Melinda Buckley’s Mother (and me)
by Rebecca M. Alvin
When Melinda Buckley’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she went through what she calls “the Alzheimer’s Crash Course.” Her recollection is of a “hurricane of diagnosis and what to do.” Shortly thereafter, the New York actress found herself writing about the experience and working through it in a writing group and acting class.
“I’d written and performed my own material, but I’d never written anything autobiographical,” she recalls. The resulting piece Mother (and me) is a one-woman show in which Buckley portrays herself, her mother, as well as other characters who played roles in that period of her life, such as doctors and her brother. “There was no kind of outcome in mind. It was just kind of a place for me to write about it and turn what I was feeling into something else. So it was very helpful to me in dealing with the heartache and also what I like to say is the absurdity of dealing with this disease in particular.”
Mother (and me) became a hit at the 2014 New York Fringe Festival, where the venue extended its run and it won best play honors at that venue. Last year, she brought it to the Cape Playhouse in Dennis where it was also a big hit, prompting them to bring it back this year, this time as part of a program of events to benefit the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod (AFSC). She will bring a staged reading of the play to the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) in Provincetown, as well, as part of a full weekend of events at FAWC.
Dubbed “The Personal Project,” in addition to Buckley’s performances on Friday night, the project also includes a reading by Greg O’Brien, a Cape Cod journalist, author of On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s sufferer on Thursday; the Art of Memory silent auction of works by 50 visual artists from all over the Cape and elsewhere on Friday; a memory slam and readings by actor/author/activist James Lecesne and friends on Saturday afternoon. Lecesne is in the process of writing a young adult novel that deals with Alzheimer’s, which will be the featured reading.
The mission of the AFSC is to take care of those who take care of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Braverman says it’s the caregivers who are so often forgotten in discussions about coping with Alzheimer’s. Many of them burn out from the 24/7 job of caring for someone they love, and along with that comes guilt, depression, and a whole lot of stress for which there are very few resources. AFSC was created for and by caregivers, and they provide support to the 10,000 Cape Cod families currently living with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases. That support includes counseling, social events for both the caregivers and the Alzheimer’s sufferers, intergenerational programming, education, outreach, advocacy, care planning, and cultural events such as this one.
For Buckley, it was her family’s sense of humor that helped. “[Comedy] was kind of a running theme in my family. My mother was very funny,” says Buckley. “She was from Hungary and she was just this kind of larger than life character, so in a lot of ways that whole way that she dealt with things was kind of funny.”
At the same time, Buckley says her show does go to some darker places, and it’s about more than just Alzheimer’s disease. While she’s performed it for people who are connected to Alzheimer’s, the play also examines all that territory between mothers and daughters that can be problematic, and that has been a universal connection.
“All of our mothers live inside of us, so it’s kind of interesting. My particular mom was very theatrical and I always thought that had she had the opportunities that I had, she definitely would have been in show business. And she would have been very successful, because she was very beautiful and very fearless,” says Buckley. “I kind of feel like I’m giving her her day on the stage, you know, because so many people leave the show feeling like they met my mother, and they love her and they just get her, and that’s really a joy for me. And I get to show the world just how fantastic she was in so many ways. She was also a piece of work. I mean I don’t shy away from that. She was very eccentric and a handful,” she laughs.
Although she wrote Mother (and me) to help herself work through her emotions and the stress of taking care of her mother, she sees now how valuable it can be to others. “The whole point of art is to transform it into something else… I always had this intention that I wanted people to see that you could get through it, that there was another side to it, that there were possibly gifts. And I don’t think that anyone going through that would immediately think that, but I wanted people to see somebody on the other side.”
What gifts did it yield? It enabled her to see her mother in a different way, something we don’t always get to do until it is too late. “The things that she wanted for me that I couldn’t see at the time, the ways that we’d come up against each other, as mothers and daughters, and rebel and pull away, and you know you just don’t get to see a lot of that stuff until it’s over. But my being able to take care of her that way was a great opportunity to make amends in a way. That I was able to pay her back for all she did for me.”
The AFSC presents “The Personal Project” at the Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown. Events are free but there is a suggested donation requested at the door. The schedule includes: Thursday, September 1, Author Greg O’Brien reads at 6:30 p.m.; Friday, September 2, The Art of Memory exhibition and silent auction opens and at 6:30 p.m. Melinda Buckley will perform a staged reading of Mother (and me); Saturday, September 3, James Lecesne and friends read their work at 12 p.m.; there will be a “memory slam” at 1 p.m.; all followed by the closing of the silent auction at 2 p.m. For more information contact AFSC at 508.896.5170 or visit alzheimerscapecod.com.