Closing night of a play moves actors deeply, since they are all about emotions in the first place. "It's been glorious." "Will we see each other again soon?" "This has inspired me to do greater things." Truly. Be an actor once, just so you can experience it.
Tonight, friends, is one of those nights. Expressing Motherhood, the show featuring monologues about women raising children, the show I got cast in playing the husband of a woman rapping about motherhood, will turn its lights out tonight. It is going to be stirring and profound and touching and sweet and wonderful.
And I won't be there.
In the days leading up to the show, Susanna, the singer/writer/star of the song/scene, kept making adjustments to the song. Certain lyrics, the actual playback to which we would be singing, a bit of stage business she and I had.... Not many things, but she was having a spot of trouble getting it to a point where she was happy with it. Perfectly understandable. And last Friday night when the show opened, the aforementioned rap song went over like Lenny Bruce in rural Kansas. Susanna missed a couple of lines. And she and her microphone weren't loud enough. And we kinda screwed up the part where she was supposed to kick me in the goodies. I reacted too soon and it looked like she pantomimed kicking me in the chest. And we went first, so maybe the audience wasn't ready.
So that night and well into the next day, Susanna made a brutally honest assessment of what was wrong with the scene and shrewdly decided that the whole husband part wasn't working at all. She called me up at about 4:00 Saturday afternoon, just a few hours before I was supposed to be at the theatre, and gently broke the news to me that my services were no longer needed. I took it well, wished her luck, got off the phone with her, and laughed a little of my ass off.
This means that MY closing night was the night before: last Friday, which was also opening night, which made it economical if nothing else. My experience leading up the moving goodbyes -- after the song tanked -- was as follows. I got off stage and crammed myself into a little L-shaped dressing room with about a dozen other women. The way the theatre is laid out, there wasn't any place else for us to go. And the audience could hear us if we spoke above a whisper, so we had to be very quiet the whole time. For nearly two hours, I had polite, quiet conversations with a few of the mothers in the show. Some of them kept showing each other pictures of their children and complimenting each other on their shoes, while I read in whatever empty chair I could find. At intermission, I thoughtfully sat in one of the far corners of the L with my back to everyone so one of the mothers could pump breast milk.
After the show was over, there was no place for me to change into my street clothes, so I left my black suit on. The moving goodbyes were a couple of "See you tomorrows" and included me verifying the call time for Saturday's show. I waded through lingering audience members, none of whom gave me an obligatory "Nice job." I walked out the front door and went down the street to my car. It was at that moment that I realized I still had my cup on over my privates. I was about to reach in and take it out, but two women were walking down the sidewalk, headed my way. The last thing they needed to see was some guy in the dark on a street in Hollywood cramming his hand down his trousers. So I drove home in my black suit with my cup on.
The next day, after I got relieved of my duties, I emailed the producer to say farewell. She emailed back her thanks for my efforts and informed me that the show had been promoted in one of the community newspapers. Its website had this picture:
You'll notice that in the caption, I'm listed as W. Joe Dungan. The reporter and photographer covered the story during a tech rehearsal. I guess these things happen when you take notes in the dark. (As I write this, on closing night, the paper's website still has this story up -- with this picture and this caption.)
No W. Joe Dungan in the show. No Joe Dungan either. And tonight, during their closing night, they'll be bonding and having emotional episodes. I'll be having grilled cheese sandwiches and soup at a grilled cheese sandwiches and soup party, where I won't get written out after the first course and I won't get kicked in the cubes. But it will still be, in its own way, meaningful.