Kathleen Turner Double Feature With a 26-Year Intermission
When I was seventeen years old, my Aunt Delores took me to see Kathleen Turner in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway. It was 1990; I was a junior in high school; and that was my first Broadway show. Kathleen Turner was a big deal. I knew that because I’d watched The Man With Two Brains and Romancing the Stone at least 100 times each, and I knew all her lines.
I didn’t normally go to Broadway shows. At that point, I didn’t even live in New York State. But I’d gotten an honorable mention in (I think) the Highlights fiction writing contest, and there was going to be an awards ceremony at (I’m pretty sure it was) the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. What I definitely didn’t realize at the time was that an invisible web of kindness surrounded me, even at South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
South Side was my third high school. There would eventually be four of them. It wasn’t the kind of trouble it sounds like. It was actually pretty boring. I went to 4 elementary schools, one middle school and four high schools because my Dad was always looking for a better job. My parents weren’t in the military, which is what everyone assumed when I said we moved at least every two years. People were usually disappointed to learn the boring truth. So one time, I decided to say something different. Unfortunately, that “one time” was at South Side High School right at the beginning of my junior year, when I was supposed to figure out college and what I was supposed to do to get in. Let’s assume I could have been described as not-exactly-well-off-and-maybe-a-little-stupid-about-how-the-world-works, a.k.a. it sure would have been a good idea to have my high school guidance counselor in my court.
So my new guidance counselor asked, “Why do you move around so much?”
“My parents are running from the law,” I said.
“Really?” He suddenly looked concerned.
I laughed. “No, I’m just kidding.”
That was the first time I ever watched the look in someone’s eyes turn to instant hatred. Apparently, guidance counselors don’t like smart-asses. I didn’t understand at the time how badly I was screwing things up for myself. I thought that was the best answer I’d ever given to the same old question. I went home and told my family about the conversation. We laughed and laughed and laughed. It was pretty funny. For awhile. Nowadays, I tell people I moved around so much when I was a kid because I come from circus-folk. That’s actually pretty close to the mark.
Somehow, the powers-that-be at South Side High School forgave me my insolence. Word of the Highlights honorable mention got out, and I was offered a round trip plane ticket to Albany. Honestly, I didn’t understand it at first. I thought there was a catch. Someone like me without a foot-in-mouth-intercept-team did not have such luck. But there was no catch. I still don’t know who at South Side High School cared so much about me, but I am eternally grateful for what they did.
Aunt Delores picked me up at the Albany Airport. We drove the 2 1/2 hours north to her house through the Adirondacks at night. If you know where things are in Upstate New York, going north from Albany is definitely not in the direction of the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. But that didn’t matter to me. I was on an adventure! The next day, we drove south again, past Albany and all the way to Poughkeepsie. There, we got on the train to New York City!
We must have stayed 2 nights, though my memory is hazy. My cousin Adam came along, and he is always entertaining. There was sightseeing and the awards ceremony and a dozen other things we did. My Aunt paid for everything. I still don’t understand how she afforded it, but I knew she was doing something extra-special for me. She was adamant that we go out for a nice steak dinner at Smith and Wollensky. I’d never before been to a restaurant where you ordered the steak separate from the sides. And that one steak cost as much as dinner out for a family of five at the Red Lobster! I don’t remember anything about how the steak tasted. I’m sure it was great, but I was busy being overwhelmed by my Aunt’s kindness.
After dinner, my cousin went back to the hotel while Aunt Delores and I waited near the Eugene O’Neill Theatre box office for tickets to become available for the sold out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Aunt Delores is a charmer. In no time, we had tickets and were seated inside. Just before the show started, the theatre went quiet. Someone walked in. Another celebrity! In her beautiful Upstate New York accent, Aunt Delores whispered “It’s Danny DeVita!” Not Devito. Devita. The show that followed was electric, though I was having a bit of trouble ignoring the brain in a jar that my mind conjured up every time Kathleen Turner spoke. Seeing that show was one of the coolest, most surreal things I’d ever been part of. Plus, I was so happy to finally be included in one of Aunt Delores’s adventures.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was [ah-hem] a few years ago. But I often think about those few days in New York and all the people who were looking out for me. I was especially thinking about all that while I waited for The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Kathleen Turner, to begin on Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle last week. I’m particularly fond of the Kogod Cradle. The last time I was in that theatre, I was riding a Viking ship in my wedding. But from the moment I’d heard about the book The Year of Magical Thinking, I had no interest in reading it. Just too sad! I cried over summaries of the book! I didn’t need to spend 6 hours torturing myself by actually reading the tale of unhappiness. My nightmares are made of real things (I can’t even watch NCIS!), and Joan Didion’s tale was too true.
But it was Kathleen Turner. At Arena Stage. Really close to my house.
So I went to see the The Year of Magical Thinking. Though my mind was initially filled with thoughts of that New York trip twenty-six years ago, those thoughts only lasted until Kathleen Turner took the Kogod Cradle stage. She was amazing. I was in awe. For an hour-and-a-half, she told me this horrific true story I wouldn’t have been able to handle on my own. Yes, I cried a few times, but I also laughed. And I hoped other people were being looked out for, in good times and in bad, like I have been.