Thursday, December 9, 2010

Been thinking, this night and the last few, about Alec & Laura, and their relationship.
Alec and Laura, for the uninitiated, are the protagonists of this show, which I'm lucky enough to be a part of right now. They meet, quite by accident, at a train station. She gets grit in her eye. He removes it for her. A friendship blossoms, becomes a romance. But they aren't free to love each other: they're both married to other people, people they love, and they have children. Before they can ever consummate their affair, they realize that it is doomed, and that they must always be apart. They choose to do the "right thing", but in doing so, they sacrifice their love for each other.
What I think about, in those moments when I am backstage, or in the dressing room listening to the dialogue coming over the Tannoy, is how I look at this story now versus what I would have thought back when I was, say, 21. Back then I would have been unreservedly on the side of True Love; I would have raged at the fact that Alec and Laura make the decision to go back to their spouses. Black was black and white was white and lovers should be together.

Now, at 36 (and in a 14-year relationship), everything is shades of grey.
If we are lucky- and I count myself squarely among the lucky- we meet our soulmates, and settle down together. But years of familiarity breeds...? Not contempt (hopefully), but certainly the shine wears off. Here's what you can't realize until you've been at it for a while: you have to work to make it last, folks. Add kids into the mix; I imagine it gets way harder.

And then, one day, you may meet someone shiny and new. Someone who hasn't seen you hungover or belching or bleary-eyed. Someone who makes your heart beat faster, your eyes sparkle. Who hasn't heard your same stories a thousand times over. Everything they do is endearing. There's a great quote from a movie called "The Beach" which has always stuck with me:

"When you develop an infatuation for someone you always find a reason to believe that this is exactly the person for you. It doesn't need to be a good reason. Taking photographs of the night sky, for example. Now, in the long run, that's just the kind of dumb, irritating habit that would cause you to split up. But in the haze of infatuation, it's just what you've been searching for all these years."

Alec and Laura have this kind of infatuation for each other. He claims to love her over and over, although (as Laura herself admits) they hardly know each other. They discuss secrets and dreams with each other: her love of music and adventure; his interest in a particular kind of medicine. If Alec and Laura were to end up together, their relationship would become something more prosaic, but while they meet once a week in the anonymity of the train station, they are free to love each other without life getting in the way. "I never think of myself as 'grown up'" Alec admits, and perhaps it is his reluctance to grow up that leads him into this affair, while the more sober Laura never abandons herself as easily as he does.

Two things that make their story interesting to me:
We see their affair almost exclusively as it pertains to Alec and Laura alone, and not as it impacts their spouses. And so we don't have to ask ourselves the obvious questions: is adultery 'bad' and 'wrong'? How will it affect their marriages? Instead we examine how the affair affects the two lovers. Also: Alec and Laura never have sex. And so their affair is one of hearts and minds, rather than bodies.

But is their affair necessarily all bad?
Certainly they are desperately hurt at its end, and although we never meet Alec's family, Laura's husband Fred begins to feel abandoned, though he never guesses why. But Alec eventually has to leave his safe, boring life as a GP in the English suburbs to help start a new hospital in Johannesburg. And although Laura doesn't go anywhere, we get a sense that perhaps she will allow more room in her life for her music. So they've both grown and changed by the play's end, although the process has been terribly painful. Should they have done the 'correct' thing and avoided each other from the start, as Laura's instincts tell her to do? Or did they help each other to grow?

I don't have any answers, and that's the truth of the matter. Ask me again in 20 more years. I look at Alec and Laura playing out their ill-fated love every night and I think there but for the grace of god. I think that I have a wonderful man, one of the best you could ever find, and I love him with all my heart but sometimes I meet men who make my heart race and my breath catch because they are shiny and new, because they see me differently, and I chase after these new connections when maybe I should be running away. And yet at the same time I know how rare it is, and how lucky I am, to love and be loved by someone who has known me for so long and still loves me, despite all my faults.

I stare at the screen and I realize that I don't know how to end this without being trite, or without sounding as if I condone adultery, which I don't. So maybe I can't end this properly. I'll go on being who I am: imperfect, conflicted, wanting to have my cake and eat it too. And I'll keep listening to the lines in this play, and hoping I never find out how it feels to be Laura.

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