Kevin Killian
Memories of Stacy Doris

Others can share their memories of Stacy Doris as a teacher, a poet, a friend, an activist, a mother, and as a poet (and in all different avatars), but perhaps few will be writing about their experience on stage with her, acting together.

According to my diary, it was February 2004—really not all that long ago. Stacy was about 40 I suppose, and radiantly beautiful and regal. She hadn’t had her children yet, I remember; they must have come along a bit later. It used to be that as a fundraising idea for Small Press Traffic, we would put on tons of plays. It would be a monthlong festival and just about everyone I know in the Bay Area must have written one for us. They were supposed to be plays by poets new to the stage but a few of us hams kept returning for the festival even though we had been working in poets theater for decades.

There was an unwritten law that, if you sent in a play from out of town, you had better get someone local to agree to take charge, producing and directing it, for the busy committee had no time for staging anything themselves. When Michael Scharf sent in “parti(Artigone),” I took a shine to it and realized it would make a wonderful pas de deux for me and a star actress sort of presence. You can see where this is going. Our theater was graced (is graced) with many wonderful actresses, or indeed, guys who could have put on a tunic and played Antigone, but for some reason I kept thinking of Stacy, as I sat at my desk reading and re-reading Scharf’s few cryptic words over and over again.

The entire script is only 129 words, but that doesn’t even tell half of the tale, nor does it make clear the extreme, Beckettian paucity of its speeches. There’s a woman at the end of her tether, and a man whose cold official government manner becomes malicious, then admiring in turns. Michael wrote the play right as the war in Iraq was heating up and imagined the cold man to also represent Uncle Sam (in his “Greetings” mode) and the woman as the populace, helpless and desolate, America supporting or resisting the war, it seemed then to make no difference, we were only alive to be manipulated by the money boys.

You can read it up at the journal Big Bridge, here: if you’re curious. Now picture me and Stacy trying out these lines tentatively, over the phone to each other. Like two kids we would be startled to try out new words on our tongues. But soon it became clear we needed to see each other’s eyes and faces. There was the aspect of the bitten off, the curtailed. Not till we began to rehearse could we tell what were the words that we were biting back—The shape of the sentence, or of the word or syllable, dictated the next word or phrase as though by law of muscle, the shape of the throat when we were saying them. I guess we could have asked Michael for the complete sentence from which he had harvested these few openers—but it was in the game not to ask him, to solve the case ourselves.

In person the daring continued to swell up. We each had our own baseline: I was menace, pretty much, and Stacy was dumb disbelief that had fear melting into it, but I was not always the stronger in our exchanges; sometimes her very abjection and powerlessness took the upper hand and I was momentarily taken aback, as though by some higher power, like Saul on the way to Tarsus. I could see the words disappearing right down her throat; it was like she thought to say them, then thought better of it. I know I was feeling similar. Acting, stage acting, is sometimes about a dissolution of power, sometimes about gathering it up, drawing it together like a cloak around oneself; Stacy could do that with an audience, take all of the men and women and children out there and draw them in. I couldn’t wait for the night to arrive when we would do it.

When the performance began we took our places at a three quarter angle to the audience. As I spoke I found myself almost trying to cut off my own voice before Michael would actually have me stop. Ironic, that we’d so few words and yet this very fact made silence dearer. Stacy and I talked about the way the play, acting in it, being these characters, revealed parts of ourselves to ourselves, parts we didn’t have access to ordinarily. The submissive husiness. I’m not exactly an introvert by any means, nor was she I don’t think, and yet everyone has times in their lives when we’ve felt shut up, censored, ignored, made invisible, right? Those all came bobbing up to the surface,—I could see them flush her beautiful skin. Under Stanislavskyan training, you’d earn how to take those energies and use them, but we were not trained, instead those energies and memories used us; pulled and pushed us around like wind animating clothes on a clothesline. I think the play lasted about three minutes, and then the applause set in, and we were free, or nearly so, from Antigone’s spell. But they were three of the minutes I remember most vividly—how they felt—out of the thirty million I’ve lived so far. How it felt being alive.

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