Friday, October 28, 2011

Letting Go

Letting Go

Fuck letting go.

I attended a rehearsal for the 25th anniversary production of Robert Chesley’s Jerker, marking the first time that I haven’t been involved in a local presentation since the night of the world premiere a quarter of a century ago.. Certainly this band of ribald queers, led by impresario Glenn Kessler, doesn't need my help but I can’t let go of the play. So I’m engaged as a “consultant” which means I get to watch scattered rehearsals and—like flashbacks stored in every crevice of my consciousness—relive my intense relationship to the play’s soul: its humor, its politics, and its inescapable bed of pain.

I happened (?) to walk in during a moment in the play that Chesley and I had wrangled over. In what was a very bold choice, I wanted the two characters—who never meet in person, only over telephone lines—to break the imaginary wall between them and actually kiss, lips on lips. The brilliant playwright finally agreed to see if I could make it work. I did—so much so that the move is now a permanent part of the script. And, passing the torch, Kessler is making it work, too—stunningly.

Kessler’s approach encompasses a company of seven sexy performers; in addition to the two leads, he is incorporating a team of players who will essentially recreate—live—some of the play’s erotically-charged memory passages. What I have seen promises to illuminate the play in ways we haven’t experienced it before. This is why I had to let go.

Producer Jason Moyer and I trade publicity postcards at the rehearsal I attend (you show me yours and I’ll show you mine). His card depicts a telephone (not a cellphone, an actual eighties telephone) and spells out the full title of the play: Jerker Or The Helping Hand, A Pornographic Elegy With Redeeming Social Value And A Hymn to the Queer Men Of San Francisco In Twenty Phone Calls Many of Them Dirty. It provides the details: opening on Friday, November 4 at Space 916; get tickets at

My postcard shows the partial face of a weathered man, with his eyes closed and his silver gray bushy moustache unkempt. My new solo piece, which plays  one night only on November 30, is called Torch. This is the story a man, over sixty, who can’t seem to let go of his youth, his memories, his heat, his sexuality, his past lovers (dead and alive). But he must let go or face the last act(s) of his life as a prisoner to The Past.

The juxtaposition of these two postcards encompasses decades of theatre that speak to  the cultural phenomenon of HIV/AIDS in ways both similar and wildly divergent.

In certain respects, Torch is an emotional sequel to Jerker. The man reconnects with a lover on Facebook and they resume a convoluted romance that they had not finished four decades ago: on the Internet, instead of the telephone, they share emotional and sexual intimacies that never result in a face-to-face meeting. There’s no death in Torch other than the demise attached to letting go of inflamed memories and stumbling into old age as a gay man with HIV.

Directed by Tony Abatemarco, Torch will be presented by the Katselas Theatre Company’s INKubator along with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets: 702 582 8587 or online at KTCTICKETS.COM.

More reality based and less theatrically rendered, here’s the swelling heartache: I cannot let go of my daughter. Can. Not. Let. Go. Of. My. Daughter. She has left our apartment, where we have lived since she was a baby, and is spending her junior year of high school at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, studying filmmaking. My feelings of pride are only equaled by my pangs of agony. If the “love of your life” is the person you have the deepest feelings for, the person you would die for, the person you are entangled with—emotionally and spiritually—more than anyone else, Katherine (Tia) is the love of my life.

I imagine that I hear her in her bedroom. I feel her brush up against me in the kitchen. I hear her coming home, opening the front door; my phantom daughter, haunting my dance with loneliness.  I have not lived alone for seventeen years so here I am, earlier than expected, fluttering about apprehensively in an empty nest. Not Yet. I will not let go of my daughter. But. Not Yet.

I feel like I’m on a tightrope, with the stabbing pain of neuropathy ever present, walking on tiptoe from the past into the present and terrified of the fall that’s ineluctably in my future. But I suppose it’s that fear I must let go of ultimately, right? Yah, I’ve read all those books, too.

I love the work Glenn Kessler is doing and I know Robert Chesley might have initially winced but would ultimately wallow in this newborn adaptation. Chesley worshipped sex. And the politics of sex which Kessler certainly knows how to portray with a wink and a nod—and perhaps a hard-on?—in Chesley’s direction.

I love my new piece, Torch, and all of its stingers and zingers. I love that Tony is directing me—a man who is unique but also shares so many of the qualities that my fallen brethren possessed. I am nurtured as an artist.

And, finally, I love my daughter with a passion that is unparalleled. And who can be sorry about that, even if there are periods of longing that are torturous.

That’s what life dwindles down to: what we have, what we had, what we remember, and how to let go gracefully: knowing that everything is stored in our hearts, hearts that promise to beat immortally, taking up residence in the hearts of others.


  1. No words of wisdom, Michael. Just a nod of solidarity.
    --John Wallach

  2. Michael..
    I came across your writing when I was looking up Katherine Kearn's work.
    I am overcome with emotion. What beauty, simplicity and poignancy your writing
    contains and how clearly you are able to express yourself through the written word.
    I send you a hug.