring a chalkboard. And an outline. And it. I will bring it. Unless it’s already been broughten. Tell me what to bring, Lori. A guest should never come empty-handed.


*”One of the most pernicious symptoms of the epidemic of social fear is our obsession with being independent,” writes David Truman at a website called Soul Progress, although that quote is out of context and may also be complete crap; I just wanted to feel better about my dependency on my parents during the college years.

**Does this count as a practical joke, since I didn’t immediately say it was a joke, or follow it with a smiley face, but waited until the footnote? That’s kind of committing to it, right?

***They all play it in Design for Living (1933), a progressive/transgressive little picture which showcases Gary Cooper’s silly run. He could have led the Ministry of Silly Runs.


Before you can be a writer you must be a drag queen. Or king. Or prince. Or princess. Some member of the royal drag family. The point is impersonation. I truly believe the way to find yourself is by trying to be someone else. Find a writer who strikes your fancy and then feast on them. Have a fancy feast. I mean, don’t eat cat food. But devour whatever that writer does and try to digest it and pass it as your own. Do an Ed Gein – rip off their skin and try it on. These are really graphic metaphors, but maybe you’ll remember them better.

I’ve had a Talented Mr. Ripley relationship with a lot of writers, only just imitating them, not killing them. In purposely imitating style, I’ve accidentally internalized a lot about structure, theme and character development. I tried to be funny like Woody Allen and realized the sadness of it. I tried to do beats like Harold Pinter and discovered that people say more with pauses than with words. I tried to be sophisticated like Phillip Barry and recognized the classism he was criticizing. I tried to speak the truth like G.K. Chesterton and understood love. Each of these writer relationships has taught me more of what I really want and who I really am. Maybe someday I will be myself, and be worthy of their love. In the meantime Jesus loves me.

Since we’re on the subject of Jesus: follow him. Until I started to do that I had no material. And my life had little meaning. Not that following Him was my doing. I had a breakdown. Maybe you’ll have a break up. However you’re broken, you’ll want to put it together, you’ll want control, and so you will write, because, to quote Hilton Als, “the root function of language is to control the world through describing it,” but more than that, to quote St. Paul, “our God is not a God of disorder” and we are made in His image.

“Life is…chaos…until Picasso looks at it. Then something happens. Order and design. A cathedral has it, sometimes. Great music, always. And storytelling, when it’s pure, but not when we start moralizing. We’re not supposed to steer the human race. Don’t police the party, just describe it. That book – I kept trying to Say Something. I forgot it’s all been said. The passion to be original. Good God, it’s like looking for a new way to screw. What’s wrong with the old way? Nothing, if it’s got love in it. And everything if it ain’t.”

-Gordon Kanin, Gift of Time

I agree, except the world was perfect and we fouled it up. But God’s desire for order is still in us, so we want it to be whole, even if it’s pretend. Love is everything in its place. Love is discipline. And with that, let’s turn to my first play, Work in Progress. It’s based on experiences I had while working at a nonprofit temp agency for ex-offenders in Milwaukee…

Running with Questions


Acacia Theatre Company has really interested me and impressed me, from what I found online. My name is Aubree Gevara,* I’m a homeschooled 18 years old and my passion is for excellence in Christian theater. I’m contacting you because I believe you exhibit aspiring characteristics and qualities. For my duel credit college final project in my Theater Appreciation Course I’m interviewing people involved with Christian theater. I would be extremely appreciative if you would take some time to answer a few questions below. Feel free to answer whatever you can even a few answers are helpful! God bless!


Thanks for contacting Acacia. You are correct in stating that I exhibit aspiring characteristics and qualities. My characteristics and qualities are wannabes and posers. Also you must invite me the next time your credits duel. Do they just throw their weight around? I can’t imagine them using weapons. How does either win? It all sounds very thrilling.

I am happy to answer your questions, but know that my opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Acacia Theatre Company. If that statement concerns you, remember it is also displayed before every episode of “The 700 Club.” Except for the “Acacia Theatre Company” part, of course. If Acacia owned “The 700 Club” it would have taken me longer to respond because we would be receiving donations all the time, like Goodwill, if Goodwill got boxes of money. And people would donate other things, too, like an advent calendar keyboard. Beneath each key would be a chocolate. It would have to be like a 3 month advent. And the keys would have to be labeled normally so you could still type. It’s not a good idea but it’s an idea that makes me feel good, probably because I’m typing and hungry and tired and Christmas is a comin’ and the egg is in the nog.**

What plays have you been involved with and in what role did you help? (director, actor, stage) Please state if they were Christian or secular.

Let’s get etymological. The word secular is from Latin – that virile patriarch who seems to have contributed DNA to every word born – specifically, the root saecularis, meaning “of a generation,” which our generation can learn from reading Wikipedia, as I did, although I am not in your generation, Aubree, since I am 30 and therefore dead by most accounts in youth culture.

