Was it Good for You? // by Rachel Bay Jones
Actor Rachel Bay Jones contemplates her “after.”
The Bed Was Not My Own
10 Orgasms for the price of one Off-Broadway ticket: Hello Again at Transport Group
What I’d hoped to find in all my lovers
Were they lovers?
Can I call them lovers?
What I’d never found in any lovers
Michael John LaChiusa, Hello Again
I am an actor. I feel things. Words of my own are hard to find sometimes, and I’m shy by nature: I spend a lot of my life waiting for someone to write the words I need to speak my heart, and hoping they will give me permission to use them. So, when I tell you I have never felt so lucky as when I was paid $245 a week to play The Actress in Transport Group’s revival of Hello Again, a musical about ten doomed sexual encounters played out on banquet tables in a cold, raw loft space; how grateful I felt to go into debt and expose every part of myself (literally, literally), inches from the face of a critical New York Times critic seated around one of those very banquet tables, you will understand how deeply I love Michael John LaChiusa, a writer who utterly speaks my heart-language.
Is this healthy?
How can I describe the experience to you? If you could only FEEL it! The way his music, his MUSIC!—once you learn it (which is hard to do—hours and days and weeks of labor and self-loathing until something clicks and the universe opens itself to you like a children’s book), the way it connects to some deep part of yourself that is primal and spiritual all at once and you are yourself a child in its presence, both innocent and all-knowing as it tucks your hair gently behind your ear.
I mean, it sounds crazy, but I wish you could just feel it!
I imagine it’s what it must be like to be a dolphin. Slipping through a planet of known but unknowable water. Rolls, spins, dives to the depths, smiles. Look at my beautiful body! Maybe a long float to the surface, achingly slow. An explosion of effort and a leap into AIR! Suspended…a gasp…look. at. this. whole. other. world. Through blurred vision as time hangs like a dream…the heart already aches with longing as the arc bends back to the sea…
Or a bird! A bird climbing higher, higher, wings beating, beads of bird-sweat breaking from the effort, feathers glistening iridescent, the effort feels so gooooood wow my muscles are so strong I am headed for SPACE the blue is so…blue woahhhhhh!
Or! Or! In a darkened theatre, I am an audience of a thousand souls living through one actor as we are all one with the word, with the truth, as our hearts beat together in suspended seconds and everything is connected, everything is possible—
THIS! For the uninitiated: THIS is what sex feels like when you’re simulating it on stage while singing a song by Michael John.
(Better than sex.)
But despite “An orgasm in every scene!” Hello Again is about so much more than SEX. Hello Again is about the moment AFTER. My friend, and our director, Jack Cummings III said recently, “Theatre is honesty about what life really is.” And this piece exposes something that no one really talks about: the inability to ultimately hold on to something.
In each pairing of lovers in the show is this moment of connection…followed by the loss of it. The slip. The gears grind. The fall off the bike. And then, for at least one of them, the realization of that loss. The hunger to return to that place of oneness. A mad scramble.
It is the moment after that counts, and the one I am thinking about now.
Now, when the hunger to return to that place of oneness is so deep, to be one of a thousand souls in a theatre as a song rings around us and through us, as the universe opens and we, all of us, agree that the truth is so beautiful it hurts.
Now, when the way home is nowhere in sight, when my bike is broken, and wheels aren’t round anymore, anyway.
Now, when I only sing Michael John’s music in the shower.
This reality we are dealing with now is familiar to me: I feel like The Actress I played in the show, the one who suddenly realizes the affair is over and has been for some time, and without her consent. Desperate for what is past. Fighting to hold on to something that is just…inexplicably…gone. She cajoles, she manipulates, she threatens, she bargains, she denies.
Even as I judged her, I always thought I understood her, all that grasping. All that helplessness.
God. I feel that now.
But what if we don’t dig our red-shellacked nails into the lover who is out the door already? What if we let go and—dammit Buddha always said it best—be where we are? IN this raw space, somehow with grace? What emerges then? When we fall headlong into the unknowable sea?
But Michael John LaChiusa will write again, for me or for other performers; I can’t capture him and keep him hostage to be mine, only mine (much as I’d like to, but a favorite composer is not a pet). And maybe it’s time for me to write my own script, instead of waiting for someone else to speak my heart. This is a new moment. Time for new songs. New voices. No permission needed.
Art continues to teach us its lessons, doesn’t it? Years later, I am still learning from this show, or maybe finally getting it. The emptiness when the song is gone and the aching to return is the chase that drives us forward. The dolphin leaps again in a new part of the sea. The bird floats on the wind until strength is regained for another climb. This raw, suspended moment after is where we are now, all of us, in the whole world, together at last. It is our moment of connection.
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