It’s difficult for me to write about playing the role of Tabitha in MESA VERDE by Matthew Ivan Bennett, because writing about it makes me realize that the role was (and clearly still is) too close. Playing Tabitha was powerful and all-encompassing and I had to force myself to leave her behind when the show closed so I could get on with the business of life. I lived inside Tabitha’s mind and emotional world for almost 5 years and as incredible of an experience as it was, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. I’m a big proponent of actors keeping a safe distance from their characters. I don’t believe in “method” acting and I try not to take characters home with me. I think the work belongs in the space and real life belongs everywhere else. But sometimes, there is so much of a character in you and so much of you in a character that the separation becomes impossible.
I don’t know that I can describe how I feel I’m like Tabitha, or how she’s like me. There’s the obvious; I’m stubborn, I’d rather joke about something than have a deep discussion, I have in turns loved and hated my sisters, I can be distant if you push too hard… But that’s not the meat of it. The meat is something I can only describe by saying I FEEL her. Which is so touch-feely-actor-y it makes me squirm to even write it. But here’s the thing: that’s not enough. “Feeling” doesn’t mean anything on stage, it’s not something you can communicate. It’s just background noise going on in the actor’s head. And it can easily make a performance indulgent. Which is why I’m so thankful we had a smart and level-headed director like Cheryl Cluff. Only Cheryl could stand in a room with 3 women who brought a lot to the rehearsal…a lot of experience, a lot of pain, a lot of feelings, a lot of love…and tell them “no crying.” That we had to put all of that in our back pockets and just tell the story. And she was right. Which isn’t to say there was no crying in the rehearsal room. There was plenty. And after rehearsal on the drive home. And in the shower in the morning. Because I couldn’t help but connect the dots. Between Tabitha and my brother who has been fighting cancer for almost 3 years. Between Tabitha’s illness and my own female problems. Between Tabitha watching her mother battle illness and my own children watching me struggle with unexplained pain and bleeding. The connections were just there. And I allowed myself to feel them. I let everything come to the surface so I knew it was there, then squashed it all down so it wouldn’t get in the way. And now, when I try to write about it, months after closing the show, it all comes back again.
I realize all of this makes it sound like a horrible experience. Which is exactly the opposite of what it was. Over the course of those 5 years I gained 2 loving sisters, 2 dear mothers, 2 beloved directors, and a trusted playwright friend. I gained a different perspective about the world, about illness and death, about pain and intimacy. And I learned so much about the things that connect us all, those mysterious threads that draw us towards people and experiences that will change us. I feel so privileged to have been part of the development of this beautiful new play. So privileged to have been given the opportunity to see this role through from its conception in SLAM to a full production. So privileged to have been let into the life of this character and the incredible woman who was the inspiration for her. Tabitha is more than just a memorable role for me. She has been a huge part of my life and she will always be with me.