Flashbacks


I had a couple of those really weird “This Is Your Life” moments last night.

I was at the Canadian Embassy for a reception honoring this year’s Helen Hayes Awards nominees (I’m up for Leading Actress in a Musical for Pacific Overtures). I got there on the dot of 6:30, went through security and was immediately tapped on the shoulder by Marni Penning, who’s up for Outstanding Supporting Actress/Resident Play.

I met Marni nearly twenty years ago, when she was just a little kid. We were both cast in a community theatre production of The Mikado; I was Katisha and she was in the chorus. I don’t remember a great deal about the show except that it was fairly awful, but it hit me that it was the only other time I’ve played an Asian. At least that one was a woman, albeit a really tough one:

Anyway, it was nice to see Marni and have a few moments for a hug and a brief chat before we were whirled in different directions. I was glad to see her – she’s a beautiful young woman now.

About midway through the evening, there were a couple of speeches and we all stood around, drinks in hand, listening. In the middle of HH Executive Director Linda Levy Grossman’s speech, I heard a little throat-clear somewhere in the crowd behind me. It was the littlest of throat-clears, but I recognized it immediately – it was a former best friend and roommate. Our ways parted, somewhat bitterly, more than ten years ago.

She and I met in high school and rapidly became best friends. We stayed in close contact all through college, moved to DC about the same time, and shared a couple of different apartments. She had a theatre degree and wanted to be an actress; I had a journalism degree and wanted to be a writer. It didn’t work out that way for either of us. Both of us did community theatre on the side while holding down secretarial jobs; the differences came when I started getting good roles and she didn’t, I started getting community theatre acting awards and she didn’t, I got a few professional acting jobs and she didn’t. Maybe I got a big head about it – I don’t know. The upshot was that she found another roommate and moved out, rather abruptly. I kept trying to keep the friendship going but it didn’t work. Shortly afterward I teamed up with Eric Schaeffer to start Signature Theatre. I ran into my old roommate at a party a few weeks after I got my Helen Hayes award for Signature’s first musical, Sweeney Todd. She was all smiles until another friend walked up and wanted me to tell him all about getting the award; my ex-roommate blew out a sigh and an “Oh, GOD” and walked away. That’s when I gave up on it. I still see her occasionally since she works for another theatre in town; it’s cordial, but nothing like the friends we used to be.

As I heard her clear her throat, all those memories flooded back, bitter and sweet. We had been so close for so many years. I turned around and walked back through the crowd and found her. “I heard someone clear their throat and knew it was you,” I said, and hugged her. She laughed and said, “Some things never change.” I pointed to her name tag, with her theatre listed on it, and said, “You still working for them?” As she started to answer, Linda Levy Grossman called all the nominees forward, and I said something like “Oops, gotta go,” and left my old best friend and roommate with her response still on her lips. I wish now that I hadn’t done that; I wish I’d lingered for a few minutes. We had to go pose for photos and I didn’t see her again after that.

After the photos, I got another drink and stood for a long time, talking to some of the Helen Hayes board members. The platters of dainties that had been whirled around by the reception staff for the past two hours were starting to look kind of tired, and so was I. I made my adieus and headed out the door.

My feet were really hurting by then and I hesitated outside the Embassy to ease them for a moment before walking to my car. Someone called my name; I turned around and saw an older gentleman, who had brushed past me at one point in the reception and called me by my maiden name. He caught up and said, “You don’t remember me,” and I confessed that I didn’t, even after looking at his name tag. He explained that he worked at one of the local cable access channels and had interviewed me back when I was a Big Star in community theatre. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t remember. He was nice about it, and in a very courtly fashion, he walked me to my car and saw me into it. I watched him cross the street to his own car.

It’s unsettling, having your past and your present collide so many times in the space of one evening. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. But it was cold, and I was too tired to give it much thought. I started the car, turned on the radio and pulled out into traffic. The old gentleman was getting into his car as I went by. I tooted my horn at the Past (acknowledgement? salute? farewell?), and drove home.

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8 comments

  1. jupupedu

    I have enjoyed reading your blog. Now you are an actress AND a writer. Whatever happened to the novel that you slaved over years ago? I mentioned to one of my offspring that you had written a book, and he was quite impressed (wants to be a writer himself, you know).

  2. Donna Migliaccio

    Oh, it’s tucked away someplace. I looked at it last year; some of it’s not badly written but the premise is shaky and so is the plot. But it’s fun to tinker with occasionally.

