Gospel at Colonus – Poolside Family Reunion

My go-to pic for all pool party invites.

We hosted a glorious reunion of our Colonus Family yesterday. The colleagues whom I met only about two months ago have become family. That can be one of the powerful aftereffects of a theatrical venture. In certain productions, the chemistry of a company becomes larger than the vessel that holds it, and spills over, flooding your lives with the epsom-salted-soothing water of a warm bath. Or in this case, of a warm pool, as the twenty-plus guests gathered to celebrate the upcoming remount of the show in the Rec room at our condo in downtown LA. There were conspicuous absences, of course, as several cast members live back east or across the country and were not able to attend. Others, still, had work, or family engagements, or reunions planned after the flurry of the show this summer and were otherwise engaged.

Yesterday was a tough and emotional day for Jimmie and me, as one of Jimmie’s nephews passed away suddenly after a brief but impactful series of medical episodes. In the scrum of the party organization in the morning, I glanced at FB, seeing a picture of Jamie on his brother Doke’s FB page, and the dreaded words, rest in peace. Though he had lived with AIDS for over 30 years, managing his health well, his departure was a blow. His twin, Martha, herself recently widowed, had sat with Jamie every day for the past five days, in ICU, as the medical team worked nobly to stave off the inevitable. Nothing prepares you for the loss of a family member.

Death crept elsewhere around our Colonus family reunion yesterday. Jackie Gouche´ arrived, on her lips a story of the sudden passing that morning of her next door neighbor, a 56-year-old man. I am ever alert to the potential for loss. You can call me Maude Lynn;  I guarantee I will use that as my nom de plume in the future.  My hyper awareness of loss is genetic, as well as due to the large age gap between myself and my husband. The picture I select for our invites each time we host a pool party is of a woman who closely resembles my dearly departed stepmother. Her kind, limpid blue eyes, combined with the silly plastic spangled swim cap reminds me of dear Joan, and her strong impact on me as a teen and later, as a young mother. Each loss stings as a reminder of losses to come. This hopeless extra sensory perception to loss causes me sometimes to go overboard planning parties where I can more easily embrace our family and the non-blood-related families we build around us via the theatre.

I feel an urgency to make the most of each day; so, on a day when our apartment looked like a war zone due to the bathroom remodel in progress, I gathered up the necessary tools to make the Condo’s lovely rec room adequate to host a party and pushed my cart down to the 2nd floor pool level.

By 1:00pm, I was ready, plastic red and white checked table-cloth rolled out over the rec room’s tables, all the available chairs pushed up next to the long 15′ table area, buffets set up near by, and a station of cold drinks ready by the door to the outside, where 95 degree temps eagerly mashed their sweaty fingers up against glass protecting the cool, air-conditioned room. It was sunny and the grill was heating. I swooned a bit from the combination of grill and natural heat as I flipped the first burgers.

The inevitable fear of party failure loomed. Tough questions rolled through my brain:

What if no one comes? What if no one eats? What if no one has a good time? What if there is nothing to talk about? Did I make enough food? Will anyone swim? Will the lack of parking deter them from coming?

L to R: Ricky Nelson, Els, Jackie Gouche, Andi Chapman, William Allen Young. This photo almost didn’t happen but we convinced each other it was a good idea.

One thing I should have been certain of is that there would be plenty of talk and laughter and frivolity.
At more than one point in the afternoon, the decibel level in the room exceeded the legal limit for condo rec rooms, but thankfully, the doors were closed up against the heat, and we just reveled in the sonorous ricochet of laughter.

As at all family reunions, topics of health came up. We bemoaned this family’s shared acute asthma, comparing treatments and the high cost of inhalers, and hopeful appraisal that we could still take up scuba diving in spite of the affliction. We talked about the value of the epsom salt soak, either lavender-scented, or plain.  We took turns reveling in the achievements of our children, the raucous chatter and laughter silenced for a few minutes to listen to the extraordinary vocals of Jackie’s son, featured on Tyrese’s latest and last album, Black Rose. We laughed about the Hollywood phenomenon of being in a TV Series; how a mundane drive across town could suddenly be punctuated by seeing your own face on the side of an adjacent bus, or on a nearby billboard. Surreal. Enjoy it while you can!

Did you get a selfie?

I have a selfie stick.

You do not!

I do, just not with me.

We shared Face Time with Muff, who had recently moved to Florida; we visited briefly, me sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling, as Angie held the phone up to my face and I struggled to see Muff through the sunny reflection of Angie’s phone. Then Angie swept her away to visit with some of the others.

It felt good to laugh, to listen, to relish the memories of the brief time that we have known each other as a group. People came and left during the afternoon as their schedules allowed. IMG_4849We had a brief visit from the Colonus Pater Familias, Wren T. Brown, his beautiful wife, Anne Hailey Brown, and their son Brandon, who had performed in the last weekend of the show as one of the Henchmen. It is because of Wren and Gayle Hooks that we exist as a family now. This two month-long hiatus, broken up by our Colonus Poolside bash allowed us to remember what bonded us. Ricky regaled us with a story about being recognized recently by several large groups of women.

Do I know you from church?

No! We saw you in the play!

How did you recognize me?

We recognized you from your hair!


I watched affectionately, as my hostessing duties took me away from the table, and Dominique invited Jimmie closer in to the table to talk. And, at the end of the afternoon, when I realized there was another party booked in the room, I felt terrible to have to tell people it was time for us to wrap it up.

Everyone scurried to make plates of food for people to take away and to help with the clean up. Nina’s yummy baked beans! I quickly snagged some of Lantrez’ beautiful enchiladas, and I am glad I did! I missed Deante’s mac and cheese, which, I was told, was very cheesy! Oh well, next time.

