by Mo Brady
Being an artist sucks sometimes. The moments of success are insanely rewarding, but they are balanced by times when you feel unfulfilled or unheard. Likewise, the emotional availability necessary to being an artist can be disparaged as irrationality or oversensitivity. So if you're an overtly emotional, passionate person (as many performing artists are), what do you do the with feelings and experiences that are too much to bear?
If you're wise, you use them to create. That's what happened on the stage of Joe's Pub at the Public Theater this Monday, as Broadway actor Ellyn Marie Marsh took to the stage to recount - and process through - her experience with her now ex-boyfriend. In I'm Sorry... What?, she chronicled falling in love, being betrayed and ultimately overcoming the relationship through soaring pop standards and riotous antidotes.
Between performances of Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" and Kesha's "Prayin," Marsh used heart and humor to share the story of how she and her nine-year-old daughter both fell in love with a charming trickster. After getting caught cheating, the spat between them escalated when he filed a restraining order against Marsh and then called Children Protective Services on her claiming that Marsh beat her daughter.
While the events of this story are at times too shocking to be made up, Marsh shared her experiences with a heavy dose of humility. The show she created was less of an attack on a narcissist than it was an exploration of how love can blind a person from seeing the truth about themselves. "If you get hung up on the obvious traits," Marsh said, "you can easily miss the subtle features that allow a narcissist to wreak havoc, mainly the form of manipulation that provokes doubt in you."
At this first performance of I'm Sorry... What?, both the audience and the stage of Joe's Pub were filled with supportive characters that emboldened and bolstered Marsh's story. These friends and allies included former cast mates Joey Taranto (Kinky Boots), Nick Adams (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Adam Kaplan (Newsies), who joined Marsh in a hilarious medley she titled "The Saddest Break Up Songs You've Ever Heard." Broadway casting directors Patrick Goodwin (SpongeBob SquarePants) and Rachel Hoffman (Come From Away) were also brought onstage (to their own surprise) to perform a hysterical pantomime of a stalking incident outside of Marsh's home.
Many people would be paralyzed by the experience of having their parenting questioned and challenged by CPS for six months. Marsh worked through that fear and anger to create a cohesive evening of healing. Through hilarity and candor, she found a way to work through the catastrophic events of her last year and come out on top. I'm Sorry... What? is a remarkable example of what to do when life gives you lemons. And for those lucky enough to be in audience, we got to experience an exquisite expression of how to take the emotions artists possess and turn them into tart, but sweet lemonade.