“4 And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4-5
Let’s go to The Meadowbrook Theatre once more. We’ll approach by way of my graduate school years in Detroit before my time at Meadowbrook.
Every morning I read my devotions and Bible passages and prayed for those on my prayer list. I was reading a lot of the Bible, and my faith was growing stronger and stronger. I would do things that I expected to cost me, but God was pretty clear on being helpful to those in need, so I did. I remember loaning my jumper cables to two guys who promised they’d bring them back. In downtown Detroit.
This was just off of Woodward near the old Verner’s bottling plant. I lived in an apartment on Forest & Second. This is the same area where the 60’s race riots happened. Not the part of town where you expect a loan like this to be returned. But they did!
I would witness Jesus to people any time I felt I could bring Him up without losing people. Sometimes I was effective, sometimes not. At least not that I could see then.
So that’s me going into The Meadowbrook fall of ’83. I made friends with Pam Morrill (last post), worked with some of my cohorts from grad school, met some new folks, and generally had a good experience.
The first show of the season was Cyrano De Bergerac. The second was A Magnificent Yankee. It’s the story of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Peter Brandon played the title role, and Pam played his wife. The play covers a span of years, so Peter’s makeup had to be aged every act. They even had custom hair pieces made for him. I remember seeing those hair pieces pinned on the Styrofoam heads at his makeup station.
I liked Peter. He was a fun, funny guy. He was a very good actor, and I had the pleasure of a short scene with him. We got on ok.
I also figured out that he wasn’t Christian. I can’t recall now if I ever talked to him about Jesus before the end of the run, but I did talk about Jesus the last Saturday of the run.
That weekend was full for me. I was done in Detroit and was moving back to Toledo for a little recovery time before figuring out my next move. I had my phone shut off Saturday and set off a bug bomb to hopefully keep the roaches from moving home with me. I planned to stay at a friend’s place that night. We had a Sunday matinee, the last performance of the run.
So Saturday night we’re backstage. I think there were two shows, and we were all chilling in between. There’s an opening of some kind in the conversation where I can start talking about Jesus, starting with basic theology. Before you think that was a bit heavy, I simply made the point that God’s law is written in our hearts and minds. All people know that it’s wrong to steal, kill, etc. That is a proof that God is real. Otherwise, why would we have a conscience?
Peter said that there was a tribe in Africa who considered stealing a part of their culture. Well, I’d never heard of that and said so. Peter started to expound when Pam jumped in.
“Stop it, Peter! Jeff, he’s just pulling your leg. Pay no mind.”
And I didn’t. I figured if he doesn’t want to have a serious conversation instead of mocking me on this, I was done. No hard feelings. He gave me a little smile, and that was that.
I knocked around Sunday in Detroit, then made the run up to Meadowbrook in plenty of time for call. I can still see the guy…I wish I could remember his name! Anyway, he comes running up to me in the parking lot. He says they’ve been trying to reach me all day. I asked why.
It was as if he had spoken another language. I heard him say the words, but my mind seemed to shut off. The language center in my brain put up a “Closed for Maintenance” sign and refused to process.
“Jeff! Did you hear me?” I just stared at him trying to remember some fragment of English.
“Peter died. This morning. You with me, Jeff?”
“Yeah. I got you.” I looked past him, eyes defocused as if my brain had to reroute its bypass circuits.
“Scotty! I need warp power NOW! Take it from life support if you have to, but GET US OUT OF HERE!”
I started walking and my friend, having read the headline to me, started telling the story.
Visiting “guest stars” got their own trailer. A small mobile home, really. Both Peter and Pam had trailers. Someone found Peter at his, laying across the threshold, head in, feet out, like he was going in. He had apparently gone for his morning run and had a heart attack when he got back.
Well, friends, the show must go on. A local actor got brought in and had been rehearsing all day to get some feel for the blocking. That night the artistic director announced to the audience that Peter had died. There was a loud collective gasp. He told them we had someone stepping in for the night’s performance, but he would be on book, and we apologize for that. There was a very soft applause of acceptance.
It was a horrid night. I haven’t thought of it in years, really. I know it affected me deeply, because after Julie and I had gotten engaged, we went up to see Pam in another show there and visited in her trailer after. Peter came up, and I suddenly broke down.
I can remember everyone walking around in a daze through the whole show. Everyone avoided Peter’s corner of the make room. It wasn’t superstition. It was those custom hair pieces, silently waiting for him to put them on in turn. It would set us off. We cried in shifts.
“OK. It’s your turn. Here’s my shoulder.”
Finally came the curtain call. It was horrible. The younger cast like me cried uncontrollably. We joined hands and raised them as always. I remember feeling the shame of crying there in front of a standing ovation, unable to control myself, unable to hide.
Acting companies develop very close relationships very quickly. Acting is a lot of baring your SELF to others to interact naturally in what would otherwise be an unnatural way. Like when I once had a kissing scene with a friend’s wife.
So we were all tight. It’s normal.
My grief was compounded, because I knew God had sent me to him to give him one last chance to be saved. Peter turned it down. I knew then he was in hell at that moment. Maybe he was even thinking of me, wishing he would’ve taken that last chance. Peter Brandon; good friend, fine actor, fun, funny…
“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you…” Luke 12:20