With classes starting, and the beginning of the fall semester, along with the remount of Colonus for three brief weeks, I am not sure how to get another party pulled together. That’s okay. We will see each other soon!

Next weekend, Jimmie and I will see our blood family, for Jamie’s memorial. In this business of life and death, it’s about making opportunities to be together, about embracing and laughing and eating.  COLONUS ART

This is the last week for early bird tickets. Tickets $25-35 are on sale only through August 21st. Get yours now! http://www.ebonyrep.org/

On Borrowed Time – Twenty Years Later

I received a call from a dear old friend this week, Producer, Actor and general-all-round theatrical wunderkind, Wren Brown. In the vein of my favorite maxim: “there are only 100 people in the theatre,” Wren was actually among the first 100 I met in the theatre, when I was stage managing at the Pasadena Playhouse in the early 1990s. OnBorrowedTimeWe did a play called “On Borrowed Time,” by Paul Osborn, adapted from a novel by Lawrence Edward Watkin and directed by Sheldon Epps, before his tenure as the Artistic Director. Wren played Mr. Brink, A.K.A. Death, stalking Gramps (Conrad Bain) to tell him his time was up. Crafty Gramps performed a good deed, then tricked Mr. Brink to climb a tree where he became trapped, unable to make good on his goal of recalling Gramps. As Don Shirley noted in his LA Times March 24th review quoted below, Wren was hardly scary as death in the play. I concurred, Wren being one of my favorite actors to work with ever.

“In Sheldon Epps’ staging, Brown’s Mr. Brink is dressed in a creamy white suit and speaks in calm, firm, perfectly articulated phrases. Occasionally he cracks a smile. For those of us who can see him (some characters can’t), this Mr. Brink isn’t scary for a second.

Our fear of death is brushed aside. But then playwright Paul Osborn, adapting a novel by Lawrence Edward Watkin (who goes unacknowledged in the Pasadena program), didn’t want to frighten. He was making the very sensible point that death is a part of the life cycle, that the power to ward it off could create major problems.”

Don Shirley, LA Times, LA Times – ‘Borrowed Time’: A Comedy That Suspends Mystery

Several noteworthy events happened during the play’s performances. On opening night, a rainy late March night in 1992, we were on our way home from the opening night party in two separate cars: my husband with our little red Molly Dogg, who appeared in the play as herself in one car, and me in the second. 1985 BonnevilleI was driving the great big blue Bonneville I had inherited from my grandmother, and Jimmie was in our Volkswagen Jetta, close by me. The rain was fierce, one of those significant downpours that we used to have with such regularity in the early 90s, where the precious water came down in relentless sheets, working the wiper blades to their last shred of rubber –  inevitable in a clime where the sun baked them onto the windshields and disuse weakened them further. My hands clutched the wheel of the car. I was, in spite of having come from the opening night party, sober as a judge, almost seven years sober at that point.

I was driving west on the 134 Freeway, just reaching Glendale, when a car about 100 yards in front of me hit a big puddle and spun out. It corrected itself and I noted by peering into the rear view mirror that had it not corrected, there was a large gap between me and the cars coming behind me. Just as I finished that thought, I hit the same puddle and did a complete and heart-stopping 360 degree spin out,  halting for just a moment before resuming my forward momentum; I then pulled off to the side of the road, where I began to cry. Through the rain ahead of me, I could see Jimmie pulling the Jetta off to the side of the road. I pulled onto the road, still rather hysterical, and slowly followed Jimmie home, to the driveway where  he helped me out of the car and into the house. The play’s message came to me with full force, especially the next night, when Dan, my ASM, told about how he’d been on his way home and had almost been hit by some crazy woman whose car was spinning completely around. I could have taken out the entire stage management team on that night, but as I said, we were on “On Borrowed Time.”

The other event was the Joshua Tree Earthquake, which happened during a performance on April 23, 1992 at 9:50PM, just minutes before the end of the play. A 6.1 earthquake, it struck after Mr. Brink (Wren) had climbed up into his platform within the tree, and in the last 15 minutes of the play. I was calling the play from the downstage right SM podium adorned with its little sticker “Tired of working in the dark?” As was protocol then, after the shaking started, I got on the God mic and in the shakiest voice ever heard, announced to the audience that they should follow the ushers outside in an orderly manner. I gathered the actors and crew in the back alley outside the theatre (a horribly unsafe place where falling debris might have hit us) and we plucky theatre folks determined that we would finish the play if the audience wanted to stay. A survey by the front of house staff determined that the audience did want to stay, so we finished the performance, Wren climbing gamely back up into the tree in his off white suit, my hero for his willingness to finish the show in spite of the natural events around us. Because after all, we were all “On Borrowed Time.”

pasadena-green-roomThere were other events of the show that caused the cast to bond; I remember one night during notes in the green room with Sheldon, one of the pictures  jumped off the wall – came straight out and down. We were sure that Playhouse founder Gilmore Brown was making a comment. Overall, it was a distinct honor to work with the cast and I’ve been a huge fan of Wren’s ever since.  After that, he worked with my husband on a play called “Burning Hope” down at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and we have cherished each opportunity to see him and his beautiful family.

Gospel-art-1-BSo when Wren called me the other day, it was to ask if I would like to work with him again, to stage manage a very exciting project, the 30th Anniversary revival of “The Gospel At Colonus,” to be performed at The Ebony Repertory Theatre. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to consider taking on a stage managing job with my current job at USC, but the dates sandwiched perfectly into my life, and I am really excited about taking on this project for him. If anyone appreciates the fragility of life and the precious life-force in the work we do in the theatre, it’s Mr. Brink. Thanks, Wren, for your confidence in me and your steady and unwavering friendship!