5 – Show Time

The two of us were walking up Church Street one afternoon after an AA meeting. The day was sunny, but summer was definitely over. Brigid belonged to a playwriting workshop and she bemoaned the obstacles inherent in collaborating with ‘cheapskates and no-talent hypocrites.’ That day she made me a proposition.

“I got this play, V.”

“The old saloon thing? When does your O’Neill period finally end?”

“Asshole. This is the other one and you’re directing it.”

“Yeah, right, Bridge.”

I’d just come out as a gay man, left the wife, the two young daughters, the dog, the cat, and the yellow Oldsmobile station car, and moved back into Manhattan. I was uncomfortable with everything about myself. I would have preferred to stay miserable, but Brigid told me to do this thing, so I said ‘yes’. I could feel my ass falling off. All of sudden, I had responsibility for unfamiliar and complex situations. The play had a cast of eight, two acts, a budget of $1500, and a run of two weekends on a makeshift stage in the common room of a nursing home on the Upper West Side.

It was called Since Big Al’s Come to Town. Big Al, insisted Brigid, was another name for AIDS, though no one could hear that without snorting into their sleeve. Set in a large Upper East Side apartment, the play was not about AIDS, but followed eight yuppies as they dealt with yuppie dilemmas in yuppieville. The one gay character, Glenn, a sadsack of hapless unfuckability, couldn’t even qualify as The Specter Of AIDS.

I put an ad in Backstage, held auditions in my living room, and in a week, had the play cast. By the third rehearsal, half the actors had quit. Brigid had written a potboiler all right, but she had stuffed it with tedious quotations from the dim literary past. You could see a speech coming from a mile away: some character would lean back on his heels, put his thumbs under his lapels, and yawn, “As George Santayana would say…”

The play sucked. My cast rebelled. The producer stonewalled my ideas. Meanwhile, Brigid attended every rehearsal. She didn’t really intrude, but she resisted altering any but the least problematic lines. Then, one night right before rehearsal, I got a phone call from her son.

“V, my mom’s in St. Vincent’s. She fell on Fourteenth Street and broke both her elbows.”

I called the producer. “Buck up, boy,” he said, “this might not be so bad.” The nursing home space had already been paid for. Most everything else was in place. As I prepped for that night’s rehearsal, it dawned on me, now I had sole custody. Out went every gasbag quote. Thus shorn, Big Al became a chatty melodrama, one young woman’s decision to chuck the accoutrements of ’80s New York City and move to the west of Ireland to find spiritual renewal. The cast found it hard to complain about having to forget lines. We had three more weeks of rehearsal and it all fell together.

On opening night, Brigid got a pass from the hospital. Her health was precarious even then. Two broken elbows was major. At the curtain call, she stood up and turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause. The room gasped. Not only was she was flying on Percodan, but she looked like she was about to become airborne. She had been welded or duct-taped into a contraption. Two rods sprang from a girdle around her waist and held her bent arms immobile at chest height. I have occasionally reminded her she was there at Big Al’s Opening Night, but she usually tells me to shut the fuck up. And she either doesn’t know I thoroughly overhauled her play, or she has held her tongue.

My stabs at self-expression continued. Two years later, busy Mr. Director Man received his Certificate in Filmmaking from NYU. My thesis, a thirteen-minute, 16mm film called: Hi. My Name Is Valerie. And I’m a Codependent, chronicled the young woman’s very bad day. I wrote and directed the thing, which nowadays plays out as a semi-autobiographical fantasy. And I gave myself the role of Valerie’s sexually predatory boss. On some stenographic pretext, I called her into my office and wheedled, “I’ve been a naughty, naughty boy,” a signal for her to bend me over the desk, tie me up with her pantyhose, pull down my trousers, and wallop the bejesus out of my large white behind.

Poor Valerie. The film featured Brigid in the role of her mother. Valerie promises that she will be at Uncle Sean’s engagement party. “I deeply regret missing the last one.” Returning to her apartment to get ready, she plays a phone message from Mother. Brigid’s voice-over is still unspooling when Valerie, now all dressed for the party, closes the door behind her. The final scene has beleaguered Valerie being ushered into the party by Brigid with the words – “Look, everybody! Here’s Valerie! And she brought her umbrella!”

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