Coming Full Circle: Presenting Living Water at St. Gabriel Church
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 03:07 PM
by Anita Dacanay
Writing Living Water: the Story of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church with my dear friend Lisa Wagner-Carollo was definitely one of the highlights of 2013 for me. In listening to the interviews with the pastoral team and parishioners, I fell in love with the subjects of our play. While I have enjoyed staying connected to Still Point over the years by working in many administrative capacities, stepping back into a creative role with the company felt like a homecoming. As I live in Cleveland, and Still Point is based in Chicago, most of the writing collaboration occurred long-distance via internet and phone. I was not able to be physically present during the rehearsal process and initial performances of the play, which debuted in Chicago in late October. I was kept abreast of developments by Lisa every step of the way, but I could not attend any rehearsals, meet the cast, or see the play. I had released control of the play once rehearsals were set in motion, as I had utmost faith in the abilities of our director, Virginia Smith. Yet, it would have been nice to have witnessed the play’s birthing. On January 18, 2014, I had a payoff more bountiful than I could have imagined upon traveling to New Orleans to see Living Water presented at St. Gabriel Church. (As late as a week and a half prior to the event, I had no hope of getting there. Lisa, as is her custom, was not inclined to accept defeat so easily, and she employed both her faith and her iron will to finally find a plane ticket for me.) Saturday afternoon I waited in the blessed Louisiana sunshine for Sr. Kathleen Pittman to pick me up from the airport. Upon her arrival in a dusty gray Toyota Corolla, she greeted me with a grin and a hug. We had a lively chat on the way back to her home where I would be staying, and then she took me over to the rectory so that I could unite with the rest of the Still Point contingent. She had given me her complete attention, but I could tell that Sr. Kathleen had a long to-do list to address before the evening, and I assured her that she could leave me and attend to it all. I peeked through the dining room door in the St. Gabe rectory, as the cast had just finished a line-through. I caught Lisa’s eye as she sat ironing costumes. She grinned as I came in and we shared a hug. (There was a lot of grinning and hugging that happened over the course of the weekend.) I met the rest of the cast: Andy, Jove, and Nicole, a delightful group of sincere actors. Andy Clifton plays Fr. Doug Doussan in the production; Lisa performs the role of Sr. Kathleen; and we were blessed to find two talented young actors, Nicole Michelle Haskins and Jove, to play multiple roles representing various members of the church. After meeting me, those three went off to rest before the show. As Lisa and I sat chatting and going over ideas for our pre-show presentation, Fr. Doug Doussan walked in. He beamed at me from the kitchen, arms extended to embrace as he said, with his warm southern drawl, “Anita! Come on over here and give me a hug, you sweetheart!” At 79 years old, Fr. Doug exudes light, warmth, and vitality wherever he goes. I had spoken with him several times on the phone, and listened to his interviews repeatedly. I knew of his glowing reputation in Catholic circles. But nothing could have prepared me for meeting this man in person, as his character and personality are truly larger than life. We wandered over to the church at around 5:00 p.m., the actors engaging in playful banter that did not convey the anxiety they later confessed that they felt prior to this performance. It is asking a lot of an actor to try and portray a living person – and it is asking a whole lot more to propose that they play that role in front of said living person. In the case of our young actors Nicole and Jove, they were being asked to play numerous such roles. It was a great deal of pressure, which they handled with utmost grace. As the audience filed in, I had the pleasure of meeting in person the people whose interviews I had heard over and over, taking in the nuances of their spirits. It was odd because I felt like I was greeting old friends, while they knew nothing about me except that I had helped to write the play. Prior to the performance, Lisa and I were introduced by Fr. Doug, and we spent some time explaining our creative process. Lisa named each person who was interviewed and asked them to stand. I noted that I was sitting next to Ms. Marigold Hardesty, an 86-year-old woman whose story is featured in the play. Marigold is a spit-fire. Her appearance and demeanor absolutely defy her chronological age, and her faith and passion are palpable. When she saw Nicole speaking her words, I could tell she was delighted. As the more tragic parts of the story unfolded, I saw her wiping the tears from her eyes. The experience was tremendously moving. I found watching Living Water to be very gratifying. I was pleased from a professional and creative standpoint in that I felt that the story was told simply yet eloquently, and that the play moved and flowed with grace on the stage. The actors, the music, the backdrops – all worked together to pay homage to this modern resurrection story. Again, Virginia Smith and her assistant Steve Grossman, as well as designer Holly Windingstad, had insured that the piece was not just a “talking heads” historical narrative, but an artistic expression of that narrative. During our post-show discussion, a woman from the audience stood and thanked us for thinking that their story was “worth the effort” to feature as the subject of our play. I think that each of us from Still Point who were present at that moment was overcome with emotion. We have felt grateful and humbled from the beginning of this project: that these people would invite us into their personal and collective stories of struggle, reliving many painful memories along the way. It was a great honor for all of us. Yet Father Doug expounded on the woman’s comments by pointing out that part of the pain of the Katrina tragedy was that the people of New Orleans felt so abandoned in that disaster. To them, it seemed as if the rest of the country did not know or did not care about the horrors that they were going through. In witnessing our play, there was a bit of healing knowing that there were those who did care. Speaking of healing, I should be frank in that my own spiritual path took me away from the Catholic Church many years ago. I had my share of bitterness and anger connected to the church that I carried with me for many years like a yoke around my own neck. Being so warmly embraced and accepted by Father Doug, Sister Kathleen, and the parishioners of St. Gabriel, I was able to attend mass on the Sunday morning after the play, and enjoy every minute. There is a line in the play delivered by Nicole as 22-year-old Patty Bergeron, who was just 14 when Katrina struck. She says, “We have a song that we sing, called ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.’ And I always think about that – that if there’s a visitor in the parish, that they’ll know that we, in this church, are Christians.” This visitor got that message loud and clear. It is Love that makes a space holy, and Love that makes a gathering sacred. Love is the fuel that drives the people of St. Gabriel Church, and Love is the balm that can help us all to heal, individually and collectively – even from the most horrific of tragedies. In witnessing Living Water come full circle, I could feel little else but Love.