Gregory Gardner & Me

I have been waiting 28 years to play Gregory Gardner.  This summer, the waiting ends.

In 1985, The Harlequin Dinner Theatre in Rockville, Maryland did “A Chorus Line”.  I saw that production on a class field trip.  The Original Cast Recording had been playing in my house, nonstop, since it was first released.  There wasn’t a note on that album I didn’t know.  But this was the first time I saw a production of the show.  I don’t remember much.  Not the singing.  Not the dancing.  I don’t remember if the show was good or bad or somewhere in the middle.  What I remember was the character Gregory Gardner.  I remember him saying, “And then there was the time I was making out in the back seat with Sally Ketchum.  We were necking and I was feeling her boobs and I was feeling her boobs and after about an hour or so she said, ‘Oooh, doncha wanna feel anything else?’ And I suddenly thought to myself, ‘No. I don’t.’”  Ok, I don’t actually remember those words verbatim from that production, but I’ve since done the show twice (in other roles), so now I know them.  But I do remember the next section, from that production, verbatim.  After a brief exchange with another character, Greg says, “It was probably the first time I realized I was homosexual.”  And this I remember very, very verbatim; the thought that ran through my head ~ I want to say those words onstage.

I want to say those words onstage.

“It was probably the first time I realized I was homosexual.”  Suddenly, there was no oxygen in the theatre.  No movement.  No people.  Just him in a spotlight and me in the dark.  He was speaking directly, singularly, to me.  I was 13 and I was in awe.

By the time I sat in the audience of the Harlequin Dinner Theatre drinking my overly sweet virgin cocktail with a straw out of a giant keepsake tumbler, roughly a year had passed since I first realized that I was homosexual.  I had always known who I was.  But there’s knowing.  And then there’s knowing.  Roughly a year had passed since I experienced that moment in the bathroom mirror when I put word to image; when I defined myself; when everything I had been thinking and feeling finally came into brilliant, vivid focus ~ suddenly made sense.  It was horrifying.  In a blink, that word, its meaning and my identity avalanched down upon me with the weight of everything I had ever been taught about being gay.  “I am gay” buried me alive right there in my bathroom.  How could the person staring back at me be that???

But he was.  I knew he was.

I looked through my 12 year old eyes and into my future and saw only lying.  Loneliness.  Back alley sex.  Sadness.  Torment.  Darkness.  I saw myself forever fighting against something I knew was as natural to me as picking up a pencil with my left hand.  I saw myself forever losing that fight.  I saw myself losing the family I had been born into.  I saw myself incapable of creating my own.  I saw no love.  I saw someone who existed nowhere else on earth.  I saw sickness.  I saw rejection.  I saw the person I had been trying my hardest not to be.  I saw suicide as a possible option.  I saw suicide as a probable option.

And then there I was, onstage.  If not exactly me, then another like me.  And even from within my deepest fear of ever actually saying those words out loud I knew that I wanted to say those words out loud.  That was my story up there ~ or a version of it ~ and I knew ~ even from that dark, scared, scary place ~ that I wanted to say it ~ that I had to say it ~ out loud.  The freedom he must be feeling!  Freedom!  Greedily, desperately, I wanted that freedom for myself.  That power!  I didn’t know how to get it.  In fact, I thought it impossible to get it.  But I wanted it.  Craved it.  Knew that I needed it in order to survive.

I want to say those words onstage.

I had no way of knowing then what a magnificent moment that was for me.  I didn’t have the perspective to understand that what attracted me to Gregory Gardner saying it so plainly ~ so publicly ~ was that if he could say it, there existed the hope that one day I too could say it plainly ~ even publicly ~ and that it would mean nothing.  I wanted so badly to discard my shame.  Erase it.  Negate it.  Greg told me that I could.  In him ~ in this fictitious character ~ I saw hope.

But I was a 13 year old boy and 13 year old boys tend not to be saddled with such complex introspection.  Only one thought went through my head:

I want to say those words onstage.

All actors have dream roles.  Something in us says, “I want to do that!  I want to tell that story.  I want to take that journey.”  Sometimes it’s a “big,” showy role that will bring us attention and, hopefully, acclaim.  But sometimes not.  Sometimes it’s just unfinished business.  Greg is not a “big” part.  No song.  No great epiphanies.  People may not even remember him when they leave the theatre.  But I have dreamt of doing it since 1985 because it affords me the opportunity to rewrite the conversation I had with myself in the bathroom mirror nearly three decades ago.  This time, when 12 year old me figures out who he is, 41 year old me gets to respond.  I get to look him squarely in the eye and say, “There’s nothing wrong with you.  You have nothing to be scared of.  By midlife more than your fair share of dreams will have come true.  Some you had let go of will appear out of the blue.  And you’re never going to give up pursuing the ones that haven’t.  You are going to meet awe-inspiring people who, remarkably, will call you friend.  You are going to travel.  You are going to fall in love with a wonderful man.  You are going to have a truly great time finding him. You are going to lead a magnificent life filled with more laughter and love than you can even imagine.  And that freedom and power you think doesn’t exist ~ that you are so desperately in need of?  Don’t you worry about that.  It’s on its way.  In spades.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  Smile.  There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“It was probably the first time I realized I was homosexual.”

Finally, finally!, I get to say those words onstage.  I can not wait.

Posted on Apr 8, 2013 by Ian In: All, Featured Posts, Inside Voice
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