Tuesday, November 21, 2006

We thought she was just stressin' about life

A friend of Laurie's from a couple of shows she'd done had been having a bit of a rough summer. We'd heard about it through a woman who knew her much better, the artistic director of the New Hampshire Theatre Project. It sounded like some of the emotional stress that hits people in their late 20s. It's sad, and hard to go through, but it happens to most people. Particularly at the end of a decade or the end of a phase of life, like graduation from one level or another of school, the path ahead grows indistinct, and monsters dwell in the shadows.

Lisa was on schedule for such a thing, at 29. Her friends did what they could to help her through the ups and downs and waited for her to pull out of it. It was just 20s angst.

Wrong. It was a brain tumor. She died Sunday morning after a week in a coma.

If that wording seems abrupt it is no more so than the events themselves.

She'd been in rehearsals for the latest NHTP production, the U.S. premiere of David Farr's update of The Odyssey. The play opened last Friday, even as she lay in the hospital and her friends went on with the show in what can seem like a show business cliche. It was, in fact, a tribute to what she had lived and was soon to die enmeshed in. She had been a performer and teacher.

Sunday's matinee was a hard experience for the performers and for the audience members who knew the other story. But a powerful magic takes hold when a serious actor gets into a role. It offers an escape for everyone, but underneath it the emotions of real life add emphasis to a line or an expression. The ghost of an actor gone forever from the stage appears momentarily on the face of the understudy who fills the role ably in her own right. What might have been and now will never be flickers like a film double-exposed.

Players who would have been full of happy chatter after the first weekend of a successful production said they felt numb. The elation after the performance met the grief held at bay and left them with nothing at all. This is only temporary. All that they feel and we feel needs to flow through its course, steep and turbulent, dark and twisting, to reach the next calm pond. Light and darkness will strike its surface and penetrate its depths. Each survivor finds a way to go on.

Cliches abound for situations like this. "You just never know." "It could happen to anyone." "Live every day like it was your last." "Tell your loved ones you love them." You know the whole lengthy catalog. Each one started from a simple truth, reduced to a sound bite and repeated until no one really hears it.

She died while pursuing what she loved. No one can ask for more. No one should settle for less.

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