“This Is The Wisdom I Have Learned”: The Power of Memory

William Goyen’s House of Breath: Black White opened on November 4, 1969 at Trinity Square Repertory in Providence, Rhode Island. Every year I celebrate this play on this date. Why? Two reasons: it was a theatrical production ahead of its time, and it marks the occasion I fell in love with Roger Morgan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directed by the brilliant Adrian Hall, with sets by Eugene Lee, and lighting by the above-mentioned Roger, House of Breath was a powerful, poetic piece about an East Texas family in the early twentieth century. The production pioneered non-traditional casting before the term even existed, and explored trans-gender issues in flamboyant Adrian-Hall-style. The late great Ethyl Eichelberger (known at the time as Jim) played the role of a sexually repressed young man whose imagination transforms him into a black showgirl. I played Jim’s dead sister Jessie, brought to life through the memories of her family. 
We knew the play was groundbreaking, but Roger and I were caught completely off-guard by the depth of our connection (each of us thought it must have been the high of the production that swept us off our feet!) We now know, having celebrated decades of November Fourths, is that the collaborative experience of that project provided the foundation upon which we subsequently built our lives.  
There was one particular moment in the play Roger always loved: young Jessie (my character) remembers her brother BerryBen dressed up as a King in a pageant, and Jessie declares with great wonder: “This is the wisdom I have learned!” referring to the power of memory.  “This is the wisdom I have learned” is one of those code phrases that pops up in our marital dialogue as a sort of  “duh” realization; and recently, the phrase has come to represent the collaboration, risk, and belief that we’re doing something that matters: three of the Principles of Theatrical Intelligence. 
The spirit of the work at Trinity quickened the pace of our courtship… of course we fell in love that night! What we didn’t know at the time was that it marked the beginning of a collaborative, creative and frequently improvised life. I shall be forever-grateful that Roger and I fell in love in the middle of the wonder that inhabited House of Breath and Trinity, because within that context our lives changed forever.
House of Breath photo by William Smith

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15 Responses to ““This Is The Wisdom I Have Learned”: The Power of Memory”

  1. Ann Sachs says:

    Many people have asked about my HAIR in the 1969 photo: it was a wig! (You think my curly-headed-mind-of-its-own mop would stay straight for more than 2 minutes? Nope.)

  2. Mindy says:

    What a wonderful story! And, knowing the two of you, the story continues….

  3. The IT Man says:

    I am not surprised to hear of such an accomplishment. Everything I have seen from both of you involves Passion, Hard work and Understanding.
    Hernan.

  4. Diane Hardin says:

    Knowing your house so well, I can attest to the fact that is is always filled with the breath of love. Wonderful story about how that love began with the House of Breath.

  5. I love the quality of heart in this blog! And as we know, you gotta have heart, miles and miles and miles of …

  6. This is pure radiance! Loved hearing how you met and how you cared about the same goal. And ETHYL EICHELBERGER! I loved that guy — knew him only as Ethyl. Another radiant spirit in this world. We all have to learn to treasure such people while we have them. And since the world (happily) does have YOU — long may you wave!

  7. Ann Sachs says:

    Thank you Stuart, I DO have heart (and the fact that you say it is “quality” heart sends me over the moon!) I finally understood that song a few years ago: the more I give it away the more I get it back, and it keeps on stretching and growing and expanding into miles and miles of heart. Duh. (Sometimes it takes a while.)

  8. Ann Sachs says:

    Thank you Mindy and Hernan, for being part of the collaborative story, which continues like one of those Adirondack trails: sometimes effortless, often terrifying, and always worth it.

    Ann

  9. Ann Sachs says:

    I’m so flattered, Elaine, and long may YOU wave, with your one-woman “Tea For Three”!

  10. Carey Earle says:

    Did Adrian Hall retire in Vermont? I ask because we had a small play house in Hyde Park, VT where we did musicals and plays. It was very campy and fun. Adrian Hall was the director there until she died.

  11. Jane Alden says:

    What a pleasure it is to read your writing! I am always humbled and inspired by your still reverent attitude towards the art and magic and meaning of theatre! It refreshes my spirit and encourages my passion! I so hope we can see and speak in person again! I feel in you a kindred spirit! Always have!

  12. Ann Sachs says:

    Carey, it is a different Adrian Hall, although it sounds as if the two had a common love of the theatre. Our Adrian is in his 80s, living in Texas, and still directing from time to time. Also, there was Adrienne Hall, the late Board Chair of the WPO. Obviously a formidable name!

  13. Ann Sachs says:

    Thank you, Jane – what a lovely comment! I’m honored by your response because I think of you as such a theatre connoisseur. I gained a new perspective about “the magic and meaning of theatre” when I stopped performing 20 years ago, because I wasn’t “in it” any more. It was a surprising experience and one I’d love to share with you.

    Please let me know if/when you’re planning a visit to NYC, and I’ll do the same if I get out to the Pacific Northwest. We’ll share our kindred-spirithood, and I’ll ask that you share some of your Shakespearian wisdom with me.

    Can’t wait…

  14. Nancy Forsythe says:

    I’ve seen these ‘old’ photos before–the ones of you and Roger, 40 years ago, and love the current one. Having known you during 35 of those 40 years, I think that you have created a truly unique and formidable coupleship! I love each of you and both of you together. Hip Hip Hooray! xo, Nancy

  15. Ann Sachs says:

    Nancy – thanks for your “coupleship” comment. Love that word!

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