Homeless: An Actor's Reflection

I first heard about HOMELESS a year back. Then it was just an idea that the director of the play, Gregg Garner, had mentioned, and now – in that proverbial blink of an eye -- it’s a completed show. It’s an old cliché, the passing of time, how quick it all feels, but that’s how life is. We wake up and discover we have a past, and that it stretches further back than we’d expected, and that it weighs on us in ways we’d not counted on. And what to do with it all?

When you’re young, you really think you can outrun the past. You think you can move away, forget, press forward unencumbered. But it catches up with you, it always does, and you find that it only becomes stronger in the years you tried to pretend it didn’t exist. And when it finally lashes out, it can paralyze. That’s where my character found himself:  curled up on a park bench after a head-on collision with the past he was running away from.

I have this book on my shelf, it’s a collection of essays by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. The title of book has always gotten to me: To Begin Where I Am. After being in this play, after thinking through its message, I have come to realize how hard that truly is. We want to rewrite the past, but we can’t. We want to run away from the past, but we can’t. The only thing to do is: carve out a beginning right where you find yourself. But it isn’t easy.

That sense of beginning, the sense that something new is happening, and that it could go anywhere, is an extraordinary feeling. But it’s one we don’t get naturally. We naturally feel the days are on repeat. Our past failures become prescriptions for the future, and the limitations that bound yesterday will stay their ground for tomorrow. The play is about that trap we so naturally fall into. My character, Nod, throughout the play just keeps going back through the same loop of thought. There is no beginnings because everything is just a replay of the past. My character is neurotic, yes, but his neuroticism is like our own every day experience writ large.

I think the play’s structure is interesting because – unlike most plays that move toward some final end, an achievement – HOMELESS ends with a beginning. The character finally confronts his past in a way that allows him to move forward. He finally admits that the past has left its mark on his present, but it hasn’t determined his future. He can choose to move forward.

Nod's relationship with his father, among others, is something he must deal with from his past, in order to move forward in a healthy manner.  But can he? 

Nod's relationship with his father, among others, is something he must deal with from his past, in order to move forward in a healthy manner.  But can he? 

The thing that makes me most proud of HOMELESS is the way I’ve seen it cause people to reflect on their own past, and how it has challenged people to find their own beginnings. I know it has done that for me. There is this part at the end of the play, where I sort of walk forward, finally, away from my park bench, and the script says I should “give the audience an emotionally packed smile.” I don’t know why, but I always stood there and imagined seeing a door off in the distance, opening for the first time. That was my image for a new beginning.

Ultimately that’s what I wanted everyone to see by the end of the play. The story of a person who had escaped the grip of the past, without ignoring it, and at last finding a place to begin, a place to move forward.  A door opening on the adventure of being alive.