  3. Jack Marshall

    If I were in the habit of making unflattering and unwanted references to my friends and colleagues on my own website, devoted to matters of ethics, I could make good use of this James Frey-like post. I’m not..the practice is unethical, not to mention mean-spirited..so I’ll settle for clarifying matters here. I am quite familiar with the origins of the falling out between Mrs. Mig and her former roommate, with whom I have discussed their history at length. It was not the latter’s green-eyed envy of Donna’s successes, such as they were, that precipitated the split, but rather her fatigue at her room-mate’s alarming level of self-absorption that even then was reaching toxic levels, and the realization that this “friend” increased her own self-esteem by setting out to undermine and belittle the accomplishments of others. Regarding the self-absorption, this blog itself is ample evidence that it has continued to expand to elephantine proportions. The undermining and belittling are also in fine form, as shown by the actual events in the touching reunion related here in fictionalized form. I know: I was about 14 inches away. The seemingly benign question “You’re still with them?” was anything but benignly delivered. Donna gave the last word every bit of condescending and demeaning spin that her superb acting talents could muster, so that “You’re still with them?” made it very clear that the speaker intended to convey that she regarded this low occupation as the equivalent of working for the local fish gurry processing plant or pumping gas. As her former friend is the Executive Producer of “them,” “them’ being the American Century Theater (which has been good enough to hire Mrs. Mig when her fortunes and ego were not riding so high), this was a calculated insult and the equivalent of a slap in the face. Moreover, the spirit of contempt so expressed was directly opposed to the spirit of the Helen Hayes reception, a collegial gathering in which the theater community is supposed to display its mutual respect, support and admiration. But as her target that evening (and, I suspect, almost everyone else) will attest, these are not high priorities with Donna and never have been. The barb was delivered with the gusto and sting of Bette Davis in “All About Eve,” and actually made me question whether it had been practiced and rehearsed. Why? Why would anyone, especially a purported friend, go to such lengths to hurt a caring and kind person (and I can attest that she was hurt, so I guess congratulations are in order) with a cutting remark, unprovoked and unjustified?I can’t even begin to plumb the darkness that would have to be explored to answer that question, nor would I want to. But to follow up such a performance with a vile and imaginary blog entry implying that a cherished friendship was lost because her roommate couldn’t deal with Donna’s soaring accomplishments establishes new records in gall. In fact, the opposite may well be the case. For after 11 years, Rhonda Hill remains with the theater company she helped establish, continues to play a major role in helping it to grow, and is greatly valued by her colleagues, who would never consider ousting her. She is a good, talented, courageous and caring person who has many friends, and as far as I know, has never set out to hurt anyone in her life, or seek to belittle theirs. And that, and not Helen Hayes nominations, is what makes a life a success.

  4. Donna Migliaccio

    Hi, Jack. I had a feeling you’d show up in your Shining White Armor, and you didn’t disappoint me.I said “are you still with them?” because I thought Rhonda had left ACT. Clearly I was wrong about that.And as for being big-headed, I never said I wasn’t. How about you?

  5. Theata Widowa

    I enjoy your blog very much. Your way of describing your minglings at that Canadian reception (I was there too, though not as a nominee) are beautifully written and kind. I feel you have captured a wonderful feeling of lives lost and re-found, etc. How people change, reconnect– or don’t… Congratulations on capturing the interesting spirit of that fun evening. I think you’re kind not to name names, and I certainly do not know what the fuss is about here… my goodness. Keep up the writing; you have a voice in more ways than one.

  6. StephenGregorySmith

    Donna-Well, I don’t know what happened to YOUR novel, but it looks like someone else has just written a very large volume of what appears to be a mix between True Crime and Fantasy…CONGRATS! You have officially entered the blog world! (You see, you cannot REALLY be a blogger until someone misconstrues a piece of yours and uses it as a platform to spew out their own propaganda, and lead everyone way far away from what the point ever was!)I think it is hysterical that Donna was kind enough not to name any names, but Jack spilled all the beans, naming the person in question, and her place of employment. Smooth move.One wonders what venom or retribution lies behind this mammoth sour grape. Jack…if you are a good man, and know “what makes life a sucess”, then why seek out and comment on Donna’s blog-which by the way, is one of the LEAST self-centered ones that I have EVER read-Why not just let the mean ol’ Mrs. Mig do her thing, you do yours?You aren’t teaching her any kind of lesson. Bottom line, if you don’t like a person, don’t read their blog…don’t send them Christmas Cards, don’t invite them over for tea, but DEFINITELY don’t write on their blog about how much you don’t like them. It simply makes you look ignorant, and I am frankly embarrassed for you.All of that being said, and not to stir this absolute non-issue any further, I have known the “Bitch” in question for many years now. I find her to be a very smart, sensitive, funny, loving, and warm individual. I adore her. The energy that it is speculated that she is putting out is simply imagined by someone who is looking for something that is simply not there. You can always pass me a note in Study Hall if you disagree.There you have it, Donna. I know you didn’t ask me to come to be your Knight in Shining Pleather, but I rode up the mountain anyway.This is MY novel. File it under “Self-Help”.SGS

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