The Third Table

10: Jayne Mooney

Chapter X

MY PREVAILING GOOD LUCK

By Jayne Mooney

I vividly remember that most important day, my first day of school. I was not yet five years old, and remember looking at my mother and saying “You can go now, Mother. I have my seat”.   I wanted to be in school. There were books to read and things to learn. I had taught myself to read, by cutting letters out of the newspaper and pasting them together to form words. That was what got me into an early enrollment. I loved everything about school. The smells, the new pencils, my own desk, which opened and where lots of stuff could be hidden, with a little ink well on the top right corner. I was (although I didn’t know it at the time) very small for my age.  I also lisped which probably made me just adorable to the women  who visited the class. One of them would always ask me if I was visiting my ‘big brother or sister”. “I am in the first grade!” I answered indignantly.  I was a school kid.  I wasn’t a visitor.

And every year until the age of fifteen I entered a new class with my new school bags and my pencil box that smelled so wonderful and just sailed through. I was an A student who never gave anyone any trouble. Until age fifteen in my Junior year of High School, that is, when into my orbit swam those once messy smelly noisy awful boys, transformed magically from slobs to brave, strong, handsome, desirable heroes. Basketball games replaced my passion for homework and straight A’s. And the boys really liked me. Overnight I was a popular girl. I never worried about dates for movies or Friday night dances, or proms or anything. I just picked the one I liked the best and off I went. School took second place although I continued to get good grades without even trying. I was so blasé (or arrogant) that I often signed my own report card as the nun came down the aisle collecting them.

So after graduation,  when my  Mother made one offer and one offer only –to become a school teacher or nothing, I chose nothing. I got a few jobs including  a craftsman’s trainee which was lots of fun, as I was the only girl in a room full of craftsmen one of whom I dated. I loved the job until the boss (a married gray-haired man) propositioned me and threatened to fire me if I wouldn’t “go out” with him “just once a week”. So I left without a backward glance. And sooner or later like a lot of other girls I knew, I got married and had a baby which was wonderful actually, sort of like playing, but with a real baby.

When the marriage soured I didn’t think for a moment that I wouldn’t find another path.  Though  blessed with good nature and prevailing optimism,  these were being sorely tested.  I had recently divorced and had a young Son to care for and no real skills,  with only a high school education. I was smart and attractive and most people liked me, or at least it seemed so to me which I guess is pretty much the same thing  So I just moved on and with the help of a couple of friends found my way to Stockbridge.

Main Street, Stockbridge

Main Street, Stockbridge

The year was 1962. divorce had freed me from a bad marriage,  but the alimony payments awarded by the Divorce Court would soon end and my ex-husband had already told me he was going to file for bankruptcy.  I had a twelve-year old Son and a very uncertain future. We were living a small railroad flat with a few pieces of furniture and some pots and pans from a second-hand store.  As my Son and I had given up quite a luxurious life style, it was always a worry that he would feel insecure and concerned that we were poor.

I knew something would come along and something did.

I was of course aware of Riggs whose two white buildings dominated the Main Street of Stockbridge but I didn’t think much about it. My life in Stockbridge was very full. I worked. I went out on dates. I lived my life. Riggs simply wasn’t in my orbit until Bonnie Prudden, a famous physical therapist, suggested to one of her pupils, a woman named Beth Rosenfeld who was in charge of the Activities Department at the Riggs Center, that she hire me to teach an exercise class for the patients living in the Inn.

The back of The Foundation Inn

The back of The Foundation Inn

So once a week I drove to Riggs, parked behind the Inn at a sign that said Reserved for ARC people only (I had been a volunteer for years with the Red Cross and I thought the sign meant just that).  I crossed the back lawn and went down some basement stairs to a little gym where I exercised with six or seven patients one hour a week. They were all young and attractive and they seemed to like me and often brought friends to take part. I took it for granted that they would like me and continue to take my class and I was right. Sometimes I knew that one or two people had been coerced into coming. I sensed that the regulars were afraid if the classes got too small, they would end. After the classes I often sat on the floor with the patients and just talked for a while. I liked them.

One day in 1963 Beth Rosenfeld sent for me. She said she had heard that I had done some work with the town players and she asked if I’d be willing to try to breathe some life into the small patient theater, a small space on the second floor of the Shop. There had been an off-again on-again theater program with therapeutic — not theatrical — goals for a few years, but now it was dormant. Erik, one of the patients in the Inn, wanted a drama program.  He heard that there had been a theater and he started bugging Beth Rosenfeld to get it started again.  Beth asked me to give it a try. At first I said, no.  I had really very little experience but when Beth asked me again, I agreed to meet with the patients at the Inn on the next Thursday evening.

Erik Morganroth, a tall and very handsome patient, was waiting for me in the front hall.  He was in fact pacing back and forth very eager to meet me, hoping, I suppose with everything in him that I would not turn out to be a dud.  So, we went into the library that was on the first floor and there were four other patients. They were not interested in theater but had come as a favor to their friend Erik.  Everybody loved Erik.  In his enthusiasm he had set it all up before I arrived.  Everybody was to read a role so that I could hear the play that he was dying to do – and was perfect for. The American Dream.  Erik was fiercely intelligent, charming, delightful – just a brilliant young man. He was the American Dream.  Except of course he had a lot more troubles than I would ever know.

But that evening when I walked into the library Erik said, “ We just want to read this play called The American Dream by this hot new playwright named Edward Albee.  I said fine.  I didn’t really know my role but I knew that Beth Rosenfeld wanted me to do something and I had promised her I would come and meet this guy.  That is all I promised and as the evening started, I had grave doubts about the whole thing.  I thought perhaps that this might ruin the exercise program and I certainly didn’t want to jeopardize that.  After all that was what I was doing for a living.

When the reading was finished we started to exchange ideas about what was really happening – about what the play really meant. That is when it all started happening.  I was amazed at how excited and stimulated I felt.  I couldn’t stop talking.  We were at it for hours and perhaps it was the nurses who came in and broke it up.  It was long past 1:00AM by the time I left and when I drove out of the parking lot I was on the right path and I knew it.

Erik and I took to one another.  I had the feeling that I had known him all of my life. He was very popular with the other patients and was very respected.  He was the crown prince and my first partner. If it hadn’t been for Erik there never would have been a theater group.  At least, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten started when I did.

The thing was that once Erik and I met it was clear that we could work together. The other thing was that I was amazed that I had talent.  Erik, you see, respected my work.  It wasn’t as if he was saying, “Well, we have to use her because we haven’t got anybody else!”  It was instead, “Aren’t we lucky we met!”  We just clicked.  It was a magical moment and pivotal as far as getting the theater group up and going.

The Riggs Theater

The Riggs Theater

Right away we agreed to put together a one night performance of The American Dream.  Erik convinced some friends to join us and in the following weeks six of us met regularly and rehearsed at the RIggs theater . We decided that the play  would be done as a reading.  We agreed to have the actors sit on high stools which we painted black. One of the patients designed a simple program.  We hung a large black curtain on the back wall which divided the art Room from the theater space. One of the cast had gone to a department store for the cloth. I was stunned when I realized he had bought black serge, probably the most expensive backdrop ever for a little theater company. There was a small light board located in a closet, and exactly five theater lights– one for each actor.  This gave me the idea to have the five actors “enter” by facing front and having their light go on. To “exit” they would sit profile and their light would go out. At the next rehearsal another patient showed up, who had been drafted into running the light board.

The night of the reading I rushed to the shop from my day job and was very impressed with the work that had been done. The room had been swept, chairs placed for the audience, everything ready for the big night. The programs were on a table near the door. It all looked like a real theater. I went home, had something to eat (just a bit I’m sure as I was very nervous), took a shower, changed my clothes and went back to the theater. The actors were in the art room, and I visited with them for a while and then went out front to hand out programs. Another nice surprise, a patient had come forward to do that. I felt so good about the extra efforts that had been made.

After the audience was seated I put out the “house lights” and the actors entered in the dark and took their places. The first light cues came up, and the reading began. Although it was a reading, the books were ignored. We had had many rehearsals and the actors were all secure, understood the characters, and brought them to life. The reading went off without a hitch. The audience for our one performance was made up of doctors and their wives or husbands, nurses and nurse’s aides and of course patients. After the reading everyone stayed for refreshments which the nursing staff provided.  A doctor’s wife told me that it was the first time she had been in that theater and not been “afraid for the patients”.  That impressed me a great deal. I knew I had done something right, not that I knew exactly what it was. But I registered her comment.

