When two people are courting, it is not uncommon for them to spend time together in the darkness of a film-showing or, depending on how cultured you think you are, a play. In story after story, we find the theater is a vessel for love, a conduit of love, and a means to an end from our hearts to the grave. In esteem for the nature of love this Valentine’s Day, I asked people to recall memories mixing love and theater. Boy, did I ask the right question!
Aquatic Extraterrestrial Love
“Not, like, sex but love for sure,” Nitzberg said, who was six when The Abyss came out. “I can’t talk about this with this music playing,” he said, turning off the jubilant techno-polka hoedown playing in the background.
“Haha, ’cause it’s clown music?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s the fucking music of my Jewish ancestors, while they’re, like, dancing around a shrub,” he laughed. “Don’t get me wrong.”
And he put on the movie music from the scene of the movie he was about to expound upon.
“So it’s like Ed Harris goes down into the abyss to save everybody and disarm the nuclear bomb and he knows he’s going to die and his wife is like I love you and he’s like I love you too. I’m sorry I was such an asshole. It’s like this tender moment between them because they have an estranged marriage. While he’s down there, to this music, this fucking alien comes out of the water and, in my six-year-old brain, this alien that was nonsexual, with this music playing, was like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. It just reaches out its little glowing alien finger and picks him up and takes him to this magical alien city where they basically save his life. But with this music and like the special effects and the moment and the emotional weight of that whole scene, it was the first time I ever truly ever experienced….” he trailed off.
“Was it the purest form of love you’ve ever felt in your life?” I asked, half-joking.
“Maybe,” he said. “It’s not like I never felt it again, ’cause I feel it whenever I watch the movie. People try to define love and it doesn’t really work. Each definition is different and it changes. But for me in that moment, it was not a thought.”
Epic soundtrack music pours out in a sad, dreamy triumph from Jeff’s speakers.
“It was pure, it was like a feeling, it was like when you cry when something’s beautiful, you know?” he said. “It was the inverse of the ego. If you are experiencing, like, an egotistical moment, right? It’s essentially the opposite of love. It’s not bad, it can be great. Like you win a marathon and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I won the marathon!’ You know. It’s a great feeling, like, ‘I’m the best! I’m number one!’ And everyone’s like, ‘Yeeaahh!!’ You know? But, it’s the opposite of love because, with love, it’s like completely selfless.”
And then Jeff went a little off the deep end and into some abyss of emotional bliss and his eyes got all soft. It is particularly touching to me because he does not smoke weed or drink alcohol or make bad decisions or say stuff like, “Whooaa, man, looook at that thiiiing, it’s craaaaazy, man.” He has a practical haircut and wears khakis and never gets all spiritual for any reason and works all day at his computer when he’s not filming. He’s just this regular dude with big dreams.
“It’s true selflessness — it’s like you are giving yourself to this moment,” he said. “Like, I so gave myself to the moment in this movie. I was so open to it and just didn’t have anything that I wanted except to give that feeling to somebody else. That’s, like, what I wanted. So, I think that’s what love is, when you truly feel it.”
Reckless Catwalk Love
So then I asked this guy Matthew Curtis down the road for a memory.
“I lost my virginity in a theater!” he announced. “It was on the catwalk above the stage. I was the light technician at my high school theater. I was 17. The girl was an actress so she was there for rehearsal.”
Because the catwalk is a narrow elevated platform with nothing but some rickety railings high above the stage, and light technicians have been known to fall off those things and die a time or two, I was like, “Hey, that sounds dangerous! Isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah,” Curtis said. “It was exhilarating.”
The actress married the second boyfriend she ever had, after Curtis, and moved to Oklahoma.
Dramatic Swooning Love
OK, that’s enough for Austin, so now let’s fly to New York City where I talked with Allison Zajac about the memories swimming around in her head. She’s a member of the theater group Black Light Lab and is always writing stuff that reads like someone’s masterpiece from back in the day.
“My whole life is theater and love,” Zajac said. “I don’t even know what to talk about! The first thing that comes to mind is going to see this play Jerusalem ’cause I love the main actor and I just want to be on the same stage with him. Mark Rylance, I love him more than anything ever, and the show too, which came over from the Royal Court in London.”
So Rylance, the object of Allison’s affection, is an American who has been living in London for years. He is now in New York in a play that Allison bought tickets on four different occasions to see, sometimes with friends, sometimes by herself. The play is about a drug addict-slash-psychic (played by Mark) who lives in the woods in a trailer.
“And he takes care of all the misfits in town — the outcasts who don’t have homes or anywhere to go,” Zajac said. “And he has been threatened to be evicted off the land ’cause he’s a squatter and the police are after him, but they have to go through all this paperwork to come in and forcibly remove him. The whole while there’s this abusive guy in this town and he has been looking for his 14-year-old daughter and he has gone missing and he asks this guy in the trailer if he has seen his daughter, ’cause he has a feeling he knows. But Mark says, ‘I have no idea where your daughter is.’
In the third act something really beautiful happens. The missing daughter suddenly comes out of the trailer, so you know she has been living there the whole time. Up to this point, many horrible things have happened to Mark’s character.
“She comes out and she’s, like, taking care of him kinda and he has been taking care of her, so you get this sense there’s a deep love between them,” she said. “And then they have this beautiful dance. As they’re dancing, the father shows back up and beats him nearly to death. And in the final scene, Mark is half-naked on stage and bloody and he’s about to die. You hear the sirens, the police are going to remove him from his home. He takes a match and lights his house on fire — they did it with lights and sound and they were shaking the set and it was bursting into flames. Not real flames. He drags this drum out onto the center of the stage and he’s calling upon his ancestors to be with him in this moment as he dies. He’s filling the entire space; the entire theater is like oh my god.“
Each time she sees the play, Allison ends up sobbing in the balcony. Each time, she falls off the deep end into an abyss of love.
“I know what’s going to happen and I can’t help it,” she said. “Finally on the last performance that I’m at, the curtain calls, the lights come back out, everyone’s bowing and Mark Rylance comes out and he is taking his bow. He sees me in the state where I’m just sobbing and he locks eyes with me and then he puts his hand to his heart and looks at me and smiles and mouths ‘Thank you’ and nods his head and continues to bow and hold his heart and say ‘thank you’ to me and it’s amazing ’cause he got to know I loved him so much. I was waiting by the stage door outside and there’s a crowd and Mark exits and he looks around and sees me again and winks at me and waves. I don’t think he’s going to ever forget me, but he’s the best guy ever.”
On a side note, he won a Tony Award for his performance in that play.
“There’s this guy who lives in this little village outside of London and he’s the town drunk and he was misunderstood by everyone but really special,” Zajac continued. “And he’d sit at this bar and Mark would go in and talk to him and sit with him. Mark based his character off of this man. So when he won his Tony Award, he flew back to his town in England and he gave the award to this guy.”