Jose Zuniga and me. I'm the one leering demonically.
Just shaved my beard and head following my furry stint as psychiatrist Martin Dysart in ‘Equus.’ It’s strange how liberated and free and alive I feel today, and not just due to of the relief of getting rid of all that hair. I should be exhausted; it was an incredibly long week with much theatrical carousing--both standard and long-form--not to mention an added matinee on Saturday. But instead I was up at 8:30 a.m. which is utterly ridiculous. (I haven’t been up that early in a looooong time. It doesn’t count if you’re up all night.)
Instead, here I am, Monday morning, going to the store (it helps my motivation that I was out of coffee) doing laundry, accomplishing things, piecing my life back together after so many weeks of tearing up and down I-25, living out of my backpack. It’s spring, and I feel reborn in that anticipatory early-morning way, like when you’re a kid on the first nice Saturday morning of the year, and the whole weekend opens up before you as you leave the house after breakfast. You can smell summer coming even though there’s still a bit of a chill in the air; the cruel winter gods have been laid to rest for another year.
And goddammit, I want to ride my bicycle.
Of course, there is always a bittersweet sense of newfound freedom when a show ends, a feeling of sadness and simultaneous joy, and perhaps a dose of saudade, that nostalgic feeling of sweetness and loss.
But with this particular character, I feel somehow as if I was carrying around a lot more ennui and self-doubt and angst than I was even aware of. Dysart is such a sad, broken person, truly a man without any hope, suffering the quintessential 1970s existential crisis, an utterly lost soul.
Now, with any character, some of it gets on you. And some of you gets on them. Smarter people than I am say that you can’t play a character--not genuinely, not with true heart and spirit--without there being at least some sliver of that character already in your psyche, some part of you that you can relate to the character’s life and outlook.
And certainly I am no sunny optimist; I definitely go through dark times of doom and gloom, probably more so than many.
But this guy, this fucking Dysart guy, I realize today, rubbing the stubble on my head and watching the sun coming in the window, this guy drained me. Going to a place of despair--utter, bleak, impossible despair, completely desperate hopelessness--doing that every night took more out of me than I realized. The tears after the final show were cleansing somehow, a rebirth, appropriately on the first day of spring.
However, I am not bitching, believe me. I am so happy I did this show. Craig and the entire cast were amazing; we all really functioned cohesively--seeming to be one unit, as an audience member said at a talkback. And my thanks go out to Zuni in particular, Jose Zuniga, who played Alan. He’s one of those fully committed, fully natural actors who--with such ease and grace you want to rip their heads off--raise the bar and force you to take your game to the next level. Go big or go home. And I think playing Dysart opposite him really brought out a lot of unexpected levels in not only my acting, but also in my own emotional life.
That is one of the secrets actors are reluctant to tell you: on some level we get to not only play these people on stage, we get to become them. And not just during the show or during the run, but afterward as well.
The obvious--and correct--answer for why people act is, of course, we’re attention whores. Any actor who says he is not an attention whore is, well, acting when he tells you that.
We’re the perpetual middle children of life, jumping desperately in front of our siblings, raising our voices to ridiculous levels in even the most staid setting. We’re the gabby, cackling douchebags at the next table in an otherwise quiet restaurant; we're the loud laughers at the funeral home. Of course we get off on the adrenaline rush of performing, and the attention, and the applause.
But the secret, other answer for why we act is you also get to take home parts of those characters. Things your characters learn--or at least things they should have learned--can teach you and inform you and carry forward in your own life, if you’re open to them.
Dysart’s angst and bitter disappointment with the world he created for himself will wash away. They are washing away already.
But his compassion I get to keep, at least as much of it as will fit in my desiccated, black soul. :D
If I could paraphrase Dysart here, he is essentially saying to Alan: We’re all fucked up, kiddo, the whole goddamn human race. I can’t tell you why we’re so fucked up, or why we’re here, or what kind of fucked-up, evil god would create such a fucked-up, evil species.
But I can tell you there is no ‘normal’ here. This bus don’t go to ‘normal,’ baby. We go to Wackville, and North Nutbar, and probably Crackton, but we don’t go to Normal.
And what’s important, what keeps us human, you and I, we outsiders, we the daring and the different and the weird and the free, and what disallows the machine to take away our souls is realizing this about our fellow humans: they’re all just as fucked up inside as we are.
In order to remain human we must fight, every day to feel compassion for our fellow humans. We must make a conscious effort to do so, even as we and they struggle to make some sense of this fucked-up world, even as angry and frustrated and hopeless as our fellow humans make us feel sometimes.
For if we do not, if we allow our hearts to shut down, then we become part of the machine ourselves. We become dead, eyeless cogs in this clunky, wheezing contraption, complicit not only in our own slow deaths but also in propping up this dying empire where we are told everyone is meant to be alone, wrapped up in the cold arms of the machine, where only things are meant to bring some hollow joy, things that the machine is only too happy to sell you, offering some short-term remedy for your pain and loneliness and your sense that you are the only one who is fucked up, a remedy that will quickly fade, until the next thing comes along and you buy that as well.
And so on.
Compassion is the gift Dysart has given me.
I hope I can hang onto it. I hope I am worthy of it.
And I hope in some small way I have given a form of that gift to you as well.