Laughter, good friends get us through tough times

We stood in the green room Saturday night before our final performance of "Hinsdale Unmasked" and talked about all that's happened since our last Community Revue in 2020.

We've lost three longtime cast members - Dick Johnson, BJ Chimenti and Ly Hotchkin. We've dealt with individual losses and unwelcome diagnoses and other challenges. Oh, and there's been that other little thing: the global pandemic.

It was the most emotional pre-show gathering I've experienced in the eight shows I've done since 2004. We shed a few tears. We hugged. We also laughed.

We've laughed a lot since our first rehearsal in January - mostly when our director, Dave Heilmann, was desperately trying to help us create a show that was actually funny.

Some of my favorite moments were while Dave was coaching everyone on the "Cheers" song and how to behave when they saw my character, Karen (the original Karen, Hinsdale Karen, after which all other Karens got their name). He tried to give them something to compare this truly awful character to: a zoo animal, a car accident, a freak, the scourge of the town, a repulsive pile of vomit. Yes, I kept a list. And cracked up with each new horrible descriptor he offered.

We laughed when we realized Tony and Maria's wedding would be officiated by the Pope (only the best for Hinsdale weddings!). And that my real-life husband, Dan, would play the Pope and tell me to go to H-E-double hockey sticks on stage.

We laughed when Gina first did a crazy little bit from "A Chorus Line" during the therapy scene that ended up being set to music and one of the highlights of the show. We laughed when Laura all of a sudden started playing Brenda as completely neurotic. We laughed when Amanda tried to teach us dance steps we were pretty sure we were not coordinated enough to do.

Laughter, Dave always reminds us, is the light that gets people through darkness. How lucky, he told us in the green room Saturday, that we had the chance to make the audience laugh. Audience members like Norm Chimenti, who lost his wife, BJ, to cancer in 2021. He stopped by before Saturday's show to give each one of us a hug and a rose from BJ.

Make him laugh, Dave told us after he left the green room. He needs it.

Dave has needed to laugh, too. Two years ago, when he played the Chance Man in our production of "Hinsdopoly," it was the first time he had been back on stage since losing the love of his life and mom to his four kids, Erica, to cancer in 2018. She fought for eight years. She was 43.

You might think after a loss like that, a pain he said he never knew existed, he would have a tough time laughing again. But humor, he told me, was a powerful enough lift to give him the legs to walk onto that stage.

Dave has long seen humor as an escape from the things that haunt us, if only for a couple of hours while we're rehearsing or performing in or watching a show. And this year, he wrote in the stagebill, we all need to laugh a little bit more.

We also need to know, perhaps now more than ever, that someone has our back. Dan H. reminded us of that before every performance.

So to all my revue friends - Megan, Deanna, Tim, Teri, Dave, Dan H., Mike, Gina, Laura, Bill, Dan L., Alisa, Craig, Susan, Michelle, John, Neil, Peggy, Steph, Jim, Amanda, Gail and Rick - thanks for being more like family. Thanks for making me laugh. Thanks for working so hard to make others laugh. Thanks for having my back. I am extremely fortunate and beyond grateful to have you all in my life.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean