One of my last conversations with my dear friend friend, Cas, included the phrase “you’re the asshat with cancer”. It’s not important what the context was but just the fact that I could say that to him. We both nodded and and then busted out laughing. Well, I had a good belly laugh. He did his raspy/silent laugh and trying not to feel pain. Two days later we had brunch at the diner. After hugs and kisses goodbye, we had this text exchange:
Cas and I laughed, gossiped like no one’s business, read each other’s beads (hands in the air and neck rolls), cried together and sometimes sat in the dark in silence. I was spoiled. We lived down the road from each other before he moved to midtown for a spell (near my job). Then he moved back to “Town “, his affectionate nickname for Forest Hills. Cas was just always near. We could sometimes go for weeks or months without physical contact because of our many ongoing projects. But we knew that we were good. The check in text was our big thing and we tried our best to see each other’s shows. The best times were when we were collaborating together.
Cas was a passionate artist. A brilliant mix of actor and diva. He could turn it on for an audience without effort and then yell at us all backstage for moving his eyeliner a millimeter to the right of his wig. Then he would find it and tell us how much he loved us and then bake us monkey bread or something crazy for the next performance. That was Cas. It was a consummate love fest.
I met Cas in 2002. Ian and I went to see a show in Middle Village called Some Enchanted Evening (Beari Productions). We had just learned that there was theatre in Queens, after years of working in the city. We were so happy to have theatre near home. We were excited to see new work. So, we are enjoying the show when this talented creature belts out “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Kiss Me Kate. A huge Cole Porter fan, I fell in love. I turned to Ian and said, “Who is that guy.” After the show, we waited for him. We had to tell him how much we enjoyed his work. It began there.
In 2004, Cas and I finally got to share a stage together in South Pacific. He was Billis to my Bloody Mary. That was a fun show where many friendships began. Ours shifted as we talked theatre and dreams. And Torch Song Trilogy. Cas always told me that I needed to direct and produce it. We’d work on other shows. There were barbecues in his backyard. There were road trips to see our friends’ shows. There wasn’t an instance of him not mentioning Torch Song Trilogy.
Finally in 2008, I had enough. We were hanging out in his house and he brought up the show again. I said to him, “Fine, let’s just read the third act”. We did and I was moved. We then proceeded to order Japanese and read the first two acts. We laughed, we cried, we yelled. It was magic. At the end of the night, I said to him, “Let’s do this. I’ll direct you and we’ll do it under Black Henna Productions.”
That began a 5 year collaboration on the many shows that Black Henna produced. That collaboration, infused with our big dreams, led to many wonderful opportunities. We met with Broadway producers, went to the Tony’s, supported many fundraisers, and met many other independent artists with same dreams. Our dreams were also coming true.
Cas pushed me as I pushed him. I feel incredibly blessed to have had him in my life. My career would not be where it is now without him as my one of cornerstones. My relationships wouldn’t be what they are without his nuggets of advice. My faith wouldn’t be as strong if I didn’t see the strength in him.
I did ask his advice before he left us. I asked him if I should take a specific risk. Cas said, “You set these two goals for this year and they are moving along. See them through. Do the risk next year.”
Cazzie, I will. I promise.