Allison Page wants you to get happy.
When asked, “What’s the best role you’ve ever played?” my impulse is to respond with whichever was the most grueling. The most grueling is easy enough to ascertain – it’s Lavinia in TITUS ANDRONICUS. Grueling to the max. She’s raped by a couple of guys and disfigured. Her hands are cut off, her tongue cut out, and then – just because, ya know, not enough has happened to her yet – her dad kills her. The particular production I was in was just completely exhausting. I wore a bloody straight jacket and scream-cried through a gag for what seemed like an eternity. The gag was soaked with fake blood, which I basically ingested every night and would cough-up or sneeze-out for weeks. It was really difficult and actually physically painful sometimes but I got a lot out of it, and because it was a horrifying thing to watch, naturally I was praised for it. Because it’s one of those things that sort of makes you feel sick. You leave the theater and it’s hard to sleep because FUCK, that was horrifying, right? That show really made me feel like the world is a pit of darkness filled with angry snakes and bees. Yay! We love tragedy!
Look at the Academy Awards some time. How often are nominated films deep, dark, sad pits? LES MISERABLES was nominated the last time around and it literally has ‘miserable’ in the title, in case that happened to slip by you.
It seems people tend to think (particularly creative people inside the various facets of the entertainment world) that the more grueling story is the more valuable. The more horrific, raw, heart-crushing, hope-squashing, wallowing in sadness stories are the most worth telling. Show us the lowest forms of humanity! Show us those huddled masses you’re always talking about! This seems to me accentuated even more so in the bay area. The more creative we think we are, the more creatively involved we are in the world, the more prone we are to want something to be wrenching in order to consider it real art. (Whatever ‘real art’ means.) Suck my soul out and spit it into a toilet full of other cast-off souls! That’s the only way to make me feel alive! Punch my heart out with the darkness of humanity! OMG let’s make Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS into a stage play!
I fall into that category all too often. If I’m doing sketch comedy or improvising or doing a stand up set – sure, let’s have a great time! But if I’m doing theater? Ohhhh it better be making you feel fucked up beyond measure or it’s not worth it! So you can imagine my surprise when, last night – opening night – of PRELUDE TO A KISS, I found myself feeling just…amazing. Happy to be alive. Happy to be doing this show. Happy to be HAPPY. Happy to be making other people happy. Stop the theater train, I want to get off! Where’s my required misery? Where are my MISERABLES? Why isn’t Julie Taymor cutting my hands off and shoving sticks into my arms? This isn’t art, this is…what is this?
In case you don’t know anything about it, PRELUDE is sort of a romcomdram, but one with real heart. You meet these two characters: Rita (that’s me, ya’ll) and Peter (played by the magnificent and dreadfully handsome Nick Trengove). They fall in love really quickly in spite of Rita’s fear of the world and all the bad things in it, the uncertainty of it all. They get married, and at the wedding reception an old man (Richard Wenzel) asks to kiss the bride. He does, and as the kiss happens, they switch souls. (Word is still out on whether it happened on a Friday and whether or not that Friday was freaky.) Peter then has to spend his honeymoon with someone who looks like the woman he loves, but he can feel that something is terribly wrong. SO WACKY, RIGHT GUYS? All of that is good fun, but shit really hits your heart-fan when Peter finds the old man containing the soul of the love of his life. Important questions are raised about life, love, perceptions, fear, illness and death. They still love each other, but she’s in an old man’s frail body. What does that mean for them? What does it mean for us? What does it mean for you?
Make no mistake, PRELUDE is here to make you feel good. I mean…REALLY good. Heart-swellingly happy and contented. Life is worth living, people are worth loving and though you will not always be alive, you are alive right now (if you’re not, let me know, I’d love to meet a ghost.) and you must not waste this. Do not waste this. It’s all you’ve got.
It was pointed out by the director during rehearsals that one really interesting thing about this play is that there aren’t any bad people in it. None of the characters are out to hurt each other. No one is evil, malicious, or war-mongering. They’re honestly all good people. How often do you see that? You might think that’s a red flag that the story won’t be interesting or engrossing but it absolutely is. It just also happens to have the side effect of making you feel really good about being alive.
Maybe some of the big blockbusters are full of war, blood, pain, sorrow, murder, tragedy and constant strife, and there is definitely a place for that but maybe we need something else, too. Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re not here only to suffer through things and never see the light at the end of the god-forsaken tunnel, but that we’re also here to experience happiness, bliss, powerful love, complicated connections to other human beings, great sex, passionate embraces, a smile given and a smile received, a knowing glance, a hand to hold, and the knowledge that it cannot last forever, and so we must enjoy it now, because there’s no better time. It’s the type of story I think people really need. It’s a story that feels like coming home after a long journey. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.
Catch Allison in PRELUDE TO A KISS at The Custom Made Theatre Co. Thursday – Sundays and/or follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage