I first decided to attend the British American Drama Academy at Oxford as an excuse to inspect a country that had inscrutably made its way in to my psyche. Post-punk music, Merchant Ivory films and Evelyn Waugh novels had ceased whispering and begun to scream at me. So had Gus Hardy, a still obscure English actor I'd determined to meet. I booked a flight that landed me at Heathrow thirty-two days before I was due at the portcullis of Balliol College (founded 1263) required Riverside Shakespeare (second edition) under my arm.
The only Londoner of my circle was a reporter I'd met at the 1982 New York City Flower Show, where I'd performed with Mayor Koch when I was ten. My Mom and this English journalist struck up an acquaintance and soon Soames was visiting the McGehean manse for tennis and pork chops.
Soames was the second son of one of the United Kingdom's wealthiest landowners. Having been born into the small straw hand of primogeniture he had packed up his bitterness in a monogrammed trunk, left Berwick-upon-Tweed, moved to New York City and deposited the box on the steps of the Unification Church. My mother was his only guest as he stood amongst 2,075 identically suited grooms and their brides at his Madison Square Garden wedding.
Although I was too young to understand the nuances of the Unificated, I knew enough to provocatively refer to Soames as a "Moonie" and to be genuinely sad when Mom told me the story of a midwestern couple next to whom she sat at the nuptials who tried with cheerful desperation to locate their son through a pair of binoculars.
Soames married a malasmatic Mexican peasant, moved her back to Albion, and with Bridesheadsian sadomasochism debuted her in London society. But Evelyn Waugh was dead and the aristocracy had, despite their efforts at stagnancy, given up their gills. Were Soames simply a feckless and sniveling rebel the Reverand Sun Myung Moon's benediction would surely have proved internecine to husband and wife. Instead the two tiptoed their way into a noble and kind relationship, one that soon brought them a son, Oliver, and later, a daughter, Beatrice.
Although a man of inconsistent but indubitable character, as proved in the unexpected efficacy of his rather odd choice, it was his maturation that would be the marriage's eventual undoing. Sixteen years later, after tending to nappies and teaching his shy wife the geography of Britain, Soames realized he was grown up enough to fall in love. Unfortunately for most involved, it was not with his wife.
It was at this time, alimony commenced, new flat procured and appointed, that I descended with an American thud and deposited no less than four suitcases and a bottle of Dom Perignon on his bachelor stoop in Battersea.
"Is that all you've brought?" he asked me.
"Do you know Gus Hardy?" was my response.
I spent a leisurely month at the theatre, at the museums, at the pubs. English bossiness tempered my American phlegmacy. I'd crawl from bed in the morning (perhaps afternoon) to find, next to the coffee, unequivocal instructions on how I was to spend my day: "Walk to Battersea Bridge Road. Take bus over bridge. Walk down King's Road and admire shops but do not buy more clothing as we've no room. Take tube from Sloane Square to Westminster. Admire it. Walk over Westminster Bridge and along South Bank to National Theatre and on to Tate Modern. Send your mum a postcard. Please buy us some flowers on your way home. S."
In this, my time of velleity, I had no interest in making my own decisions, in making any decisions really (except to choose peonies) and was content to follow Soames' instructions without question or compromise. I also inkled that strict adherence to my timetable allowed Soames the confidence of uninterrupted assignations between himself and his new grand passion, Fiona.
By the time I departed Paddington for Oxfordshire, London was my home. I had known I would love it. I was right. Nonetheless I relinquished my cosmopolis for a cloister, my tresses for a tonsure, my torpidity for text, and went to drama school.
Having learned my hours from the clock of show business, I have been well taught to do nothing when there is nothing to do. But when it is time to work, I expect no rest and am impeccably disciplined. I spent one month, six days a week, ten hours a day in class both laboring and blossoming under the iambics and pentameters of Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar. The other one hundred eight hours of the week were spent reading, memorizing, reciting, eating, sleeping (though little) and running before my 7am breakfast.
I have mastered inertia: at rest I remain at rest; in motion I stay in motion. Until disturbed by an external force. My friends who know me best have mentioned it might be interesting to glimpse my parallel universe, my Sliding Doors into a world where my ambition is not dictated by my libido. I seem goal oriented, yet the closer I come to the goal the more easily I rescind it, always opting for a love affair that interrupts the neat line I've drawn from point A to point B. My friends want to call it reluctance (it seems more elegant that I am psychologically unwilling) but to be honest, they call it hormones.
My Oxford professors were taken strongly by my artistic talents. The RSC director Barry Kyle said that my skill landed me in the 99th percentile of Shakespearean actors. Selena Cadell called my facility "very sound" and my vocal range "remarkably wide." Alan Rickman noted my wild imagination and David Leveaux, upon running into me in the buttery whilst I was swigging from an English version of the 40 oz. (2.08175 UK pints; 2,84125 litres) stopped me, looked me over, tucked his coy hair behind his ears and said, "That suits you."
In the beginning of my fourth week I was having a cigarette with a cherubically-curled smoke buddy when I realized I was twitterpated. My study break that began with a bummed Parliament on a bench in the quad ultimately also subsumed a pint or two at the White Horse, another at the King's Arms, a few whiskeys at Cafe Boheme and finally ended with a feast of ground spiced chick peas and fava beans at the falafel van.
Although my love for the toe-head was unreciprocated and therefore unrequited, my motion had been redirected and I was incapable of taking myself off its path. In the little time left at Balliol I continued to follow Jake about town, making his friends my friends and wearing my most alluring outfits. I memorized nothing, glossed The Merchant of Venice and only pulled off my final performance of because it was Romeo and Juliet and I compared my plight to that of Verona's great heroine.
I survived both theatrical poison and real rejection. Shakespeare has taught me to watch my tendency toward sentimentality. Newton has taught me to practice my friction.