We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning

A Love Letter to May and A Farewell to Fool for Love

This picture was taken during a “down” moment on set. In this picture, I am not playing May, yet when I look at this picture I don’t see myself: I see May. And I miss her. May is hard to say goodbye to and dangerous to hold onto.

In the blog I wrote when we started work on this show, I talked about how little of myself I saw reflected in May and how I didn’t see her as a “feminist character.” Over the run of the show, my sentiments almost completely reversed.

May’s brutal honesty and fierce desire to break away from the dysfunctional patterns she’s inherited from her addict father are qualities I admire and know too well.

In my favorite moment of the play, May believes the woman Eddie has been cheating with is on the other side of her hotel room door. This woman has already shot at May and blown the windshield out of Eddie’s car, but when Eddie tells May to hide, May’s brazen response is, “I’m not gunna hide in my own house. I’m goin’ out there. I’m goin’ out there and I’m gunna tear her head off. I’m gunna wipe her out.” She believes she’s invincible. She is invincible. It’s intoxicating to inhabit her skin in that moment. I know I’m not invincible. In fact, I suffer from pretty severe anxiety, so May gave me the gift of being totally sure of who I was and what I was capable of accomplishing; it’s something I will relish and go back to for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, I see the darkness in May. The danger is in relishing too much her reckless way of living and loving.

The love she feels for Eddie is the same love that killed her mother, the same love that led to the whole mess between her and Eddie, but as much as she wants him to stop hurting her, she loves loving him. And she loves hating him.

So, it is with very mixed feelings that I say goodbye to May, but mostly I owe a great debt of gratitude to her and to Sam Shepard for penning her. I hope we do Shepard again soon. If I ever get to play May again, I’ll absolutely jump at the chance.

Working on May in Fool for Love

When I first pick up a script and start to work on a character, I look for commonalities between myself and my experiences and the character and their experiences. I recognized May immediately. May was the darkly romantic vision I had of myself at 30 when I was 16. When you hear her story, it sounds thrilling. No attachments, no responsibilities, unbridled passion. In reality, it’s a very sad life. No family, no career, no stability. 
As a feminist, I’m always interested in my character’s emotional, intellectual, and creative life, not just her romantic life. The thing with May is, she doesn’t have any passions besides Eddie. Often, in Shakespeare, I have played women who are very similar to May. Hopelessly in love and with no real idea of their future outside of the men they are aligned with. Somehow, May is more helpless than any of them. And this play definitely doesn’t pass the Bechtol test. So, how, as a feminist, do I approach this kind of play? It’s a strange thing for me, a woman with so many passions outside of romance. Happily, I have someone I choose to share my life with, but many of my pursuits are entirely independent of him, like teaching, creating, and learning. But just as strongly as I believe women have a right to agency outside the home, I believe the stories of women who live their lives for and with others deserve to be told. Their voices are not to be silenced; their lives are not of any less value. Now, I know a man wrote May and I know Shakespeare was a man as well, but to me, characters have lives beyond their authors, and it is an actor’s job to bring them fully to life.
Telling May’s story begins with a setting aside of judgments so that I can work on understanding her and, eventually, loving her enough to do justice to her story. It’s important because May’s story is full of truths that mirror the lives of many women — from the Renaissance to today. And they all deserve to have their stories told.