Traveling also revealed a soft spot in her parents’ old-school worldview. “We lived together after we left home. My parents didn’t know — well, they pretended they didn’t know. They would never ask, but it was kind of understood. I think that in some ways, they were happy — I was in these different places, and they knew somebody was taking care of me. My mom would call, and he’d answer the phone, and she’d say, ‘Hi, honey, give me Sofia.’ ”
Their time in San Diego proved seductive. “He loved the beach — running on the beach. That was one of the reasons we came back and started practicing here.” But the freewheeling long engagement was followed by a painfully abbreviated marriage. “When my daughter was two and my son was one, he passed away from acute viral pneumonia.”
That was in 1990. “I’m sorry that the kids never knew their dad,” she says. “I can tell them what a great guy he was, but they never knew him. It’s hard when you have someone that special in your life. Other people that come into your life sense it. But most people don’t, I think, feel competition with it. A lot of men, to their credit, are more like, ‘Wow, that’s cool that you had that kind of relationship.’ I did marry again, and that was great, even though it ended in divorce. It lasted 16 years.”
“What are you writing, again?” asks Sam.
He closes his paperback (I’m pretty sure I see Anne Frank’s name in the title), takes off his suitably chunky glasses, and leans back in his rattan chair. He’s not drinking anything at the moment, but he is sitting in the cool, quiet darkness outside Jai, the bar/restaurant that provides preshow cheer for the La Jolla Playhouse audience. The tanned face below his short, graying hair is not without creases, but the skin between them is in excellent shape, almost shiny in its smoothness. It’s not a huge surprise to find that he is an actor, in town to see his fellows perform in the world-premiere run of the musical Bonnie and Clyde.
“I’m going to bars and asking people about their first loves,” I answer.
“Have you ever seen Sexual Perversity in Chicago? David Mamet did the same thing. He went around to different bars, and he taped conversations, and he wrote a script using that. The movie version was called About Last Night.”
Sexual Perversity in Chicago: Joan says to Deborah:
“It’s a puzzle. Our efforts at coming to grips with ourselves…in an attempt to become ‘more human’ (which, in itself, is an interesting concept). It has to do with an increased ability to recognize clues…and the control of energy in the form of lust…and desire (And also in the form of hope)…”
Rich. But a guy should be careful, looking for life to imitate art, right?
Sam wasn’t in Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but Emily was — Emily, his first love. “I was maybe 28; she was a couple of years younger. The ironic thing was, I had met her mother first. I was doing a play at a community college where her mother happened to be working, and we started chatting, and she said, ‘You should really meet my daughter.’ Then, by the luck of the draw, we ended up getting cast as husband and wife in Close of Play by Simon Gray.”
She was already a minor star; he was “kind of the goofy kid from the prairies” who tripped into theater. “My background is working with kids, using drama and creative drama as a therapeutic tool with kids who have been abused. My brother had been peripherally involved in a community theater group, and this woman I was seeing said, ‘Let’s go to this audition.’ I got a part and she didn’t. And then, with relative ease, it just became a regular thing. I had been exposed to some really good theater when I was young, and I found it quite seductive.”
But Sam’s sober background in social psychology was no match for love’s happy onslaught. “The transference thing starts to happen when you start getting cozy on the couch during rehearsals, practicing lines. It happens easily — you’re involved in some romantic scene, saying these words which are really beautiful and thinking, ‘Wow, that person is saying those words to me.’ I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, she really thinks I’m great! This is how the script is supposed to go!’ I was completely smitten. There’s a great line that Blanche has in Streetcar about her lover: the light went on, and then, when he blew his brains out, the light went off. It was just like that — the spotlight was on for that whole time, three and a half or four years. It was growing up, and all the excitement of acting and being in London and Paris, just really great and fun and interesting and stimulating. Unfortunately, it ended like a bad script.”
Before the end, there was talk of living together and of marriage. And then Sam went to see Emily in Agatha Christie’s play Black Coffee. Watching her with the man who turned out to be her lover, “I thought, ‘There’s something more going on here than what’s onstage.’ She deceived me for a long time.”
The two were back on this continent by this point. Wounded, Sam headed west, putting all of North America between them. But in the years since — Sam is 54 now — “we’ve been able to reestablish a friendship.” Recently, they attended (of all things) a performance of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow.
Looking back for wisdom, he says, “It’s kind of an Oprah thing, though it was years later when I heard Oprah say it. She said something like, ‘Always believe people when they tell you something.’ There were times when Emily said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’ or ‘It’s too complicated’ or ‘I’m not very good at being in a relationship; I make mistakes all the time.’ Rather than saying, ‘No, no, no — we can do this,’ I should have listened to what she said. People will tell you who they are. It’s more about paying attention than falling, deliciously and romantically.”