Beth Rosenfeld said the reading was wonderful, and asked if I wanted to continue working with this group. That night at home I sat for a long time savoring the amazing realization that I was terribly happy. I knew that I had found what I really wanted to do — and was being paid for it! It was all so amazing. In one wonderful evening my life had opened up. I also had a tremendous sense of achievement. I knew my role had been pivotal and that it wouldn’t have happened without me. I thought, “Maybe I’ve found my own American Dream.’ As it turned out, I had.

Erik was not just a great actor; he was a theater intellectual, which I wasn’t.  He brought me so much material.  I didn’t know who these writers were.  I didn’t even know who Edward Albee was.  It was Erik at one end and me at the other.  Like a see saw.  I did my stuff and he did his.  We worked hand and glove and launched the theater.  We did two one act plays then three.  We were on fire. Beth Rosenfeld said,  “We have a theater group again!”  I was soon there practically every night and most the days.  Edelson’s community program was also just getting started and the patient community began to want to be in the drama group.  But in the beginning it had to do with Erik. He brought everyone together.

Finally in the spring of 1964 we settled on the long one-act play, Antigone. We opened up casting to the “outside” community which brought in new talent and enriched the program.  Erik had been discharged and was back at Amhearst.   I suppose I was fishing around for a new partner and there was Peter Kipp.

Peter Kipp

Peter Kipp

Peter was such a (to use an old fashioned word) ladies’ man. He drove a motorcycle and wore black leather. He was handsome and sexy. I met him in the theater one evening. One of the patients in the cast had gone around the Inn looking for “tough guys” to play soldiers. Peter had agreed to come to the try out and brought along some friends. We went into the Art room so I could explain the roles to them. Then Peter started to speak.  He had the most beautiful voice. He seemed surprised when I told him that. I asked him to take a small speaking role and he agreed. Later he told me he had been scared to death.

After Antigone he became not just a regular in the theater program, but my trusted right hand man, my blue-eyed boy. He became as passionate as I was about our little theater.

Peter Kipps House Across from te Riggs Theater, Down The Ally next to Nejaimes, and Behind Alice's RestaurantNejaimes

Peter Kipp's House Across from the Riggs Theater, Down The Ally next to Nejaimes, and Behind Alice's Restaurant

Peter was a very generous person. Once he moved out of the Inn and into his house on Main Street we very often had parties there. Certainly play closing parties, but others as well. He was very generous with his house.  One day during a conference in the MOB some of the nurses were saying that out patients were a bad influence on patients in the Inn. Dr. Knight, who had never spoken to me before, turned and asked me if I shared that opinion. I told him that Peter Kipp was very kind and generous with patients and made them feel welcome in his house. Dr. Knight said that had been his opinion too.

Peter brought some great ideas into the theater. We never fought or even argued. It was such an easy relationship. Sometimes I went with Peter, his girl friend Cindy, and a friend of Peter’s, John Phillips, zipping around on motorcycles. Often we sat around at Simms having a couple of drinks and talking about everything – music, films, books, and our theater naturally. Peter had the biggest paper back library I had ever seen. His house looked like a book store, albeit a sloppy one.  After Antigone, Peter and I became a team the way Erik and I were in the beginning and the way Ronnie and I would become later.

I was given a key to the side door, and Riggs started to become my home. After The American Dream I was paid by the hour and not long after that I was made part time staff running the theater at the Austen Riggs Center.

The Side Door to The Shop

The Side Door to The Shop

One of the best programs at the center was the common work program. Every morning at 8:30 patients met in teams and did an hour of so-called common work. That included The Shop, The Greenhouse, The Nursery School, the common rooms in the Inn, and yard work. There was naturally the usual grumbling, but most people went along with it. It was one of Dr. Knight’s hard and fast rules, and people wanting to come to Riggs were told by the Admissions Director about the program. I was told that when Tennessee Williams was admitted as a patient, on his first evening at Riggs he saw a common work list on the blackboard.  When the telephone operator (probably Charlotte) told him what it meant, he turned on his heel and walked out the front door,  never to be seen again!

But most people managed even though it was often difficult for people. After I was made full time staff Beth Rosenfeld asked me to spend a few hours in the morning making myself useful around the Shop and (as she hoped) acting as a Pied Piper to see if we could get more patients involved with the wonderful work going on there. So when the crews showed up I jollied them along, picked up a broom and helped them get going. With coffee and the radio on, it soon became a kind of game with everybody doing some of the work and making things look presentable by the time the shop staff (David and Tilo) arrived. Of course it wasn’t the Navy’s spit and polish, but most of the trash had been emptied and the floors, while you certainly couldn’t eat off of them, had the worst of the wood shavings swept up. The Art room was always a mess, but that is the nature of Art rooms so it didn’t matter much.

