Transitory. Fleeting. Singular. Such is the intransigent nature of life. And theater.
As the play I’m in enters its final performances of a great run, I find myself awed again by the correlation. Here today, gone tomorrow. Even that’s a generous assessment. Here this moment, gone the next. That’s more accurate. For life, like theatre, is merely a mosaic of moments–each eternally unique and ephemeral.
It’s like being out on the ocean in a small boat. You are the boat. The moments of your life are the ocean. Most of the time, you cruise forward at full throttle, feeling the power of movement in the wind beating against your face.
But every so often, you stop. It might be a perceived rejection. Or a dreaded milestone birthday. Or a death, the ultimate reminder of your own transience. Whatever the impetus, you turn off the engine or lower the sails. Water laps gently against the hull. And by comparison it may seem that you have stopped moving. But that is an illusion. Watch the water beside you, and you’ll realize how swiftly still you move.
Theater does that, too. It stops the boat so we can hear the waves; it lets us trace the ripples. But always underneath lies and moves the current of time. All art aspires and inspires to this. Yet it’s live theater that comes closest to reflecting life, because neither can be captured and held. Directors and their actors create a completely singular experience for an audience, for every performance, through myriad moments never to be witnessed exactly the same again. Movies, music, paintings–these frame one experience, forever immortalized. But theater, like life, doesn’t have a recorder beyond one’s mind.
“This can’t be goodbye.” So says Jake to my character, Maggie, at the end of their first meeting. The audience later learns that Jake has lost his first love, along with his ability to trust. So his words are more than a polite closing. They’re the urgent plea we all feel when we stop the boat and realize we’re still moving. We don’t want to admit that we can’t stop the unrelenting motion, that the ocean is so unfathomably vast our small boat’s path may never cross that of any other’s since the beginning and until the end of time. It’s a terrifying realization, that our course is ours alone and ours alone to chart.
Maggie assures Jake it won’t be goodbye. “We’ll meet again,” she promises coyly. And so, I set my microwave clock forward an hour, another lost battle to time. I face the last two performances of “Jake’s Women” with equal parts anticipation and dread. I celebrate all those who have come to share in this experience, with me, with all of us. And I know this won’t be goodbye. We’ll meet again, whether or not on the same stage, always in the same theater. The theater of life.