For the first time in nearly three decades, actor and director Ron Marasco, FCLC ’83, and Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson, FCLC ’82, shared a stage at Fordham.
The two friends and former classmates reunited on Nov. 11 to share excerpts from Marasco’s new book, About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos (Ivan R. Dee, 2010), with an intimate audience of Fordham theatre faculty members, alumni and friends.
Matthew Maguire, director of Fordham Theatre, introduced the notable alumni. Thirty years before, as theater-struck teenagers in the Big Apple, they shared many intense moments, from late-night rehearsals to dreams of taking their careers forward. “Ron was the big star, and I was up and coming,” Clarkson said during the reception.
Marasco, the author of Notes to an Actor (Ivan R. Dee, 2007), is a professor of theater arts at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He said About Grief was inspired by five years of experience teaching a class on grief for actors. He drew from many literary and cinematic sources, urging the actors toward emotional honesty and rawness.
Eventually, he recognized that everyone—not just actors—could benefit from the same courage and candor when dealing with mortality. Grief might be less of an island if more people were willing to cross the drawbridge through empathy.
Clarkson said she admires About Grief for its humanism and intelligence.
“There isn’t a separation between the head and the heart,” she said during the reception. “That really is a very Jesuit thing.”
“The writer Joan Didion said about Americans, ‘We don’t do grief,’” Marasco read. “It remains a hidden and awkward matter even in a time when few other taboos are left standing.
“People will sit on the commuter train reading the most extreme materials. … But if you want to read On Death and Dying, it better be wrapped in an old Dan Brown book jacket. … We don’t do grief. Yet grief still does us.”
With perceptive short chapters and a conversational tone, About Grief takes on the subject of the deepest losses. The book is clear and unsentimental about the grace notes that can guide us through the uncharted country of loss.
Many survivors discover how much they miss the small intimacies of daily presence—the way a loved one fixed coffee in the morning or pruned the garden in spring.
“Life is details, and grief wrenches them away,” Clarkson read aloud. “Real love is not a small blending of big things but a big blending of small things.”
Marasco and his co-author, Brian Shuff, conducted interviews with grieving Americans to create a journalistic work. “A lot of times, people said, ‘You’re not going to put this in a book. Bam, that went into the book.” He protected their privacy, though, by keeping many stories anonymous.
To build a community in grief often means finding a path to action, Marasco said. He related the story of Suse Lowenstein, whose 21-year-old son, Alex, was killed in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 107. When the plane blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, 224 people died, including many of Alex’s classmates. His mother, an accomplished sculptor, invited their families to come to her studio and pose. Nearly 80 women answered her call, and she sculpted all 76 figures, calling the large-scale work Dark Elegy.
She became a friend and guide to Marasco while he was working on the book. “‘I am someone who’s been broken and glued back together,’” she told him.
“The main thing that glues people back together,” Marasco said, “is meaning.”