The Beautiful Impermanence of ‘The Body’s Midnight’

A play that forcefully declaims living in the moment is, in itself, a beautiful place to be.

4 mins read
A woman wearing glasses
Playwright Tira Palmquist, "The Body's Midnight." Photo: IAMA & Boston Court Pasadena

Anne is 55-ish, a poet and teacher. Fierce, independent, quick, witty – and stubborn. Her husband, David, is much the same: an academic who studies the theater of the Restoration Period and masks his emotions with clever banter.

If these descriptions sound like people you know, that’s because they are.

Playwright Tira Palmquist has plucked her characters out of familiar lived experience to craft her new play, “The Body’s Midnight,” making its world premiere Saturday, April 27, as a co-production of Boston Court Pasadena and IAMA Theatre Ensemble.

Like many a great saga or odyssey, our heroine Anne sets out on a road trip. Fun! What could possibly go wrong?

Anne does not encounter the monsters and mayhem of the classical heroic cycle, but her path is strewn with obstacles. Most significant of these are compounding changes in her brain.

scene design and lighting for a play
Actor Keliher Walsh in a scene from “The Body’s Midnight.” Photo: Cara Greene Epstein

As foreshadowing, the play opens with Anne in deep, silent meditation over a lime. She stands in a kind of hazy light, surrounded by shadow. She’s thinking, talking to herself: there is the memory of a lime tree with its three perfect limes, long ago, and the last visit from her mother long, long ago, 10, maybe 20 years ago, the mother 90 or past 90, long gone.

The poignancy of this seemingly small scene reverberates through the play, even as the characters merrily drop abundant F-bombs (they love the satisfaction of profanity) and tease and laugh their way along the eastbound freeways from California.

At one point mid-way through the story, Anne remarks about the road trip, “We could have a terrible trip, and I might not remember that.” A few moments later, she struggles to recall the name for the “Vulcan mind meld.” Anne is losing her memory.

She says,” I’m…having a hard time…finding words…for that kind of…”…and her notebook slips from her lap, and her coffee spills. A bit later, a jocular Dr. Milner assures her that her MRI does not indicate Alzheimer’s disease, chortling, “No, no! The great news is, this is all fine! You’ve got a great brain, Anne! Nice to meet you!”

A line that rings like the tolling bell in John Donne’s poem comes from the character named Wilson, who owns a general store in St. Elmo, a ghost-town mining town somewhere between the points of arrival and departure. Anne sings an incantation:

"Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here –"

Wilson cautions Anne, “You’ve gotta know what you’ll do when you’re lost.” Despite Anne’s protests, it’s a “when,” not an “if.” On her way to visit her daughter Katie as she delivers Anne’s first grandchild, it’s impossible not to feel a ripple and shudder of self-recognition.

Because by age 50, we’ve all been there. And ultimately, there simply is no reliable road map for the journey we’re on.

We caught up with playwright Tira Palmquist and leading actor Keliher Walsh as they prepare for this coming weekend’s debut. As we spoke, we noted that Alzheimer’s seems to be claiming more and more calendar space.

The month of June appears as “Brain Awareness Month,” which includes discussions of Alzheimer’s disease. September is “World Alzheimer’s Month,” with September 21 as “World Alzheimer’s Day.” November is officially “Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.” People involved in the Alzheimer’s cause wear purple unless they wear teal, the official color of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

The old cowboy song, “The Streets of Laredo” (“I see by your outfit / That you are a cowboy”…), reverberates throughout the play.

We asked why.

Palmquist answered, “It’s a song from my childhood. Things like songs weave in and out of our consciousness in certain mysterious ways. The song, with its old-timey lyrics, ‘all dressed in white linen and cold as the clay,’ tracks with the play’s narrative of loss. This is a literal story of aging, of driving across the country and seeing tiny towns disappearing. It’s like sitting in vigil at the bedside of someone who’s dying, wondering how we can forestall it. I feel a visceral panic about that passing. We can’t save the person, but we can be here to bear witness.”

The play’s evocative title, Palmquist says, was discovered during an actual conversation with her husband. She describes feeling out-of-sync, having “…flown across a bunch of time-zones…I remarked, ‘It’s midnight in here, m*****f***ers,” Palmquist recalls.

She cites “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” by William Least-Heat Moon, along with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” by Robert M. Pirsig, as enduring influences, and recoils at the dismissive notion of “fly-over states,” fueled by coastal elitism.

Palmquist was a working poet before turning her hand to playwriting, and it shows. Consider this excerpt:

Palmquist was also an actor before devoting her energies to writing plays. She says with obvious glee, “I will continue f***ing with people’s expectations of what it means to age. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of conforming to what they say is ‘age appropriate’ !”

The entire production of “The Body’s Midnight” is powered by a legacy of women past menopause.

She didn’t start writing plays until mid-life, adding that “As we age, we feel ‘othered.’ We are told by the media that we are undesirable in every way. What fuels me is to keep working.”

A person posing for the camera
Actor Keliher Walsh, “The Body’s Midnight.” Photo: IAMA & Boston Court Pasadena

Keliher Walsh, in the leading role of Anne, echoes similar sentiments. When asked what challenges she faced in the role of Anne in an industry known for notorious ageism, she replies, “Not really a challenge. I am older, and I know the territory, so it’s a joy to tell the story of a woman who is older. I love playing someone my age. There’s is a lot of joy in that.”

As for the play’s title, she muses, “The ‘midnight’ is the place of facing the unknown. For people who are over a certain age, loss and mortality is the great unknown.”

She adds that, in spite of the omnipresent gallows humor, “Anne is a woman filled with the love of life. She wants to live her life to the fullest. Even in the face of loss, she begins to learn to live in the moment, and that in itself is a beautiful place to be.”


DEETS

  • World premiere of The Body’s Midnight by Tira Palmquist
    • Written by Tira Palmquist
    • Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
    • Starring Ryan W. GarciaJonathan NicholsNavarroSonal ShahKeliher Walsh
    • Presented by IAMA Theatre Company, Stefanie Black, artistic director and Boston Court PasadenaJessica Kubzansky, artistic director
  • Preview performances April 18 through April 26
  • Opens April 27 through May 26
  • Thurs, Fri, Sat, 8:00 PM
  • Sundays, 2:00 PM

Boston Court Pasadena
70 N. Mentor Avenue
Reservations and information: 626-683-6801
bostoncourtpasadena.org

The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/hrn3

Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

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