Shakespeare wrote, "Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak its name whispers the oer'fraught heart and bids it break."
It didn't surprise me to see dozens of people giving sorrow words on social media just after Karen Landry passed away. Even less surprising was how similar all the posts were, with people using the same words to describe Karen again and again: loving, glowing, visceral, honest, intelligent, giving, compassionate, unique, warm, remarkable.
That's only a partial list; think of any superlative and it applied to Karen.
If you're a man of a certain age, Karen was likely your first theater crush. Seeing her glide across the Guthrie stage, all sinew and heat, and hearing that silken marvel of a voice, vibrating with intelligence and sly humor, was enough to render any teen-age boy gobsmacked. She was only five years older than me, but she seemed light years ahead. I first actually met her a few years later when we were both readers in a mutual friend's wedding, and she was as kind and encouraging to this young actor as one could hope.
Over the ensuing years we'd run into each other every so often, but we didn't really become genuine colleagues and true friends until 2010, when I directed her in a play at Park Square called The Last Seder. It may not have been an especially good script but it hardly mattered; she brought such honesty and humanity to the role of a mother dealing with her adult kids and mentally failing husband that she (along with a uniformly fine cast) made the production a rich and satisfying evening in the theater.
Her marvelous husband and long-time love Chris Mulkey was around a lot, and the three of us would often go out after shows. Getting to know them both so well felt like a gift; their love for each other was apparent in everything they did and said to one another, and it was wonderful to be in the presence of such a strong and happy marriage.
The next year the three of us appeared in August: Osage County, again at Park Square. It was a first-rate production top to bottom, and to share the stage with them was a complete thrill. And as good a job as I thought Chris and I did, Karen was a flat-out marvel. I used to stand backstage and watch her scenes from time to time. To watch her give-and-take with her superb castmates, the way she so deftly created this hilarious and heart-breaking woman, was something I'll not only never forget, but will treasure my whole life.
Karen and Chris and I were swimming together this past July when they told me Karen had cancer. Karen was typically upbeat about it, saying her prognosis was good and she was pretty sure she was going to beat it. We laughed and splashed around the pool and I believed her; I couldn't imagine something as common as cancer could overcome such an extraordinary woman.
I'm glad to know my sense of loss and utter sadness is shared by so many people. She touched so many of us throughout her life and gave everybody a little piece of herself, a little bit of the love and warmth and joy she had in such abundance.
She didn't leave our community when she died; she leaves it when WE die, when there's no one left to remember the glow and the fire and the goodness that was Karen Landry. She taught the torches to burn bright, and those of us lucky enough to have basked in that light will never forget.