Friday, February 15, 2008

Honor your inner tourist

Actress Geena Davis reviews the story that made her famous

Illustration by Coly McCauley

Our Moveable Feast, The Community Library's annual celebration of food and literature, will be held on Sunday, March 9. This year, the food fair and silent auction will have a theme book, "The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler, and guests will travel, aided by maps and signposts, from Italy, to the Far and Near East, as well as the American West and the Land of Oz.

In "The Accidental Tourist," Macon Leary, a writer of travel guides, has become incapacitated—first by grief when his son dies and his marriage disintegrates, and then physically through a fall. He hires Muriel Pritchett, an off-beat young woman with a frail son, to train his uncontrollable dog. The unlikely duo form a relationship that causes his estranged wife to determine to reconcile.

Geena Davis won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Muriel in 1988. In 1991, she was nominated for Best Actress for her role of Thelma in "Thelma and Louise."

Davis was a semi-finalist in trials for the United States' Olympic archery team and is a spokesperson for the Women's Sports Foundation. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which works with the entertainment industry to increase the presence of female characters aimed at children and reduce stereotyping of both males and females.

Book review:

I read the book while I was shooting "The Fly" and adored it. My immediate thought was that someone was bound to make a movie from it and that some lucky actress would get to play Muriel—and I already hated her. I longed to play that character more than anything I'd ever read; but at that time, I didn't know if someone was planning to make "The Accidental Tourist" into a film.

When I actually got to audition for the part, I couldn't believe it was happening. Eventually I had to do a screen test with William Hurt and I was so nervous I thought I might just collapse in a heap. But right before we started filming it, I had an epiphany—since I couldn't get rid of how I felt, I decided I would just channel all of that energy into the scenes. That no matter what happened I would just go all out and let what happened happen.

I guess I must have done something right ... but it's all a bit of a blur.

One day, during rehearsals before shooting, we actors were told that Anne Tyler would be visiting us. I was rather overwhelmed by the idea of meeting her. Was she happy that I was going to play this wonderful character she had created? Finally, she arrived, and she was breathtaking. So beautiful and serene; I think we were all a bit awed.

As she went around the room, we automatically introduced ourselves with our character names, not our own. "Hi, I'm Macon." "I'm Muriel ... " I read later that she said she felt it was rather an other-worldly experience, to "meet" the characters in person that she had created, and who had thus far only lived in her mind.

This book, I think, is a remarkable tribute to the possibility of change. It is so hard to actually change, to get away from where we've worn a groove and take a different direction in our lives. Macon Leary, in a very realistic way, with steps forward and backward, manages to essentially become another kind of person. And it rescues him from the prison he'd built for himself, where he could have easily spent the rest of his life.It's Muriel who keeps the chance for reinvention right in front of him, as something—astoundingly—that might be possible to attain.

Our Moveable Feast

What: A silent auction and dinner fundraiser.

When: March 9, 5:30 p.m.

Where: The Community Library, Ketchum.

Tickets: $100, with $90 tax-deductible.

Available at or at the library.

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