I’ve said for a long time that this is the bad time line. The one where Captain Kirk gets killed a the end. Except it wasn’t Captain Kirk – for some reason he’s still alive and kicking. It was Alan.
It’s hard for me to articulate what about him caught my eye when I was 15. Twenty years later I had the revelation that I was a grown up and I could actually go to things he did and speak with him. I had a very specific goal: I wanted him to know who I was. And over nine years we got to know each other. Every time an event would come up I would find a way to go. Often times I had no idea how this was going to happen until it did. I worked extra hours, I sold crap I didn’t use any more, and some crap I did use but didn’t care. I was late on my rent. I begged. I borrowed. And every time somehow, magically, it happened. I was driven. I always lived in fear that if I didn’t seize every opportunity that came available… one day… he’d be gone. And then I’d hate myself for not having tried my hardest.
The adventures, the shenanigans, the covert ops to get to London or Dublin or New York or Los Angeles or Toronto. Sometimes no one knew where I was except one trusted friend.
That time he called me over to him at a party and talked to me –
with an increasing amount of slurred-ness on both our parts – about anything and everything. That time he deliberately backed into me and pushed me into a wall at the Donmar Warehouse. That time he shoved a slider in his mouth and pantomimed in front of me with his mouth full. He recognized my voice. I would call his name and his head would whip around and he’d say, “Oh. Hello.” The last conversation we had was at the premiere for Dust, a short film I helped produce with crowd funding. I said, “I’m still committing to the bit.” He said, “I’m still cultivating an air of mystery.”
Many people far more eloquent than I have written wonderful tributes about what a kind and generous man he was; passionate about worthy causes and the arts; passionate about helping young actors; passionate about theatre.
Even when he wasn’t doing anything, just knowing he was out there and that maybe in a month or two I’d get to see him was something that was always kicking around in my head. In fact I had actually booked a ticket to see him speak at Latymer Upper and had just worked out the logistics of getting to London when the event was cancelled.
The journey was pure joy.
And now there is no joy.
There will never be another like him.
When I began reading Harry Potter, Harry is on the Quidditch team for Gryffindor and his team mates are introduced in the book. One of them, Alicia Spinnet, is a Chaser who is described dark skin, hair, and eyes. Now, considering this is set in the UK, most likely Alicia Spinnet is Indian. But in my head, she was my 8th grade basketball team mate, Alicia Spencer, who is black. I’m on the Spectrum, so my mind associates things that ways. Alicia S. is Alicia S., in my head. Every time I would read Harry and Alicia Spinnet is mentioned, I’m picturing Alicia Spencer.
I just received word that the real Alicia S. Alicia Spencer, is in the last stages of MS. Her doctors want to put her on hospice. She wants to go home. Home being her mother’s house in Lancaster, where we both grew up.
I didn’t really know Alicia that well, either in 8th grade or now. Facebook made us “friends,” but that still doesn’t mean I know her all that well. She came to Lancaster in 8th grade. She was my team mate on the basketball team. But she wants to go home. Home for me is my mother’s house in Lancaster, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a bad spot in my life and I wanted to go home. Not to the place where I currently resided. To my mother’s house. In Lancaster. She’s 43. And in the last part of her life. I can’t even IMAGINE what that must be like. I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up yet, and she just wants to go home. This girl that I always thought of and pictured every time I read about Gryffindor has been fighting this insidious disease and is now at the end.
The family is trying to raise the funds to make the home accessible for the time she has left. And is getting the run around from the city about any kind of assistance there is available (seems like none) to renovate her mom’s house to make it suitable for her. They’re just trying to take in the garage. If you have a dollar or two to spare, please consider chipping in to help let my team mate come home to her mom’s house. I am particularly reaching out to members of the Masons or the Eastern Star to see if they know of any benevolent organizations that can help the family.
Here is the Go Fund Me page
This blog post was originally going to be a treatise on the joy of New Jersey. Or possibly even a discussion of Fiona Shaw’s latest show on Broadway, The Testament of Mary. It might have even been on how much I dig Security Guy Ron (and yes, I really do know his last name).
Instead it’s going to be about Richard Griffiths.
I am indescribably saddened by his death. I adored him, even though I’d never actually met him and had had only very minimal contact once with him after seeing Equus.
Anyone who knows me well knows I have much affection for full figured men, so it’s no wonder that Richard caught my eye in 1991, when I was 18. The slapstick comedy, Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear, when he plays doppelgangers Dr. Albert S. Meinheimer and Edward Hacker was wonderfully funny. The whole film is silliness and insane physical comedy, which I love. And when he flies through the air in a motorized wheelchair, a la E.T. – brilliance!