Regardless, the essential purpose of the word secular is to describe activities removed from organized religion, from eating to bathing to working to playing in a Mariachi band. Yet these activities can still be, and often are, blessed by God. Applying this understanding to our lives makes everything so messy, and in our country, where 99.9% disinfecting hand sanitizer is ubiquitous, that’s upsetting, so I will try to answer as cleanly as possible.

I’ve spent a lot of time in theaters, beginning in 7th grade as Friedrich in The Sound of Music, to writing and producing my own play, Work in Progress, to assistant stage managing a show off-off-Broadway, to costarring in a controversial production of Oleanna. Most of my work has been in Christian schools or theatre companies, with some exceptions.

What is your background and training? Was it Christian or secular? What are your opinions about Christians training in secular theater? 

After giving Wisconsin Lutheran College the old college try for two years, I transferred to a secular film school – although its President was a Christian, just to stuff your noodle – where I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in film production, which basically qualifies you to get coffee for people. I did this for awhile, before being promoted to getting food for people, which I did for awhile, before being promoted to getting the phone for people, which I did for awhile, until I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere. Actually I had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t get up. I had to “get to gettin’,” to quote Nat King Cole, and God only knows how I got here.

As for Christians training in secular theatre, I sense that is a personal choice everyone must make. Personally, the secular theatre is a giant salt block and I am a deer – I can’t hold my licker and I’m still thirsty afterwards. Deers pant for water. I know that the plural for deer is the same as the single, Aubree, but it’s more fun to say deers. Even more fun if you were a jeweler to the animals, because then there is the possibility of one day saying, “I’ve got De Beers for the deers.”

To reference the Bible again, only with proper pluralization and context this time, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” There are so few workers with the requisite faith, talent and skill who will get down on the funny farm of secular theatre and harvest some lost souls!! I’m sorry, Aubree, that was a little Pentecostal. And metaphorical. God is the only one who can harvest souls. But he can use workers.

However one decides to be trained, what is certain to me is that you can’t follow God outside of a community of followers. You need the collective encouragement and discernment and smack upside the head – although maybe the collective shouldn’t administer the smack upside the head as that would be a lot of head trauma. The smacking upside the head should be delegated to an individual from the collective.

Have you personally ever compromised your convictions to participate or glean training in a secular forum? If so how has that affected you as you train your students or others?

To the first question, the answer must be yes, but I can’t think of a situation. Our memory is always protecting our self-image.

What is your advice to Christian college students as they pursue theater? What pitfalls could you warn students to avoid? 

I believe it was David Mamet who said something like, “if you want to do theatre, do theatre.” In my opinion, that’s the best advice. Don’t wait for a director or producer or company to discover you, go out and discover yourself. Write something, produce something, act in something. Do the Mickey Rooney Judy Garland thing and put on a show. It does help to know somebody with a barn.

Did your convictions change about what you felt you were able to participate in the more you advanced in Christian theater? 

No? Yes? It seems strange to classify it as a change in convictions; it’s more like an expanding perception. God is bigger than the Boogieman, or that mass of plastic garbage the size of Texas floating in the Pacific ocean, or politics, or culture. He is this really Big Love – no reference to polygamy intended, although we’re all supposed to be the bride of Christ so maybe the reference is unintentionally intended – that is constantly in pursuit of people. He is the way, the truth and the life. At the center of that is truth. All truth belongs to God. So if you look for truth, I believe you will find Him. From that place you can bear witness.

What is the biggest obstacle you face when coordinating or participating in Christian theater?

Engaging the beliefs of Christians without enraging them. Most of our subscribers are Christians and some were upset when we announced our intention to produce a play about Mother Teresa. One remembered reading an article, which they elevated to an article of faith, that Mother Teresa renounced God before her death. After reading some articles myself, I discovered a private letter from her to a spiritual director, describing a dark night of the soul so dark I suspect St. John of the Cross would refer to it as Mother Teresa’s Night of the Soul, out of respect. When someone is getting that much demonic attention, God must be living in them; such a system of measurement cannot be converted to the prosperity gospel, but it is nevertheless true.

Anyway, we met people’s opposition with our conviction that Mother Teresa was a woman of God – yes, a woman with struggles and faults and doubts – but a woman of God. Some declined to renew their season subscription because of that decision, but they still attended other shows. God has a way of bringing people together, even when they don’t believe the same things.

And I believe this answers all your questions. You’ll never have to ask one again. I hope it’s been helpful, or at the very least, entertaining. Blessings on the project, Aubree!


*Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t.

**This is from a Bing Crosby Christmas song. Listen to it here. What is with the speech bubble lyrics? Stop putting words in his mouth. Let the man rest in peace.

The Matchmaker

I have a theory that there were ferociously affectionate friends and family on the set of this film every day, just off-camera, sitting on the floor, or on folding chairs with a cushion for Grandma, or on a picnic blanket drinking from of a Thermos filled with coffee and John Jameson Irish Whiskey, watching and bewitched. If not, then there must have been a whale of an audience, because it’s as though each member of the cast is a barnacle, feeding off of some enormous attention; the characters come alive, as they almost never do.

