I'm working on a feature story this week, and actually, off and on since about April this year.
About two years ago, I did a feature on a production taking place at the University, one which for some reason or other I was unable to review, but which was directed by Jade McCutcheon, whom I liked immediately because she was from Australia. She is a fascinating person who seems to have done everything all over the world.
I've kind of kept track of her since that article came out because she had several irons in the fire and I was curious to see which would ultimately be produced.
In April we got together for coffee and "catch up" and she told me about a project she was in the process of writing, which would be produced in October. It's called The Elephants' Graveyard and would center around aging and end of life issues. At the time she was still trying to clarify how the work would ultimately look. She wanted to involve a older woman, preferably 70-80 years old who "wasn't terrified to walk on stage" who would be the center of the piece, but who wouldn't have to actually speak. She would have a "soul" who would be her voice but the action would revolve around her. The character would be named Esme.
When I left her, she was on a hunt for her Esme.
As it turned out, she had better luck than she ever anticipated. She spoke with a group of women, aged 60-80-something and found not one, but 8 different women who were interested in participating in the project, including an Esme who was not only not terrified to be on stage, but who was willing to learn lines. A group of friends for Esme were added to the cast.
In September, I visited the "elders" at their rehearsal space during one of their sessions with the choreographer and found them all delightful women, who were learning how to project the look of the dejected, abandoned older patient in a nursing home. But these women were anything but dejected and they sparkled with delight as they talked with me about their backgrounds and their excitement at being involved with the play (none had any prior acting experience beyond maybe a grammar school or high school production).
I went to a rehearsal of the show a week ago and saw it in bits and pieces, as well as interviewed some of the actors. The young woman who plays Esme's daughter is a professor of acting. Her character is a research scientist working in a corporation called "The Never Die Institute," trying to find ways to prolong life. The character hopes she can find the key to keep her mother alive for many more years, despite the mother's assurance that she's led a full life and is ready to die when her time comes.
It was strange that 66 year old me was talking with this young woman who seemed herself to be excited about the prospect of prolonging life, while I identified more with Esme. Who in the world wants to live to 150...or, for that matter, "never die." There is truly a time to live and a time to die...and besides, I've seen that Star Trek episode, "The Mark of Gideon," where Kirk is brought to a planet so crowded with people there is no room to do anything but walk, shoulder to shoulder...they are hoping that he will introduce a strain of virus to make some of them sick so they can start dying off!
But last night there was even more of a cross-over between fantasy and reality and I actually found myself getting a little teary as I watched the run-through of the play. In one of the early scenes, Esme is in a nursing home and the doctor is trying to get through to her too-busy-to-visit-mom daughter that Mom is "not doing very well."
Just before I left for rehearsal, Walt had a call from his sister. Their mother is back in the hospital with another bout of breathing problems. I don't know if they've diagnosed it as pneumonia this time, but her lungs were working at only 10% capacity. It doesn't seem to be as bad as last time, and she may actually be able to come home in a couple of days and avoid that recovery time in the rest home, which always confuses her so much. Walt's brother is going to Santa Barbara and will be able to stay for a week and then we'll see whether Walt needs to go back again so soon or not.
The parallels between the reality of dealing with Alice in the hospital and dealing with Esme in the nursing home just hit me in a way I hadn't anticipated. Of course, Alice is surrounded by people who love her and visit her often, whether her kids or grandkids (Jeri had some frequent flyer miles to use and flew out from Boston last weekend to spend some time with Grandma), and even her nephew in Long Beach, who comes regularly with his wife to keep her supplied with Sees candy.Alice's time doesn't seem to be "imminent," but at 95, it's definitely on the horizon. So many of us are dealing with aging parents and after watching the entire rehearsal for The Elephants' Graveyard, I think the audience is going to go home and maybe at least give Mom or Dad a call to see how they're doing.