Robert Waldinger knows a lot about relationships. In fact, he’s one the world’s leading experts. A professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a psychiatrist at Mass General Hospital, Dr. Waldinger is also the current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study that began following 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 and followed them and their offspring through decades to determine the secret to living a long life.
What the study determined is that the secret to longevity lies not in genes, or healthy eating, or even in exercise, but in forging and maintaining meaningful relationships. In a story in the Harvard Gazette, writer Liz Mineo interviewed Dr. Waldinger who noted, “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation,” he explained. Simply put, deep and meaningful relationships are the foundation of a good and healthy life. They can also be the foundation of a good theater experience when performers and directors create relationships with their audience.
Jodi Edwards knows a thing or two about relationships as well. One of Falmouth’s most brilliant and gifted multi-talented stage performers, Jodi has quickly become an icon of local theater, forging relationships with her growing fandom in Falmouth and beyond. With a multi-octave voice that is as moving as it is powerful, she has entertained and built relationships with the eyes and ears of theatergoers from Buzzards to Cape Cod bays. As the sensuous and sultry Bobbi Pins from the Brazen Belles Burlesque troupe, she has stimulated the imagination and so much more of the Belles’ growing list of followers.
Now, Jodi is expanding her already vast theater résumé and adding the moniker of director, making her directorial debut next weekend, leading the Falmouth Theatre Guild’s (FTG) production of “The Story of My Life,” a poignant and thoughtful musical playing for just one weekend, September 14 to 16. Featuring a cast of only two (but two amazing actors who are powerhouse FTG veterans Peter Cook and Brian Buczkowski), this show is, in Jodi’s own words, “a very special story.” I had the opportunity to view a rehearsal. I agree.
The show is about relationships and, in the spirit of the work of Dr. Waldinger, about the importance of those relationships in sustaining our lives. It tells the tale of Thomas, played by Peter Cook, a professional writer who is penning his most important work: the eulogy for his best and boyhood, but now-distant friend Alvin, played by Brian Buczkowski. Through ghostly visits from Alvin, Thomas relives a lifetime of memories and emotions—from guilt to shame, from obscurity to fame, and from joy to pain. Through his struggles to write about the life of his best but estranged friend, Thomas learns the lesson of the Harvard researchers. He comes to understand that his pursuit of notoriety and riches was far less meaningful than simply maintaining his deepest relationship with his oldest friend.
That message alone is impactful and makes this performance worth seeing, but the energy, the timing, the talent, and the undeniable chemistry between Peter and Brian, two FTG treasures, makes this another cannot-miss event on the Kitty Baker stage. “Unless you’re a hermit, you will relate to this story on the most basic, emotional level,” explained Brian. Peter added that an important lesson in the words and lyrics is that so many of us look all around for inspiration, when in fact it exists right in our lives, our friends, and our everyday existence.
In her first directing effort, Jodi effectively and expertly blends the tremendous talents of the actors with the tenderness of the topics. She facilitates an environment where we can love Thomas and Alvin, while hating how their relationship unfolded. This beautiful but tragic complexity is the foundation of a transformative theater experience.
And, on top of all that, the music is remarkable. Peter and Brian wow with their acting, but they pow with their voices. Musical director Pam Wannie, whose work as a minister frequently puts her in touch with and engaged with some of the themes that make this show so powerful, noted that she was simply astonished when she read the script, heard the music, and realized how much of the subject matter is relatable to our lives and our relationships. In the program for the performance, she explained that she sees her participation in this project as an extension of her ministry: bringing difficult subjects into the public eye and ear and opening space for compassionate dialogue.
Jodi hopes that the messages of friendship, loss, acceptance and reflection result in people leaving the show looking up someone from their past and repairing relationships. I left the rehearsal texting and checking in with some old friends, not only fulfilling this new director’s goal, but her prophecy that the multiple messages of this emotive show are relatable for all of us to our own lives.
Theater, at its core, tells a story. “The Story of My Life” is so powerful because it is the story of all of our lives. It is the story of all of our relationships. And for Jodi Edwards, it is the story of her ever-expanding repertoire of excellence. Tickets are available at www.falmouththeatreguild.org. Come and be part of a very special story.