A Candle in the Window

I was writing a play about two people who meet and have sex and what barriers they maintain to avoid revealing themselves. I knew I wanted it to be in real time to intensify the fleeting quality of so many human encounters and to gradually seduce the audience into the time-expanding intimacy of a one-night stand. As usual, I kept showing bits and pieces to Michael Imperioli and we’d each share where we thought it was going. Lili was away shooting a film.

I don’t remember what inspired this play but I remember being struck by how intent people were at the time on knowing the exact way this or that person had contracted HIV. It was as if a judgemental ratings system had been internalized where certain ways of contracting the virus were more worthy of empathy (and therefore ‘forgivable’) than others. It would derail any conversation about finding a cure or educating the public about transmission into a labyrinth of judgements that were very subtly codified blame, all based in homophobia and racism. It was the precursor to today when social media trolls divert comments sections away from the intent of a post or article down into a rabbit hole of rancor and name-calling rather than addressing what can and should be done. Our internalized fear of judgement—of being ‘found out’ as not adhering to societally-enforced ’norms’—compelled us to participate in this prioritizing of blame rather than questioning either blame itself or the structures that dictated these ‘norms.’

At some point in the process Michael simply stated he was going to direct, which was fine by Lili and I; one less decision to make. All I’d have to do other than rewrites during rehearsal was design the poster. The difficult part was finding actors to play a young military guy and woman in her 40’s who were willing to be naked onstage for 90 minutes without intermission. Michael had cast and directed Maggie Low earlier in Machine Full’s American Lesion and we loved her bravery onstage, so she was our obvious choice. I made a list of young actors we had connections to that I thought would be great as the furloughed military kid and Michael said,  ‘what are you talking about? You’re playing the part.’ Being naked in front of a live audience is a great way to block out the playwright’s unique terror of opening-night jitters.

Random memories; the play went up in Tribeca at One Dream Theatre, founded by David Ferdinand, who did the set and sound for our Incident At Vichy years earlier. I had just come back from the Cannes Film Festival as part of the cast of Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom, and I remember sitting backstage in the tiny dressing room naked with Maggie, the two of us laughing at a sign on the back of the dressing room door; ‘Do Not Flush Toilet During Performance.’