Friday, January 29, 2010

Me and the Glass Family

Like most of my generation in the United States, I was introduced to Catcher in the Rye in high school, and like most of us I felt a certain kinship with Holden Caulfield.

But it was Franny and Zooey that really hit me where I lived and live still. Now it wasn't that I had a family like the Glasses, a home filled with angsty geniuses. Not at all. But they were fascinating and beautiful and just as angsty as I felt in my late teens.

I fell in love with Franny, the sister who was in withdrawal after ages of spiritual exploration, huddled up in her room, isolated. Still trying to figure it out.

And I felt I WAS Zooey, in so many ways just as lost but somehow having a peace with it. Knowing something of the answer but still searching for it.

He has this great speech early in the book where he criticizes himself and his family and how they are too damned smart for their own good and seem to have lost the ability to really relate to people one to one.

I made that section of the book into a monologue, and in college I worked on it in my acting class. I felt such a kinship with Zooey that I wanted to continue to explore his character. In some ways I was pretty obsessed. But there was something about working on it that made me feel I was understanding something about myself.  Or something like that.

After I left college at the end of sophomore year I muddled around a little trying to find and create my own threatrical projects and groups. I was fortunate enough to find my way to studying with the great Geraldine Page, through her (also very talented) sons. Among other pieces, I continued to bring my work on Zooey into class for Geri to look at. We worked on it...and she was a wonderful teacher about whom I will write more on another time. But when she took a couple of weeks off to go to the Oscars (for "Trip To Bountiful", I think) class was taken over by F. Murray Abraham.

The first day that Murray came in I was scheduled to bring in Zooey. By now I had been working on Zooey's talk with Franny over the phone. Franny is holed up in her room and the only way Zooey can seem to reach out to his sister is by calling her as she sat in the next room. He goes on to describe all the ways we try to find ourselves and the truth in the world...what it all means. How bullshit some of it is, and how simple the truth is. It's been a long time and much of it escapes me now and sadly my copy of the book is in storage at the moment. It's very hard to describe the esoteric truth that Zooey tryes to convey to Franny, that the essence of life, (as their oldest brother had told him before his suicide)  is in everything, that the homeless guy that he saw every day was "Christ himself, Franny...he's Christ himself" in the sense of the truth of it being within everyone and everything. And that in the end, it's just not that complicated.

Franny comes out of her isolation, and Zooey himself somehow has managed to guide himself to a sense of understanding too.

When I did the piece for Murray and finished he was silent and a bit misty eyed. It turned out that this was one of his favorite books of all time and that he too wished he could play Zooey. He gave me a simple note...that I had everything I needed to portray Zooey completely, it was clear that I understood him and all the levels of his thoughts and feelings...but there was one thing I had forgotten in all the time I'd been working on it.

"John, the one thing you have to remember...he is saving his sister's life. You don't have to think of anything other than that because you know Zooey I think maybe better than *I* do...and I know him pretty damned well. He's saving his sister's life."

Of course he was right on the money and his note to me was parallel to Zooey's message to Franny. It's simpler than you think it is. And it almost always is like that.

I realized then and now that I was drawn to Zooey because in my head I'm constantly having that talk with myself. My Zooey half is trying to save my Franny half's life.

So far I think I'm succeeding.

Thank you Geri, Thank you Murray.

Thank you, Mr. Salinger. Funny how the wisdom of your books drew you to isolation,  I so hate that you are no longer in the world with us, even within that isolation.. It's a lesser world for your absence, but I am a richer man for your words.

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