One of the hottest shows of the recent San Diego Fringe Festival will have an all-too brief return run this weekend. The two-character story, by Charlene Baldridge, and the staging by Circle Circle dot dot’s Katherine Harroff, drew rave reviews for the performances and for Anne Gehman’s haunting, “shadow-dance” choreography.
I must disqualify myself from reviewing: a.) Charlene is a dear friend and fellow theater critic; b.) I watched her live the story.
Charlene’s daughter, Laura Jeanne Morefield adored life. Her poems sought the sunny side, but marked the darkness along the way. “Indomitable” is a big word - “indomitable spirit” even bigger. Charlene’s daughter was just that.
In 2008, Laura was diagnosed with a stage four colon cancer. There is no stage five. Her liver was so full of tumors the doctors couldn’t count them all. They swore she hadn’t long to live.
Somehow, she did. And did, and did.
Laura would do a week of chemotherapy, take a week off, then do another week of chemo. During off weeks, though drained to speck, Laura took long hikes, did yoga, and even played 18 holes of golf.
Often before a show, I’d ask Charlene “how’s she doing?” – always afraid of the answer. Charlene’s proud replies: she’s writing poems about the diagnosis (collected in The Warrior’s Stance), and a book (Chemo Monday, Golf on Tuesday), and refuses to go gently.
As her system weakened, Laura seemed to grow stronger. This had a double effect. She kept hope visible and became an inspiration. But the wavering kept Charlene on that razor thin line between “just maybe” and finality.
They say the worst death is a child before the parent. Charlene lived in that state from November, 2008 to July 17, 2011. Every morning, “please not today!” Every time the phone rang: is this THE CALL?
“Laura and I spent a lot of time together during her last three years,” says Baldridge. “In truth, she worried about me on the freeway between here and Laguna Niguel” – where Laura lived with her husband of 30 years, Daniel – “so she called me skateboard-at-the-ready mommy.”
Before the diagnosis, Baldridge admits, their mother/daughter relationship was “fraught and competitive.” Laura’s healing quest forged a bond.
“A week or so before she died, she asked me to collect and edit her post-diagnosis poems. The day she died, I drove home and began, not knowing how vast that world."
Laura appeared in a dream, “dressed as Groucho Marx in drag, with cigar and moustache. ‘Okay Miss Mommy,’ she said, Groucho style, ‘what next?’”
The answer is The Warrior’s Duet. “My side of the story – how it felt to sit by and watch Laura fight so hard, writing miraculous poems of hope, then see her precious life ebb away.
“In the writing I found catharsis and hope. This woman knew I needed tasks to keep me going – and boy, did she know how to hand them out!”