I like the taste of goat. I remember the first time I had it. It was Father's Day. We asked what Dad and Granddad wanted most to eat. They requested a delicacy known as Redneck Surf 'n Turf, which consists of grilled goat, boiled shrimp and a history of familial violence. Mom and I drove across the border to Georgia where we found a guy willing to sell us a whole goat. He was not a butcher so much as a guy who had goats. He chopped it up, skin still on and we threw it in a cooler and spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and cooking it, the barbecue pit in the yard sending up clouds of farmyard Worcestershire sauce. It was a special day.
Goat is delicious, like oily, gamy copper. It is a real meat. There is a pagan joy in eating it and tasting traces of blood, and this puts me in mind of the theater. In ancient Greece, there is a certain kind of revered and ordained civic ecstasy that you could achieve one of only two ways. Number one, tear apart a living goat with your hands and teeth, reveling in the furry, almondy ball musk of a dying animal, cackling beneath a lime green sky and praising the dark gods of booze and screw. Or, number two. Take in a show.
The latter evolved from the former. The word tragedy means goat song. There would be no theater had there not once been a community gathering around a dying goat's warm, glowing, warming glow. Like the mob sacrifice engorging, a visit to the stage was meant to be a city-wide devouring of shared, cherished sin. Here we are, all of us human, all subject to the whims of swirling darkness above us. Let us celebrate and mourn that together. Let's lance this cosmic boil. Let's play pretend.
I'm a theater professional, though some in this modern world would argue that the term "theater professional" is oxymoronic at best, necrophilic at worst. Theater is not dead. It just smells like disillusionment and non-profits. I am a theater professional. We are a peculiar breed. We put on masks, we cry for money, we're not opposed to performing sex acts in front of a crowd. We do it in the name of art. We belong to an elite and perverted short bus of those who must go through life with all the feelings! And worst, we are insufferable.
The first time I acted in a play, I was a child. In second grade, I was a narrator in The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Really. There were three of us narrators and one microphone. We took turns saying the lines, each supposed to step up obediently to the mic, but the mic was dead, and the other two seven-year-olds stepped to the mic regardless. I, however, sensing preternaturally that one must roll with technical difficulties, I stepped in front of the mic and fucking projected! And when I walked back to my chair, it was with a quick, light step that seemed to say, "That's how you do it, assholes!" I had to remain in the theater. Who the fuck else would have me?
I am a theater professional. At best, we are holy. We joke, but I believe in the power of theater to change the world, or as Tom Stoppard said, "If you get the words right, you can nudge the world." A little. Dents, here and there. When you get it right, when you get it true, you have assured a room full of strangers that they are not alone. A month after my grandmother died, I saw a play called Wit, which is about a very smart, very academic woman dying of cancer and trying to stave off the ungodly fear of death with proper grammar.
My grandmother had spent her last days in a hospice, stripped of almost everything except her ability to do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. The woman I saw on stage was not my grandmother. She was not anyone real, but she approximated. She wrought gold and it broke something open in me that had been closed throughout eulogies, wills, and three years of refilling her oxygen tank. No one I knew could articulate my grief, but this woman played it flawlessly, and took the worst of it from me.
Theater is not flat. It is not cut, print. It's fluid and gristle and all the failure. A darkened theater surrounded with people all sensing at once what it is to be human is holy. It is a cradle of blood and it is transformative, transportive. It is what carries you from a childhood built on slaughtered animals and family to this instant where even in the heart of Hollywood and the capital of film, we're giving our night to the stage, to the hope that in a dark room a few tables deep, there will be laughs and friends, and a taste of real meat.