A more credible explanation might be that it was directed by Joseph Anthony, who started on Broadway and made his most significant contributions there, besides a few brief interludes in Hollywood. One can only wish that those interludes had lasted a few more measures, because The Matchmaker is such a wonderful place between Theatre and Film, you wonder why more directors don’t try to make a home there.

Like I am a Camera or Auntie Mame, the genealogy of Matchmaker is nearly Biblical in length. Originally written for Broadway under the title The Merchant of Younkers, playwright Thornton Wilder revised, renamed and reopened it as The Matchmaker, after which it was adapted for film, adapted as a musical, and adapted for film again. The plot never changed, but for those who never followed it, here is a summary.

Dolly Levi (Shirley Booth) is a widow not in the black. She has a lot of business cards, but mostly for businesses in which she has no business. “Nature isn’t satisfactory, quite,” she declares, “and so it has to be corrected. So I put my hand in here and I put my hand in there.” At rise, Dolly’s hands are making a match, finding a find and catching a catch – for her, and for several other people, if convenient. Her prey is Mr. Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford), a wealthy storeowner who can keep Dolly in the manner after which she is lusting; unfortunately he is chasing a younger woman, Irene Molloy (Shirley MacLaine). It’s nearly enough to split the ends of Dolly’s wits, but she means to use two young men, Cornelius Hackl (Anthony Perkins) and Barnaby Tucker (Robert Morse) to accomplish her purpose. But before then, there will be hiding in closets, under tables and in drag.

It sounds like a harmless farce made for high school drama programs, and yet the film casts a rare spell, the kind Robertson Davies describes in A Mixture of Frailties: “…[a] state of excitement which follows a really satisfactory artistic achievement. Their excitement varied, of course. There were those who talked of the concert, and there were those who talked of politics and the stock market; but all their talk was a little more vivacious, or vehement, or pontifical because of what they had experienced; music had performed its ever-new magical trick of strengthening and displaying whatever happened to be the dominant trait in them.” If you are charming or witty or gay – and everybody is, in their own way – after this film you will be charwittay.

Thanks must be given to the adaptor, John Michael Hayes, who was known for his literary adaptations, but that phrase is contrarian to his purpose: instead of adapting a book for film, he adapted film for the book; or, in this case, the play. While 3 out of 4 screenwriters would recommend medicating the theatrical conditions, Hayes practiced a natural approach, keeping all the character asides and adding a few more for consistency, increasing the hysterical antics to a scale only achievable in film, and giving the entire cast an opportunity to thank us for coming to the show.

But don’t misinterpret that gesture: the star of the show is Shirley Booth. It’s obvious why she is among the elite performers who have won an Emmy, Tony and Oscar. What’s baffling is that she was replaced three times in film adaptations for roles she originated on the stage: by Ruth Bussey in Philadelphia Story, Rosalind Russell in My Sister Eileen and Katharine Hepburn in Summertime, all three of whom were nominated in her stead. Although each of those women gave a fine performance, it’s a rightfully big boo-hoo of should-have-beens. Yet Booth kept working, and what work there is, is remarkable. When she becomes a character, every thought and feeling is composed in her mind and heart, telegraphed to her face and translated with her mouth – simultaneously, amusingly, poignantly, and often contradictorily, though the message always comes out clear. She plays Dolly as the cat that ate the canary, except she hasn’t eaten it, she’s just holding it in the back of her throat, trying to scare it back to life.

And she is only just the brightest in a film full of stars, laying down squares to make a Hollywood walk upon which you almost float. Robert Morse redirects his energy from its typically manic expression to a touching uncertainty. Shirley MacLaine has a heady charm worth losing your head over. And, in one of the last lines, Anthony Perkins’ characteristically haltering speech has never been so endearing, and the sly grin so boyish, as he says, “I hope that in your lives you have just the right amount of sitting quietly at home and just the right amount of adventure.” After spending time with The Matchmaker, I always feel just the right amount of both.

Who are you, Emily Sue?

You are the creator and caretaker of fantasies.

The children know this; they cling to the bottom of your feet like wet grass, wanting to go where you go. You take them to England, Austria, Neverland. Everyone is expected to bring something unique but equal. No one is left out unless they choose to leave.

I miss you while you’re gone. I begin to feel like Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. Do I have a sister, or is it all split screen gimmickry? How much longer can we be separated and be complete? When is our next late night phone call?

At the end of the journey, you and the children produce an animated scrapbook. We, the family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, gather around and laugh, stare, gasp, sigh. We didn’t know it would be like this. We didn’t. Why did we doubt your loyalty, or sanity? You’ve been somewhere. You’ve become something. And we missed it again. Or maybe we just saw the best moments.