Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

May 29, 2018

ADVENTURES IN YES: "Reading Rick & Roger, Remembering Sean & Guy and Losing Rachel"

A book arrives at just the right moment to help process life, love and loss

Rick and Roger, stars of one of my favorite love stories. (Photo: Bruce Glikas)

Perhaps because I’ve lost so many friends in the theater and dance worlds over these last few years, it took me longer than I would have expected to sit down to read Finding Roger, my friend Rick Elice’s heartfelt, heartbreaking and yet still profoundly ecstatic remembrances of his husband, soul mate and guiding light, the transcendent actor, author, director and deeply human being, Roger Rees.

It’s been almost three years since Roger passed, and just over ten since I met Rick. I’ve loved each of the precious few moments I’ve spent with both. There haven’t been nearly enough, but they’ve all been memorable and inspiring, always life-affirming, and sometimes life-changing.

The room and whatever we were doing in it was simply more interesting and beautiful around Roger. The same is true of Rick, and perhaps even more so, given the way we've watched him come to terms with losing the love of his life, and figure out how to move, in the words of Guy Adkins, another artist and friend lost far too early, “onward, forward and up.” Rick has done so by embracing the kind of messy beauty that characterizes our bravest and most distinguished deep dives into the human heart and soul.

Actually, it’s inaccurate to say I’ve “watched” Rick. I’ve read him. Finding Roger is Rick’s luminous collection of notes, blogs and remembrances of their relationships. It's one of the truly great love stories in the history of love stories.

Finding Roger was published many months ago. I’ve been meaning to read it since the day it came out. On the one hand I feel like a bad friend for taking until nearly June to open its cover. On the other, I feel like I’m reading it at exactly the right time.

The three of them – Rick, Roger and Rickenroger, for their union was a spiritual being of its own – were informed by a kind of courage that, until recently, I wasn’t sure I was capable of. I’m still not sure, but I’m more inclined than ever to find out, which has to be step in the right direction.

The collective Rees/Elice histories are also distinguished by an astonishing breadth of work that is, in a word, humbling. These are, after all, the guys that brought us (among other things) Nicholas Nickleby, Jersey Boys and Peter & The Starcatcher, along with scores of other productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the La Jolla Playhouse and of course Broadway and The West End.

Finding Roger displays such depth of character in these two men and those that surround them. Rick’s ability to recount their story is, much like Rick himself, remarkable. He seems both casually brave in the way that he follows creative and personal dreams, and bravely casual in the way that he works with others (most notably Roger) to make his home and work lives so rich. I find that kind of unassuming determination especially impressive.

Finding Roger is both profoundly moving and completely unsentimental. It doesn’t pander. It doesn't beg you to feel sorry for its author. It doesn’t diminish its subject by begging for its readers' tears. It simply opens a window on a rich life richly shared, after which the tears flow generously and naturally. It doesn’t “do” anything to get its reader to feel something. It just is, and the reader just does.

Like most successful work, Rick’s memoir embraces the specifics of a life with such zest and detail that his and Roger’s story feels absolutely universal. Rick’s heart, worn not just on his sleeve but everywhere, is by his own account shattered by losing Roger. Yet it nevertheless remains exhilaratingly functional.

Finding Roger could have just been about sadness and loss. Instead, it’s about love and life.

Had I read it even last year, I could easily have found myself ashamed that I had not lived as fully as Rick and Roger. But having waited for the world to spin just this one more time before reading it, I find myself at a place in my life where I’m inspired and empowered by everything Rick writes about what he and Roger did and what Roger continues to inspire him to do.

Sometimes a song, a movie, a play or a book come along at just the right moment. And sometimes we have an internal instinct about when and how we can best take it in.

I mentioned Guy Adkins earlier. More years ago than I can believe, we lost that great artist and man as well. The woman I was dating at the time hadn’t met Guy or his partner, the wonderful actor and genuine good guy Sean Krill. But the stories I’d shared with her about them had moved her deeply, in many of the same ways that Rick and Roger’s story continues to move me.

She and I weren’t destined to be a couple, but we remained close friends. Early in that friendship, and still not long after Guy passed, I took her to see Sean somehow manage to get his goofy on as Lancelot in Drury Lane’s production of Spamalot (it’s so much harder to be silly on stage when you’re feeling broken than it is to be tragic, and I don't know how he managed to pull that off, but he did).

When I introduced her to Sean after the show, she began uncontrollably sobbing. She apologized, she said, but she couldn’t help it. She’d never met either Sean or Guy before now, but she knew their story, and it affected her powerfully.

“I know,” Sean said to her, with his characteristic gentle and unassuming nature. “It’s really sad.”

“Yes," she replied. "But it’s also really happy.”

She took a breath before explaining.

“You had this.”

I knew what she meant. Even in our most hopeful days, with others and with each other, she and I had never had this.

Sean and Guy did. So did Rick and Roger.

And you have to be happy for people who have been lucky and brave enough to dive deep into this, even when under the best of circumstances one will have their heart broken by surviving the other. Not for nothing did Tennyson say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Sean’s story got happier. He found this, again, and continues to be one of my inspirations, for that and many other reasons. And Rick’s story will be imbued with happiness again, too, in whatever form it might take. These are people who invite happiness in, even though the open wounds. That’s the kind of invitation that happiness tends to accept.

I’m in everlasting awe of those who manage – not manage, that’s wrong – choose, really, is the word I’m looking for – choose to stay open to all of life’s rich pageant, even when all they feel they are is an open wound. This is something else to which I aspire.

Lord knows if I’m any good at it. I’m not sure that I have experienced the kind of losses that make my choices significant enough to qualify. But having people like Rick, Sean, and far too many other friends and family members than I would like endure these kinds of losses, and seeing them choose to share their stories and lead these lives assures me feel that, even in moments of profound loss and disorienting depletion, the world still offers invitations, or at least opportunities, to discover, and possibly experience, and maybe even create a little more beauty, even when we might have found ourselves believing that there was none left for us.

I’m especially glad I’m reading Finding Roger now, because something’s just happened that had made this book a perfect and necessary companion. As I was writing this – literally, as I finished writing that sentence about having people like Rick and Sean in my life – I received word that we lost Rachel Rockwell.

Rachel is – I don’t yet know how to use the past tense for her – a dazzlingly talented director and choreographer, a person who has lit up every stage and process of which she’s been a part, and a flat-out lovely, energizing and inspiring human being. She was another friend I didn’t know as well as I’d have liked. But our lives and careers intersected at important times and in game-changing ways, and I'm going to miss her

She’s been ill for a long time, and so her departure isn't entirelty unexpected. But it's still a shock. And I’m having a very hard time comprehending that she’s gone, just as it’s difficult for me to think that way of Roger and Guy. And Molly, and Bernie, and Nana. And Eric, Mariann, Martha, John and so many other friends and colleagues to whom we’ve had to say goodbye these last few years.

My hope – my prayer, actually – is that I will find a way to honor my fleeting time with them by choosing to live as beautifully and bravely as Rick, Sean and all their loved ones continue to do.

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