When David  Loveless ( the shop director)  realized I was helping out he got very cross and told me not to do it anymore.

David Loveless The DIrector of the Shop

David Loveless The DIrector of the Shop

Tilo  The Second In Command

Tilo The Second In Command

He also told me that I wasn’t to talk theater with the patients because it “changed the nature of a serious crafts shop”. He didn’t seem to care anymore for the drama group. In the very early years both David and Tilo helped with sets, and David was in one of the Christmas staff shows, but as more plays got produced and the program got more popular, he seemed annoyed with all the action going on around him. Or perhaps he felt the theater was getting too much attention, at the expense of the other departments. Tilo continued to help with ideas and set building and helped us very often. (Much later, he even took the role of Brecht in Brecht on Brecht.) But David became very cool. He actively disliked some of the drama group people–Mary and Ronnie in particular. He had his own favorite patients and worked very well with them, one-on-one. There were rumors about his behavior with some of the young women. I never observed anything myself, but I know how he was with me, sometimes pushing me into a corner or into the dark room and the next moment telling me I was a bad influence in the shop. I went to Beth Rosenfeld fearing for my job. She put my mind at ease and at the same time released me from my “Pied Piper duty”. Now I was able to devote my time to the theater.

Many writers, musicians, and actors or directors lived at least part of the year in Stockbridge. It was a rich environment, and as our little group moved from production to production we began to attract a small audience. They brought friends. Soon they were regulars and my confidence grew.  These people wouldn’t come back again and again if we were second -rate. The theater  was small, but it had quality.

We persuaded  the reviewer for The Berkshire Eagle, a pretty tough critic, to attend performances. I had tried to entice him for some time, but one day over the phone he said , “All right, I’ll come, but if anyone from Riggs calls and tells me I was too hard on the patients and that I should make allowances, I’ll never come again”. I was flabbergasted and asked why on earth he would say such a thing. He said, “Because whenever I reviewed them in the past I always got a lot of flack about ‘patients’ delicate egos’ or some such stuff”. I assured him that would never happen as long as I was in charge. So reviews of all our plays began to appear in the Eagle.  Other reviewers came from other papers, as well as the theater critic from a radio station, whose reviews were aired several times a day throughout the run of the play.

Under Milkwood   June 1964

Under Milkwood June 1964

We finally risked longer plays like Under Milk Wood or Waiting for Godot and with each play my confidence grew. Patients became more and more interested in the theater. As their numbers increased so did the talent. There seemed no end to the number of intelligent, creative and very attractive young men and women who were being admitted to the hospital. With every play more of them came to audition or sign up as actors or as technicians. Two years after  The American Dream I had many friends in the patient community, who were very important to me. On Christmas Eve 1963 I was rewarded with a full-time staff position, with, naturally, a pay raise. What a Christmas that was!  My son and I celebrated. Even our little cat Maybe, seemed happy.

Although I continued to teach fitness classes at the Inn,  my entire creative life was in the theater and with the patients in the theater group. Suddenly I felt confident enough to risk some of my savings and buy a house. The mortgage payments were small enough for me to handle. It was a great day for me and for my son. I think he knew he could trust me to take care of him, because now we had our own house!

Very quickly productions became more sophisticated and professional. Sometimes we had seasoned actors on the same stage with people acting for the first time, but by opening night there was little difference. The productions were even, which is not to say we never had critical failures (we bombed with The Queen and the Rebels, for instance, and  The Big Knife got panned in the Eagle) but so does every theater.  There was terrific satisfaction from the big demand for tickets for every production. There were even lines in the street of people hoping for the ten unreserved seats set aside for each performance.

When I was made full time staff and given an office I started to know the people in the MOB. The doctors, the secretaries, the nurses, everybody. Riggs became my life. I was proud to be a part of this hospital where famous people from the field came and delivered papers and where wealthy people from all around the world sent their children to be treated.  I felt extreme loyalty to Riggs and whenever I met anyone who disparaged the hospital, I fought back. I was convinced it was the finest hospital in the world. It was where great things happened. Often I would go into the library and look at the photographs of the great and near great who had been on the staff or were still on the staff and just feel so privileged to be part of it all. That was certainly how I felt in those early years.

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