Opening night of A Behanding in Spokane, Philadelphia, April, 2012.
(l-r) Matt, Reuben, Pearce, Jamel, me, Joe; Amanda, who played the lone female role, is not pictured here.
All this week I have been thinking about how Tuesday 11/12 was the one year anniversary of former theatre colleague Reuben Mitchell dying from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. While I don’t feel I can offer as heartfelt a tribute as his friend wrote here, or as immediate a memory as someone else he knew wrote here, I did want to mention him here on my own blog.
What to say about Reuben, or rather, what not to say?
He was a kind and generous Greenville, North Carolina native who maintained a sense of good humor and congeniality in everything he did. When I mentioned that my mom and my cat and I had visited Greenville in late 2007 and were surprised by some late-night violence happening across the street from our hotel, he laughed it off, saying “oh, that happens every week!” – but he was proud of his Southern heritage.
Reuben lit up the stage for the Martin McDonaugh play we worked on, taking what could have been just a stereotypical part and turning it in to a full individual. He was dedicated to his craft as seen in his extensive professional training, studying in locations such as New Orleans and Toronto among others, followed by moving to Philadelphia to pursue a career. This training was also evident in his daily preparation for our performances, as he was almost always first at the venue (and I was genuinely concerned when he wasn’t), undertaking a rigorous 10-20 minute vocal warmup and brief physical warmup as well – even though he spent 2/3 of the show tied to a wall. He showed a sense of civility and fun in his interactions with everyone on the production team, while clearly understanding that the “play was the thing” and that was our focus. He was an incredible storyteller with a vividness to his tales I’ve rarely heard other people make use of.
Inevitably I look back at that production bittersweetly, with Reuben gone. At the time I was excited to work on a script by a favorite writer, Martin McDonagh, and am grateful to have had the opportunity. But I had to juggle the theatre work and a more 9-5 oriented job alongside commuting from Delaware to Philadelphia, thus limiting my social opportunities with the actors. Eventually I felt a natural ease when I was able to join in on the social time (as seen in the photo above from opening night), but it was not as much as I would have liked. And we can never re-create that same dynamic.
I only saw Reuben once more a month after the production closed; he’d been invited to return to the same theatre company we’d worked with for a fundraiser/festive evening , employing his subtle and uncanny Barack Obama impersonation skills to use in several skits. (Incidentally, the event got some official political humor by featuring Arlen Spector, who died a few months later in 2012, as the opening act.) Reuben jumped me with his characteristic enthusiasm as we waited for the show to begin, and we chatted briefly before he went onstage…
It was very clear (painfully now of course) that Reuben loved his motorcycle. He often appeared at our rehearsals and performances with it. While I’m not a motorcyclist myself, I think he and I shared a love of driving towards the unknown and engaging in some derring-do along the way; I recall energetically describing my favorite road in Marin County (Ridgecrest Boulevard) to him, while he replied with tales of curvaceous roads in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania that he’d gone out to explore one Sunday morning.
I hope Reuben knew how much he impacted others, and they cared about him. I’m sure I will always remember him.
One day this week when I thought of Reuben, I also recalled another theatre-impacted tragedy out in the Bay Area. Summer Serafin, whom I never met nor saw onstage, but she did work with several people I knew in the Bay Area theatre scene, died in 2011 after an accidental fall from a fire escape in San Francisco. It is clear from a quick Google search of her name that she also made an impact on many individuals.
I don’t want to read too much into this – and it’s probably just a coincidence – but I noticed that Summer died on Reuben’s 30th birthday, while Reuben died one day before what would have been Summer’s 33rd birthday.