In these horribly stressful times, personal, political, cultural, every-fucking-where, a re-commitment to personal relationships feels like a necessity. I flew out to Chicago this weekend to surprise my friend Mitchell, showing up unannounced at his show (which he created himself: it’s made up of personal monologues, and songs sung by the glorious Meghan Murphy, another friend). I knew Mitchell had been working hard to create this thing, he had never done anything like this before (create a show from scratch, made up of his own personal material), and – just out of curiosity, I checked flights to Chicago and they were outrageously cheap for this holiday time of year. So out I went. It required much subterfuge and outright lying on my part, and I roped in Meghan’s help as co-conspirator. All went well. My presence remained undetected by Mitchell, until I sent a card backstage saying, “Can’t wait to see your show tonight.” (Apparently, he burst into tears. Meghan – who was backstage – texted me – sitting out in the theatre – a play-by-play of his reaction.) I flew back early Monday morning.
The polar vortex hit while I was in Chicago. I was there for such a short time, I couldn’t see Kate, but I did have a nice lunch with Ann Marie (before Mitchell’s show. And – silly me – we were in Mitchell’s neighborhood, so we basically skulked around undercover hoping not to run into him.) The show, a holiday show with Mitchell telling stories from his life, and Meghan singing songs to put “buttons” on each of the beats – was fantastic. A nice crowd had shown up in the midst of the polar vortex. That’s Chicago theatre for you: hearty and devoted. Mitchell told many stories I know by heart, and I starred in one of them (our ridiculous and hilarious living situation during Mitchell’s first year in Chicago) – also stories about his family and finding a home in Chicago. He addressed me from the stage, like: “Sheila?? You’re here?” It was very emotional, the entire show was. We have been friends for so long. Most of our lives. We met when we were scrappy freak teenagers. We found each other. We refer to one another as “space twins.” (I signed the bullshit card I sent backstage: Love, your Space Twin.) It was a treat because Christopher, Mitchell’s boyfriend, was also at the show, and his whole family was up from Kentucky to see it as well, so I got to meet them (they are all wonderful). We went out after for drinks.
Sunday was snowy and freezing. Sunday night, Mitchell was heading down to Second City to see a friend’s debut on the main stage (a huge deal), and I was heading uptown to the Uptown Underground to see Meghan’s Christmas show (their 6th year): Big Red & The Boys: A New Home for the Holidays. But until then, we had jack-squat to do. We lay around in Mitchell’s apartment (known by everyone as The Nook), and talked and watched TCM, and watched a 40 Years of Soul concert on PBS and then started scrolling through YouTube clips. We also took a couple of hilarious Snap Chat breaks. It was a perfect day. At one point, Mitchell was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, naked and shaving, and I was talking to him, standing in the doorway. Mitchell said, “I really like Demi Lovato” and then I began a rant – not about Demi Lovato but she made me think of certain strains in mainstream feminism that drive me insane so I went OFF on it, and Mitchell kept shaving, throwing in comments, but mostly listening and nodding. And shaving. At some point, when I took a breath (I ranted for about, no word of a lie, 15 minutes), Mitchell said quietly, “All I said was ‘I like Demi Lovato.'” We are still laughing. I am laughing as I type this. Some things never fucking change. This is our friendship.
At the Uptown Underground, I ran into a couple of friends, who were also there attending the show, so it was really fun to catch up. Meghan and the “boys” (5 of them) put together a beautiful mix of classic Christmas songs, original songs – like “Chicago Winter,” which went over like gangbusters since we all were living it – and it had a beautiful and friendly energy, a collective energy, that is so essential to maintain in the current atmosphere.
Watching “Letter to Three Wives”, and whaddya know, there is the phenomenal character actress Florence Bates, who also happens to be our great friend Rachel’s great-grandmother. She wrote an awesome essay about this extraordinary woman.
We watched “The Bishop’s Wife.” We’ve both probably seen it 40 times apiece. We love it so much. We had lengthy discussions all along the way: Cary Grant’s magic. Loretta Young and Clark Gable and the whole baby thing. The career of Gladys Cooper. How GOOD she was. She is SO GOOD in her one big scene in this. David Niven – hilarious, stuck to the chair. Elsa Lanchester. She’s so funny in this. And then, right on cue, we began to cry.