Thursday, January 7, 2010

Paul Kahn, playwright

I heard the other day that Paul Kahn passed on on New Year's of respiratory failure. Paul was a Boston-area playwright, plus I'm sure other things--he was quite the remarkable human being. But he came into my life as a playwright, and that's the only way I knew him.

I met him when I was asked to perform in a play he wrote. I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember the name of it, or the name of the character I played--a Holocaust survivor who won an award for a book the character wrote. John Tierney, another fine community theater actor played my agent/publisher, and Kate Blair played my wife. Michelle Aguillon, who was the one who asked me to take the role and president of The Hovey Players, a community theater in Waltham, Mass., directed, and we performed the piece at the Acme Theater in Maynard at a festival of ten-minute plays David Sheppard was putting on. David still runs that theater today.

Enough of circling around the details.

It was a sweet piece, with a lot of emotion and a nice story line that carried the characters up to the climax and set us back down hard on the other side. We all loved the play, and we were rehearsing the hell out of it one night in the upstairs room at the Abbott Theater where the Hovey Players live when Paul stopped by to see the rehearsal. At that point not even Michelle had met him.

It was a shock to meet him. Not that Paul noticed or probably could have cared less. Paul rode in a wheelchair that was like a Sherman tank. It had to be big, not that Paul was that big, but because I guess it had to carry all his shit. Batteries to drive the thing, and his oxygen and all that. And the thing was, that night it was pouring buckets, so Paul and the whole apparatus was covered in this big poncho or tarp or something with just Paul's head sticking out of this hole in the center of the tarp. I mean, it was just kind of like this head floating around. It appeared to be a struggle for Paul to talk. The words came out slow and his head jerked around when he talked, and his eyes bugged out of his head when he formed words. But with all that coming into the room, also came his personality, his wit, his intelligence, his charm, his insight, his energy, his peace, his passion, and his determination.

We worked that freakin' play that night, with Paul's help, and when he was leaving he told us a true story, that he had recently been to a Halloween party where he went as--are you ready for this?--the head of St. John the Baptist. God, that man could make me laugh.

I worked with Paul one time after that, when I did a staged reading of a poem he wrote. I'd go over to his house, where I met Ruth, his wife. We'd chat a bit, then Paul and I would go off and rehearse. There was a gentle calmness that pervaded their home. I'll always remember that.

He was such a talent, but I think what struck me most about him was his inspirational quality, which I suspect he might take as an insult. But, you see, about the time I met him, I was going through some pretty dark times emotionally, and suddenly it seemed to me I was working with Paul and another beautiful artist who, coincidentally was a quadruple amputee. I'm not the kind of person who believes people "are put into your life for a reason." I don't believe in some grand puppetmaster. But I remember observing these two as they worked, and thinking to myself, they had to overcome some immense physical obstacles. The way they look on the outside is the way I look on the inside. I have to do emotionally what they did physically.

That's what Paul did for me and he never knew it.

He'll be missed by a lot of people. I wish I could have worked with him more. Because, man that guy could make me laugh.

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