Reunions, Transformations & An Overdue Love LetterWednesday, September 28, 2011
Reunions, Transformations and an Overdue Love Letter
Guest Blog by John Lekich
Alex and I are on our way to meet veteran actor, director and playwright Nicola Cavendish at the Arts Club. We are doing this because Cavendish has directed a play called Circle Mirror Transformation, currently running at the Arts Club on Granville Island. With a cast that includes such venerable local actors as Alex Diakun and Donna White, it shows every sign of being a success.
Beyond that, any chance to enjoy the pleasure of Nicola Cavendish’s company is not to be missed. And, for me at least, it’s been far too long.
One other thing before we get too deeply into this. If you don’t like love letters, stop reading now.
I first interviewed Cavendish almost twenty years ago. It was for the kind of magazine that doesn’t exist here anymore. The result was a long, thoughtful interview that continues to linger in my memory. Cavendish is one of those rare people who approaches any question as if it’s a welcome opportunity for self-exploration. It’s as if the right conversation can lead to something both mysterious and valuable.
All these years later, Alex and I are sitting on a bench on Granville Island. It’s a bracing September afternoon and we’ve managed to find a parking space right next to the theatre. The sun breaks out from behind a gray-streaked cloud “Wait till you see those eyes,” I tell him.
I’m excited by the thought of Alex taking Nicola’s portrait. Over the years, he’s worked with just about every noteworthy artist in Vancouver. Oddly, he’s never taken Cavendish’s picture. I tell him that – like Lillian Gish or Mabel Normand – she has the eyes of a silent film star. When she starts talking you just want her to keep on going. But she doesn’t need words to convey feeling.
When we meet in her dressing room, she’s wearing a shawl-collared sweater that looks as if it’s made out of coarsely woven straw. Her shoes are multi-coulored and appear hand-painted. It gives her the look of someone who’d open the door to needy strangers on the countryside. The kind of woman who’d hug Hansel and Gretel after kicking the wicked witch’s ass.
As we talk, she acknowledges a certain weariness. She has recently suffered a deeply personal loss. In part, she’s directed Circle Mirror Transformation– about the revelations that occur in an adult creative drama class – to occupy her attention and encourage a measure of solace.
And then something wonderful happens. When she begins talking about the things she loves, the weariness fades to reveal a fierce curiosity about the way things work.
As a director, she wants to “help turn those black and white words on a page into fully-rounded human beings.” On the other hand, she feels that actors don’t rely nearly enough on their own instincts. “I think it’s a director’s job to try and get them to do that,” she says.
The conversation takes various turns. She grins when I tell her that I consider her bizarrely captivating role in The Grocer’s Wife to be the most erotic performance I’ve ever seen in a Canadian film. After a while, she recalls working with Tennessee Williams and the tender way he told her that he’d always depended on the kindness of strangers.
When it’s time to leave, she looks at the both of us and says: “If there’s anything I can ever do.” I want to tell her that she’s done more than enough by opening her heart so fully over the years. I don’t. But I have every hope that she understands anyway.
John Lekich on Lillian Gish