It was sometime around 1AM, happy, tipsy, and high on love that I realized I was coming to the end of my own Duplass brothers movie. We - Monty, Linds, Liz, Wes and me - were drunk walking the streets of Memphis in a giddy attempt to help Liz find her guest house. It turned out to be right across the street and around the corner from Monty's the whole time. This was the falling action. The night was quieter but the mood still humming, the energy still crackling. The party, mere hours before, was packed with people. SRO, as they say. But here, as it dwindled and friends began to peel off one by one, I became truly aware of its beating heart, palpitations drumming loudly in the aftermath of so much joy.
Like every good story, there were three distinct acts to my weekend in Memphis. I arrived early Friday evening white knuckled from outracing tornadoes in Mississippi and appropriately enough, behind a FedEx truck. Quickly off loading my things at my friend’s East Memphis guesthouse, I joined Lindsey, Matt and Wes in Midtown for the first of what would be many reunions that weekend.
ACT THE FIRST
Conversation was easy, quick and funny. Around beer three, we took a moment to admire how far we’d come and how well we’d turned out. Everyone in some capacity was a successful human - none of us perfect, still, but all of us evolved from the troubles of our mid-20s. My pre-formed question to everyone was, “How have you changed since last I saw you?” Answers ranged from, “I’m myself now, not hiding who I am anymore” to “I’m not tied down to a job and free to travel the world” and “I care a lot less about what people think of me.”
Our attempts at settling into a bierhaus thwarted by wet outdoor seating and a noise polluted interior (we are, all of us, pushing 40), we did what any classy folks do and stopped by the Circle K for cold Stellas and smokes. And when you don’t know where the afterparty is in Memphis, there is only one possible answer - the porch. Any porch will do but in this case, we commandeered Monty’s porch continuing our catch-up session until he arrived home from California.
My old friend was worth the wait. When he arrived, the reunion felt complete. The nerves of a few hours prior were completely worn off, old routines, habits and personalities all rushing to the surface like time had stopped and 10 years were erased. I lingered just long enough to make it all palpable and then sauntered back to the guest house to finally rest my “up since 4AM” eyes.
Memphis is wild and weird and wonderful and full of art, everywhere you look
ACT THE SECOND
It was Milton who woke me up. A text about brunch. I was nervous, again, but this time it wasn’t about reunions but the logistics of that afternoon’s rehearsal for Cookie’s show. I hadn’t planned on brunch. I had planned on … something … no, nothing really and sitting around being nervous about driving to campus for the first time was just silliness. Besides, there was a Huey Burger waiting and to deny myself would be Memphis sacrilege.
Huey's looked exactly the same - divey with maybe a few less toothpicks in the ceiling, liked they'd recently done a sweep. It was still packed at lunch time and it was still delicious and fattening and everything a college kid wants on a hungover Sunday. Milton and I were joined by Monty, Jeremy and their friends and neighbors Brad and Anna Marie. We talked of Cookie, whom Brad and Anna Marie knew only by reputation, her lessons imparted and the shows we'd worked on together at Rhodes. Of course, we had to speak of our antebellum Corinth, Mississippi (or was it Athens, Georgia?) based Medea. An infamous show (not directed by Cookie, mind you) that left us in tears at the time but produce howls of laughter 20 years removed.
I dashed from Huey's (ok, I was full of burger so 'dashed' is a bit of exaggeration) to Rhodes
for the rehearsal - and that's when the tears started flowing fresh. My favorite Mississippi firecracker, Miss Laura Canon, former set design professor and long time technical director at the McCoy was the first to swoop me up in a fantastic hug. I told her she looked exactly the same to which she responded, "Well, I got a lot more of this" referring to her fabulous silver mane. "Miss Laura," I said, "we all got a little bit more of something." The McCoy was immediately a safe space. Full of joy and lacking judgment. I was home.
