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Art Writing #8: Taxicab with VR

Experiments in Art Writing.  4/11/2016

In a taxicab with Vanessa Redgrave.

Erica belonged somewhat to David Hare, or to that time in Vanessa’s life. The fondness for all the people who were together in that Year of Magical Thinking has had more lasting impact than 23-year-old me could possibly have imagined (even as I was pinching myself to remember every encounter, every backstage moment, not to step on toes, kicking myself for referring to our elementary school infatuation with the name Margaret Drabble, who to them was a friend, not a funny name on a library shelf). Reconvening at St. John the Divine for Blue Nights, which I hadn’t read, seeing the resilient fiber in the tall thinness of Vanessa, the small, sharp, slimness of Joan.

What makes it so difficult to find these names in your vocabulary? That you don’t want them to impress, even as they do? That your nearness to them makes you wish you had any purchase on their lives? You find yourself in conversation with others of a similar degree of remove.

Names can feel uncomfortable. You want not to think of a person who has “made a name for herself” as that name. But that name is part of it. Sarah Ruhl shared Brian Dennehy’s story of Vanessa hitting someone with a fish during rehearsals for A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. My getting the job with Vanessa surely had some intrigue at that time for Sarah who is now surrogate family and wears her fame-name more uncomfortably in my anecdotes.

Vanessa asks after Erica when we work together again. Erica asks after Vanessa and laments not having anything to write to David about.

In that cab — we had been across from Liam’s apartment, Liam from whom we all learned to drink red wine with ice– were we going to Shakespeare in the Park? We certainly had been talking about it, because when I mentioned “Lily Rabe” and Vanessa didn’t hear me, she snapped. She scolded me for lack of enunciation, a primary responsibility of an actress and line reader. Luckily Erica was my witness and auditor. A momentary cruelty. She felt the barb, observed the exchange.

Do I find her a difficult person? Not especially. Do I find just about every encounter with her difficult? Possibly. Having easy times with Vanessa is as difficult as having difficult ones. Her name interferes. Her plane of existence. I project so much on her — she has, over a career of strong performances and perhaps stronger will, made herself unbelievably available to her audience’s projections. But even in the projected moments, I respect her unknowability. Her names for her things. She doesn’t always receive guests. She is not always patient. I have friends who have worked on shows with her who take delight in the difficulties they had with her. I would not pretend to know her, but what I know of her has for me been profound. She kept the postcard of the Caravaggio still life from Accademia di Brera. She kept my signed copy of Sarah Ruhl’s collected plays that I had only meant to lend her. We give different impressions, I suppose. When I somewhat hesitantly mentioned that I had accidentally given away my copy, Sarah easily gave me a replacement. Different difficulties. When I introduced Sarah to Vanessa after The Revisionist, I watched the difficult negotiations between Sarah and Jesse Eisenberg and Vanessa smoking out the fire escape.

Perhaps I cleave to difficulty.  Describing these encounters with a sense of maintaining privacy, even as I closely guard the Picasso drawings on the walls, curating my internal exhibit of invasions of their impenetrable spaces.

It is still life, after all.

Caravaggio still life