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Death of a Stranger (and ex-husband)

In a couple of days, I’m making my big theatrical comeback. I think the last time I was on stage was in my high school's production of “Story Theater,” a post-hippy musical in which I portrayed Henny Penny. I was typecast, honestly. Particularly in my younger days, “The sky is falling” was my mantra. Now I’m older, wiser, and only slightly embittered, so this new role is perfect for me. The play is a funereal remembrance for Hank Williams Sr.’s alter ego, Luke the Drifter.

Stay with me now, kids. I know this is hard to understand. The “performance space” is the Bradshaw Funeral Home in St. Paul, which will be torn down a couple weeks after the final performance. So it’s the last funeral for a funeral parlor. The death of a funeral home. Plus, Bradshaw has this art-deco 1920s feel to it, which adds nicely to the sense that it is the end of an era.

Luke’s funeral is set in 1977. I’m playing Gladys, Luke’s so-called ex-wife, although with an ex named "Luke the Drifter," it’s not clear if divorce papers were ever signed. Gladys is in for some surprises. In the 20-odd years since she’s seen him, he’s had some adventures and liaisons (as they say in France). But Gladys will spare a kind thought. She’s not bitter. Like she tells the young gals she works with at the Savings & Loan, the past is the past and it’s best left there. Although no one is quite sure why she also says, after a few cocktails, “Surf and turf, baby, all the way!”

Still not making sense? This will explain it: It’s put on by the House of Mercy, my favorite little oddball church in the whole wide world. It’s a participatory theatrical experience. Minnesota Public Radio is going to cover this—that’s how cool it is. For $15, you can put on your favorite late-1970s outfit, c’mon down to the Bradshaw, and mingle with the funereal crowd. Pick a character and get into the role. It feels good to grieve; to pay respects to someone you hardly knew. Also, it’s really about the music. The House of Mercy Band will accompany Luke’s older brother, aka my real-life husband, on a song he wrote for Luke.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13; Friday, Oct. 14; and Sat., Oct. 15. But if you come at 7:30, you can mingle with Luke’s friends, family, and drifting buddies before the service. For more info, visit www.houseofmercy.org.
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