Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Urinetown

"Welcome to the Morgue."

Those were the words my great friends and hosts Scott and Drew greeted me with, when I arrived at their home for my 10-day holiday stay in Los Angeles. I stepped into their grand foyer, and immediately knew this would not be like any other Christmas trip I had taken.

My LA trip has developed, over the past several years, into a traditional holiday vacation, during which my hosts and I would spend many evenings schmoozing and boozing by the fire, accompanied by Christmas music or videos. It was a terrific way to kick off the holiday season, and we all enjoyed it (I wrote a bit about this new tradition last year). This year, however, Scott was suffering from a frightening medical problem which, to date, weeks after it first appeared, has yet to be fully diagnosed. But when I stepped into that grand foyer, Scott and his partner were in the midst of a series of unscheduled trips to doctors and emergency rooms, of anti-biotics and anti-depressants, and mis-diagnoses of his ailment which would make the biggest quack doctors envious.

The first five days of my visit, Scott was in actual pain, and he had other symptoms which are a bit too gruesome to describe here. He and Drew were beside themselves with worry and stress, not very conducive to festive holiday cheer. For most of these days, they secluded themselves in their bedroom suite, leaving me to my own devices.

My trip took on a weird schizophrenic quality. In the evening, I would prepare my own dinner, and dine in the beautifully decorated den of my hosts, while the guys themselves would fix their own dinner and have it in their bedroom. That is, when they weren't dashing off to the emergency room or the pharmacist. I admit I was feeling abandoned and awkwardly in the way at the same time.

But during the day, I drove across the valley to teach at Notre Dame High School, where I was having an absolute ball. My best friend for 35 years, Judy, heads the drama department there, and has turned the program into a substantial training ground for young actors. In recent years, she has done me the great honor of inviting me to teach her second and third year actors for the week. What a terrific time I have with Judy's teens. Even at the crack of dawn, these kids are enthusiastic and ready to learn new techniques. We played a variety of theatre exercises and childrens' games, all with the intention of learning a vocabulary of movement for the actor.

Judy was my savior during this schizo trip. We spent most days together teaching, then heading out for lingering lunches where we caught up on each others' lives. She was also responsible for the theatrical events I attended while in LA (I wrote about those here). It sounds like a cliche, but when I spend time with Judy, she renews my spirit.

Each night I returned to the big house on the cul de sac, where I was experiencing a completely different vacation. I have to admit I wasn't much help. After I had been in residence five days, Scott's physical symptoms began to subside, but he and Drew made the decision to continue to seclude themselves in the privacy of their bedroom suite. This isn't much of a surprise, as they have worked hard to build an insular life where they remain removed from most of the day-to-day interactions the rest of us endure. Drew works exclusively from his office downstairs, and Scott's work requires him to be away from home only a few hours a week. Otherwise, the two are inseparable, and impenetrable by the outside world.

So when the outside world penetrates, as it did with Scott's mysterious illness, the stress level of the couple skyrockets. Nothing else can be thought about, no other activities can be attempted, they are completely paralyzed; all other considerations are sidelined. We did our best to replicate the joy of the annual Tree Trimming evening, joined by Judy and Claudia (I wrote about this whole clan a long while ago), but this year was simply not the same as previous nights.

As I headed back to DC last week, I felt that I'd had two very separate trips. During the day, there was the celebratory feeling of reconnecting with an old friend and having new adventures, in the classroom and elsewhere. In the evenings, there was a stressful gloom determining the trip. I suppose I should have been a better Hayley Mills, who spent all those days trying to cheer up Agnes Moorehead, but there's a reason no one ever confuses me with Pollyanna.

So I had half a holiday, which I'm not sure is better than none at all. I returned to DC determined to make up for lost time, and threw myself into decorating my own space. Stay tuned.