Of course, with the advent of the internet it was much easier to find out about him, and I was always bummed out by the fact that Richard didn’t seem to think people cared about him. It seemed like he thought the only reason people wanted to know him was because of the characters he played. Which is ludicrous, of course. There’s a difference between being a fan of a character and a fan of an actor. I’m a fan of the character Jack Sparrow but am rather ambivalent about Johnny Depp. Very kind, warm man, but I’m not interested in him the way some of my friends are. But those friends who are fans of Johnny Depp care deeply about him. I’m sure Richard never gave it much thought – fans are fans, and we’re all a bit crazy. But how many people texted and e-mailed me in sorrow over his death? If it was just about his characters and not about Richard the man, then it wouldn’t have mattered. Because we have Uncle Monty and Dr. Meinheimer and Vernon Dursley and Hector and Henry Crabbe all captured digitally – why should we be saddened over the actor’s death? But it’s not about the characters, it was about him.
I’d read up on him a bit before I went to see the Equus and knew he had a penchant for throwing people out of theatres if their mobiles rang. As someone who walks around with my mobile spell-o-taped to my hand, I didn’t want to be that person. Before I walked into the play I pulled my battery, which has since become a habit – I do it before I walk into any house of worship. In the middle of the play, after his monologue, he got a standing ovation. I’d never seen a crowd do that in the middle of a play. After the play I elbowed my way through the throng of teenage girls and from three people back managed to shove my playbill towards them. He took it from my hand, signed it, and put it back in my hand. I shouted, “Thank you Mr. Griffiths!” He shouted, “You’re welcome,” back. His whole performance was just so mind-blowing. Forget naked Daniel Radcliffe. I often think of his performance and how I wished I’d seen it at least once more. The bartender who worked Equus told me later that he very clearly didn’t like people, but he was a truly lovely man and very sweet. As in, he didn’t let his general dislike of people affect how he treated them – he was kind and generous and said please and thank you. Not that I’m calling anyone out. *ahem* I watched the Tonys the year he and Daniel presented an award and I remember the thing with the Post-It note and him saying, with a twinkle in his eye, “There’s no such thing as magic,” and Daniel busting out laughing. Just on Tuesday I was talking about him to a friend. It’s fascinating how much he influences me even now and I never even met him.
I have so many regrets about him. I wish I’d known him. I wish I’d seen him in The Sunshine Boys and The Habit of Art. Most of all I wish he’d realized how much we loved him. As a person. Not as a character. This morning the Equus bartender via e-mail said, “He was a gem of a man.” Indeed he was. And I hope wherever he is now he knows he will be so terribly missed.
In March of 2012 I was hanging out in the Bullmoose Saloon after Seminar, talking to Hamish Linklater about his play, The Vandal, getting a staged reading as a benefit for The Flea Theater. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Noah Robbins were to do the reading.
"Hey Hamish, I'm really looking to checking out your play next month."
"You're coming? Thank you so much!" His voice then dropped to a whisper, "I can't believe Alan's doing this for me!"
Then we put our heads together, and, much like Wayne and Garth said, in unison, "It's gonna be AWESOME!"
And it was. When the Flea announced The Vandal as part of its season, I immediately made plans to head to New York to see it. Staged properly, it did not disappoint.
I went on and on about the writing last April, and I'm going to go on and on about it again today. Good writing is a bit like good television or any kind of art, really. There's so much schlock out there you forget what good stuff looks like until you encounter it again and it washes over you and you say, oh. That's what it's supposed to be like all the time, but isn't. The Vandal is an example of fantastic writing. I keep thinking of the scene in Seminar when Leonard assesses Martin’s writing with, “This is good. You know it’s good.” This is good. And you know it’s good. The dialogue is sharp and the subject matter flits between the nonsensical and the deep as you learn more and more about the characters. It’s set on a freezing winter night in Kingston, New York, at a bus stop, a liquor store, and a cemetery; as the character Robert points out, “The perfect trifecta of life.” Originally Holly Hunter was supposed to play the character of Woman, but Deidre O’Connell brings a portrayal of Anonymous Middle Aged Woman that rings true. I’m not sure Hunter would have been able to pull that off. Zach Grenier is wonderful as the grizzled, jaded liquor man. Noah Robbins, reprising his role as Robert, is the perfect mix of energetic, chattering adolescent and deep thinking philosopher. The story is engaging from beginning to end (which, really, is what you pay for when you go to the theater) and by the end, when the final twist is revealed, you’re mesmerized by these characters.
This is the summary on The Flea’s website: A freezing night in Kingston, New York. A woman meets a boy at a bus stop. A play about how we live and the stories we tell ourselves when we’re haunted by the people we’ve loved and lost.
The Vandal is one hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission. It’s running at The Flea from now until 17 February. If you think you might go see it, message me.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the show turned out to be amazing. It was as if he'd made a list of everything he wanted to say, explain, or confess before he dies, and is traveling around everywhere to say these things. It's utterly brilliant. He talks about his family, his growing up in Montreal, what he wanted to be when he grew up, college, his first jobs, his love of horses. With clips to accentuate the stories he tells, it's mesmerizing from beginning to end. There are parts of it that are incredibly sad, but yet those stories felt necessary. He talks about the death of his first wife, the death of one of his stallions, death being the final frontier, what we're on earth to do... everything.
And by the end, I realized I might even like Bill Shatner.