Sarah’s Dangerous Liaisons

Photo credit: FX Schram Theatrical Photography
Photo credit: FX Schram Theatrical Photography

In November, I was approached by Hana Meyers, who was preparing to direct Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Hana wanted my permission to ask my daughter Sarah to audition for the play. “We need a mature teenager for a sensitive role. Essentially, she gets raped.” I gave my blessing to ask, with the caveat that Sarah almost certainly wouldn’t be interested. She’d auditioned for and played a small part in the musical Gypsy a few years ago; that experience helped Sarah decide she’d rather work backstage, where she’s been ever since.

Auditions were in December. Here’s Sarah’s entry on the family calendar: “December 29, 7:00. DL auditions- yes I got dragged no I’m not auditioning.” She went back the next night, assuring us she wasn’t auditioning. (We hadn’t issued any prohibition.) Later in the week: “Would you guys be really upset if I accepted a part?”

When I’m in a play, it’s all hands on deck as I memorize lines – everyone has to read the script as I struggle to get the part. We never saw Sarah’s script, never heard her running lines. In fact, she prohibited us from attending. “I don’t want to deal with how you’ll look at me after you see me in this part.” She told her castmates (to my irritation) that she didn’t want me to review her performance. Still, I thought she’d be disappointed if Susan and I didn’t come at all. We secretly bought tickets and didn’t tell her.

Coincidentally, Sarah’s sixteenth birthday is February 22nd, the day after closing. A while back, Sarah said she wanted a surprise party for her Sweet 16. You’d think it might be difficult to plan a surprise party which has been requested by the honoree, but I had an idea. I contacted Hana and asked if we could sing Happy Birthday during the curtain call on February 20th. I’d bring cake for the audience and anybody else who wanted to join. Hana not only said yes, but went to silly lengths to preserve the surprise. Every performance, she asked Sarah if we’d be attending. “No, I told them not to come.” On the 20th, Hana kept Sarah out of the theater lobby (where the cakes were) by saying there was a medical emergency, and no actors should leave the backstage area.

So last night, I sat in the audience, waiting to see my daughter’s character get raped. An actor friend had been working with her, identifying life experiences Sarah might use to convincingly portray the emotion of the moment on stage. He told me that sometimes Sarah would get herself so worked up, she couldn’t break out of the tears for subsequent scenes. I heard the actor who played her attacker usually needed to be consoled after the scene. At least once, Sarah brought her director to tears.

What did I think? I have no hesitation – although technically unskilled, Sarah brought a striking reality to her key scenes. She introduced an element of danger, the sense that what was happening on stage had real consequences – something at stake. When I shared this, my friend said, “Of course you feel that way, you’re her father.” Which is why I can’t review the play. Still, I have to think others in the audience shared my sense – before everyone sung Happy Birthday during the bows, there was a subtle gasp when Hana announced that Sarah was celebrating her 16th birthday. That’s what acting is all about – verisimilitude.  Bringing real life, real consequence, to a character.  It’s more than I’ve ever accomplished on stage.

So we all sang. Sarah looked pleased – in fact, I didn’t recognize my daughter the rest of the evening, as she mingled and thanked people for coming. She looked happy. She hugged both of her parents (!) and actually said “Thank you.” It was a good night.