Sitting in the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood, an older gentleman and two young girls sitting in the front row, step onstage to make an announcement. The man is Benson Schaeffer, the father of Rebecca Shaeffer and the girls are her cousins. Benson informs us he is the husband of the performer, and father of Rebecca. The girls (one looks like a young Rebecca) request audience members to silence their cell phones. As they go back to their seats next to other family members, the protagonist Danna Schaeffer takes the stage. This is her play, that she wrote, to share the story and honor her daughter. She begins telling the audience how giddy with excitement she and Benson were about the accomplishments of their only child. Rebecca had achieved so much at such a young age. Her world was her oyster until July 18, 1989.
I remember Rebecca Schaeffer, I was in my 20s when I watched in horror on television that she had been fatally shot point-blank in the heart in front of her apartment building in Hollywood. The community was terrified that someone would hide in bushes and jump out and kill a beautiful young starlet in broad daylight. Rebecca was an “It” girl with television and movie credits before she was 21 years old. She was best known for her starring role in My Sister Sam, a television comedy with Pam Dawber and David Naughton. Rebecca’s face graced the cover of Seventeen magazine, and she was offered movie roles and an opportunity to audition for Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather 3. Why would someone want to kill her?
Danna in her one-woman show tells us her story of how she and Benson lovingly raised their daughter, and let her go to New York at a young age to pursue acting. She shared with us how she got to travel with Rebecca to Rome when she was cast in a movie and then later had to travel to Los Angeles to say goodbye to Rebecca in the morgue at Cedars Sinai.
Danna is a descriptive playwright, not an actress, yet her performance had me paralyzed in my seat. I couldn’t move as I sat riveted listening to her story. She was only 45 years old when she lost her daughter. Without Rebecca she doesn’t know where she is in time, because she no longer can gauge time by the milestones her daughter would have achieved. It just all stopped in 1989.
The hero is prosecutor Marcia Clark, who helped convict the man (remains nameless) who senselessly killed Danna’s daughter. It took two years and six months for the fan obsessed stalker and murderer to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Later Clark became known for her role in the O.J. Simpson murder case.
Danna is made of strong constitution and handles grief better than most. Family, friends and a therapist are concerned why she hasn’t crumbled. It uncomfortable trying to console someone dealing with grief and people with well intensions, sometimes say the wrong thing. That’s when Danna infuses humor in a play so dark and sad. Danna’s scene where she and her mother have a blowout at LAX, and another when the two Rabbis have a smackdown at Rebecca’s funeral, gives us permission to laugh out loud. It’s hard to chuckle when the subject is about death, but Danna encourages it with her storytelling and facial expressions.
“You in Midair” is a somber reminder about how life is so fragile, and how one’s life can be extinguished in seconds. Even though Danna and Benson’s lives changed forever, their marriage remains strong. She recites quotes from famous writers about the subject of death from a book she comes across at her local bookstore. “I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight,” by J.D. Salinger. Even though Rebecca’s parents have extreme lows, they also have highs. At first they felt guilty whenever there was a happy event or occasion, yet now they realize they must live out their life and accept that she is not here.
One way Danna and Benson dealt with their grief was by getting involved in gun control, and the 1994 passage of America’s first anti-stalking laws in California. Another was by keeping busy. Benson continued working, while Danna went back to school to become a therapist. She also went on to write plays, teach playwriting, publish stories and a memoir.
It took her years to write “You in Midair.” When it premiered at the Portland Fertile Ground Festival in 2017, it was received so well, that Danna and her production team brought it to Hollywood, within miles from where her daughter was killed.
Go see You in Midair on June 10 at 6 p.m., June 14 at 10 p.m., June 16 at 8 p.m. and June 17 at 4 p.m. The Lounge Theatre is at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. (323)455-4585.