I’m wearing a short dress and boots because the weather is mild. It doesn’t occur to me that my seat at The Artistic Home theatre might be vinyl and that my thighs might stick to it during a three-hour production of The Night of the Iguana.
It doesn’t matter. I am transfixed as pieces of my story fall from the mouths of Tennessee Williams’ characters.
“It’s almost impossible for anybody to believe they’re not loved by someone they believe they love,” Shannon shouts. I should write down the words, but I don’t. I suck in quickly through my nose, like I’ve been hit.
I bought my ticket a few weeks ago. The production has gotten good reviews. And my friend Ryan is in it. The same night I purchased a ticket to Oklahoma! at the Lyric Opera Theatre – a future Artist Date. I was excited.
But now it’s time to actually go and I feel anxious. This is my first after-dark Artist Date. The rest were matinees. Most of them, with the exception of the Joffrey Ballet, naturally lending themselves to a solo outing. The Art Institute. The History Museum. The Lincoln Park Zoo. A lecture. Thrifting. But this is night-time. Theatre. Date stuff.
My friend April calls as I am wondering if I am too tired to go. If the skies are going to open up again, monsoon-style, and I should stay home. She tells me she has bought a board and is learning to surf. She’s not waiting for someone to join her. She says she learned that from me. From my Artist Dates.
It’s the little nudge I need to get out the door.
There are 49 seats in the theater. Yes, someone counted – not me. I see other single ticket holders too. A woman wearing rain boots with horses on them. A tall Swede (I have no idea if he actually is, but he looks the part) with long, blonde hair, wearing a messenger bag slung across his body. A man at the end of my row talking about pizza and where he likes to take first dates – to Spacca Napoli. At least if the date is a drag, the pizza is good, he explains.
I want to join in the conversation and tell them my old trick of choosing a place where I know the staff. I remember a small jazz bar in Detroit which served this purpose for me. Looking back, I wonder if I liked it because it allowed me to play “the big shot.” Or was it because I felt safe there? I say nothing. At the intermission I watch him chat up a tall, blonde in a turquoise tunic.
In my seat, with the lights dimmed, I watch painful, scripted pieces of my life with curious compassion. They unfold in a different story – with different names, a different place, a different time. But I know them. The way I knew my friend Jennifer when I saw her in a hotel lobby for the first time in 30 years. Not quite as I remembered or imagined, but more than familiar.
Maxine and Fred’s marriage – devoid of physical intimacy, where once-lively conversation has deteriorated to little more than grunting at one another. Her attempts to force Shannon into Fred’s shoes, his socks, his bedroom – into the role she’d like him to play.
Charlotte’s insistence that Shannon return her love.
Hannah tending to Shannon, sharing the pain – his “spook,” her “blue devil” – and poppy-seed tea, one difficult night. And, at her urging, cutting free the iguana tied up under the porch – letting go one of God’s creatures at the end of his rope.
I didn’t cut the rope. But I dropped it. Finally.
I saw the truth about my relationship with my Southern Svengali –the object of my affections for far longer than most would consider a reasonable shelf life. We hadn’t spoken in months. And when we did – just the other night – there wasn’t a whiff of flirtation left between us, from either direction. Only deep, deep affection and friendship.
I was surprised. A little bit relieved. Sort of sad. The fantasy had fallen away.
The struggle was over. I could accept the inevitable, what was already written. Like Shannon walking hand-in-hand with Maxine to swim in the liquid moonlight. Surrender.