Saturday, June 25, 2011
Little Dougie has some words to say today, so I'll defer to him and go get drunk, the only sane thing to do on such a depresssing day.
It was 30 years ago today that my dear, dear friend, Saundra Mathews-Deacon died of surgical complications following a gratuitous and unneeded (in my humble and always abject medical opinion) gastric bypass operation, at the obscenely young age of 39.
Saundra was a magnificent actress, an incredible singer, a wonderful writer, and a great human being. She was a pillar of South Coast Repertory's early years. She wrote three "Magic Theater" children's shows that are now published by Dramatic Publishing of Chicago, and the plays are still performed worldwide. (The songs in the first Magic Theater were by Jim Diederich.) She co-wrote and starred in a feminist musical called YOU REMIND ME OF A FRIEND.
And she had a loud, raucous, Texas laugh which you couldn't hear without feeling happy. (Don't take my word for it. Click on this and hit "Play" and see if you can avoid feeling good.)
The first time I heard her sing, she knocked me out. Also the second time, also the 40th time, etc. In the original produciton of MOTHER EARTH, she sang Toni Tennielle's (Toni wrote the music for the show) song XANADU (Not to be confused with the XANADU of Olivia Newton-John, totally different song), and it gave me chills every night.
Three years later, Saundra's husband, Warren Deacon, directed me in a revival of MOTHER EARTH in San Climente, with Saundra as the musical director, and I got assigned to sing XANADU. Now, it was the best song in the show, so I was happy to have it, but it wasn't working in rehearsal. Oh I hit all the pitches and sang it clearly, on-key, intelligablily, and I knew the lyrics, but the emotional content was not there. Warren put his finger on the problem: I had been so blown away by Saundra's original renditions of it that singing it, especially with Saudra herself drecting me in it, I was too intimidated. I felt like I could never do it as magnificently as she had. The three of us worked through it together until I had a performance of it that worked, though I felt it was never more than a pale reflection of what Saundra did with it. I'm a good singer. Saundra was a great singer.
The three of us worked through something else together also. By 1971, I was aware I was sexually attracted to men, and freaked out by it. Saundra saw that something was amiss with me emotionally, and she reached out. I had a long nght in the Deacon living room, coming out to them (I'd never come out to anyone before, not even to me), and talking through it until dawn, as they got through to me that I wasn't changing into someone I didn't know, but was merely finding out who I was. I think they saved my life that night.
Unfortunately, 10 years later, I had no opportunity to save hers.
I'd say "Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," but Saundra sang so much better than angels that they would be too intimidated to sing before her too. Maybe she could coach them.
I miss you so much, darling.
Warren & Saundra at their 1967 wedding.