While the fact UBC theatre student Claire Hesselgrave is appearing in the Theatre at UBC production of Anton Chekov’s Wild Honey starting next week might have been interesting enough, it was actually her personal story that piqued our interest more.
At age eleven Claire (pictured second from right in this photo from Wild Honey by Tim Matheson) received some news that most tweens would usually not hear: her father, an Episcopalian Minister, was gay. While her parents had been divorced since she was three, Claire still maintained a close relationship with her father and had just spent time with him and his “good friend Dave” a few weeks before being told by her mother that he was gay.
“I had visited my dad during a school break, as I had been doing for years,” explained Claire. “The three of us drove into Portland for Trinity Cathedral’s Christmas concert and I remember looking over and seeing them holding hands in the pew next to me. I thought, unsarcastically, ‘yeah, they’re best friends.’ It wasn’t until we were back in the car and driving home that I thought sitting in the back seat, ‘maybe my dad’s gay.’ I quickly brushed off the idea. No way. He married my mom.”
But after learning that her intuition was correct and her father was indeed gay, Claire felt a sense of betrayal.
“I remember feeling like the father I had grown to love and admire so much had removed the mask and was now a stranger,” she recalled. “I also remember getting over it all quite fast. At eleven years old you have better and more fun things to do than be upset at your father for being gay. I look back now and think ‘good timing.’”
Fast forward six years and Claire would be once again hit with another revelation; this time she found out that her father was HIV positive. Having just spent a weekend with him again in Portland, she remembers them being in a hurry for her to catch a train home.
“We were running late, and he was driving fast. We were almost at the station when he told me that all the pills he was taking were because he was HIV positive. And with that, he was dropping me off at the curb of the train station.”
Claire remembers scrambling out of the car and running to the train.
“That was shitty train ride. At the time, all I could think was that my dad could die at any moment. I felt guilty. I felt cruel. We had become more like siblings over the past few years and our visits were mostly full of tiny arguments leading to temporary, senseless grudges. We were siblings that claimed we hated each other.”
Returning home, Claire told her mother, who was already aware of his HIV status.
“She assured her he was healthy and went to further explain how the drugs worked. None of us really discussed his HIV diagnosis after that.”
But that isn’t the end of Claire’s story. A year later she found herself discussing her father’s HIV status with her mother when the final revelation was revealed: her father had been HIV positive when Claire had been conceived.
“She told me that right when the AIDS test had come out, my father was feeling very nervous and concerned that he had been infected. When they went to get tested, he was diagnosed as HIV positive, my mother as negative. She went on to describe the effect this had on the marriage. Their intimacy suffered. My mother wanted children very badly and was convinced that she and my father could have a healthy baby.”
That desire for a child led to her mother becoming pregnant. Tests at the beginning of the pregnancy, and after Claire was born, were negative.
Claire remembers thinking for a brief moment how much of a complete idiot her mother must have been at the time.
“The risk seemed huge. I mean, what if that first test during the first few months of pregnancy resulted in a HIV Positive result? Abortion? Then you have two HIV positive individuals instead of one?”
But that moment of disbelief quickly passed for Claire as the two shared a “kind of ‘holy shit, this is really intense’ belly laugh.
“There wasn’t much else to do. She agreed that the decision was pretty crazy and far removed from the rationally driven person I have known her as all my life. However, she said she knew in her gut that she and my father could and would bring a healthy baby into the world.”
As Claire finished her story she mentioned she has not received any negative reactions to revealing her story and that she is in fact very proud.
“I feel proud of my parents. I think there is something remarkable about these two people and the choices they made and where those choices took them,” she concluded.
No doubt Claire’s parents are as equally proud of her as she concludes her year in the BFA Acting program at UBC with Wild Honey.
“What a fun play! One can expect the perfect mix of pleasure and pain. It’s a funny play. Great writing thanks to Chekhov and Frayn,” she enthused. “Also, it’s huge. We have a cast of fourteen. The journeys of the characters are rich. Not to mention the grandiose set. It’s a big, tasty, rich play. Fuji’s are in season, yes? It’s a Fuji of a play.”
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
17 – 26 March 2011
Platonov has a way with women, and it’s both his blessing and his curse, in Michael Frayn’s re-visioning of Anton Chekhov’s unfinished play. Wild Honey swings between the polar opposites of melodrama and farce, and shakes them into an intoxicating cocktail. Visithttp://www.theatre.ubc.ca for tickets and information.