Miss Laura, Wes and Teresa Morrow Brown put together an incredible show for Cookie. Through multiple vodka infused playwriting sessions, they managed to incorporate 40+ former students, 35 seasons of plays and musicals and countless Cookie-isms, stories and wisdoms. The rehearsal, ran brilliantly by Teresa and Wes, went without a hitch. I think everyone left jazzed, excited and ready to deliver this gift to Cookie. We all wanted to make her proud one last time.
Milton and Me surrounded by food - it was our mission to eat our way through Memphis this weekend.
The party that followed the show was off the chain - it wasn't the most raucous party, no bass heavy beats leading people to a dance floor (though there was a very good student blues band in for the night), no liquor bottles aflame, no super models or celebrities. No, it was just a room full of people who love Rhodes, theatre and Cookie - all the right ingredients to make for a massive pulse of energy and good vibes. Oh, and there were little asparagus canapés that we all agreed were stupidly delicious. We had countless hugs, pictures (SO MANY PICTURES), laughs and tears. For a while, we stood outside the McCoy by the fountain looking back into the lobby, bright and aglow, and took it all in. Denouement coming, it wasn't long before we began to say our goodbyes to Cookie and break off into smaller groups, headed to more intimate afterparties. I pledged to Cookie that I would be in touch, that as usual I was ripe with ideas, my mind on overdrive, percolating, always. With that we parted and I made my way with Monty and Linds to our next engagement.
How much do I love Wesley - there would have been no show without him
ACT THE THIRD
It wasn't even 15 minutes into the afterparty - at the immaculately designed home of Brad and Anna Marie (giving some credence to my theory that everyone who owns a Memphis midtown bungalow went to design school) - that the keyboard piano was moved out into the living room. This is Memphis. This is a house full of theatre and music people. There was NO WAY there was not going to be singing. Broadway, rockabilly, a Prince shout-out and a private blues concert that made us all swoon.
Like you do in Memphis, the room got steamy and folks sought the fresh air of the porch. So there we were gathered again, talking drug laws and hipster beards, when Liz went looking for her guest house. She was going to call an Uber to take her back when Monty checked her GPS and realized she was down the street, no Uber needed. For some reason, this was hilarious to all of us as it meant she'd been across the street the entire weekend but we'd just seen her tonight at Cookie's party. No one was letting her walk all the way across the street by herself, so off we went on the shortest of field trips, giggling and love-drunk on the night. I would have walked many more miles on this Memphis eve - it was too short a stroll. We grasped Liz in a frenzy, with promises to see her again soon and possibly even collaborate in the future. A sad and happy goodbye, sweet Liz disappeared into the shadows and we made our way back to Monty's house.
Walking in Memphis looks hazy and warm, like my memories
And then there were three. Monty, Linds and Me. Late into the night we shared the pains, joys, heartbreaks and celebrations that colored our years apart from one another. To tell my dearest friends of recent disappointments and discouragement was freeing and cathartic. The juxtaposition of my life in the professional theatre world and the warm nest of my first theatre home was not lost on me this weekend. I crashed on Monty's couch around 3 still zipped into and bonded by my dress feeling safe, feeling loved, feeling like me.
Drunk sleep wore off at 5:40AM. A quick walk of shame to my car and I was off to the guest house, driving in the direction of the rising sun. I passed Rhodes one final time whispering, "see you later" - my sleep deprived brain already making reason and narrative of the hazy night before.
The party dress fell to the floor like a poem's last stanza. Noting the time, I made a final tweet - "My reunion was better than your reunion (she says as she crawls into bed at 6AM)"
It was true.
Goodbye Memphis - thank you for the food, the laughter, the friends, the reunion. Most of all, thank you for the perspective. As I embark on the biggest and most challenging project of my professional theatre career, a fresh look at where I've come from versus where I'm going was badly needed. Thank you for giving me what I did not even know I wanted - for that, and so much else, I'll love you forever. See you later.
2000 zero zero party over oops out of time