Adelaide Mestre Talks Performing Solo in ‘Top Drawer’
Adelaide Mestre’s a writer and seasoned performer who gives us the scoop on her New York-based show and the unconventional childhood that inspired it all.
Writer and performer Adelaide Mestre had no ordinary childhood. The daughter of a socialite mother and a musically-gifted father, she spent her early years on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. But underneath the glitz and glamour, her parents were anything but traditional.
And that’s why Top Drawer, Mestre’s one-woman show, is taking New York City by storm. An autobiographic tale of self-discovery, this leading lady will make you laugh and break your heart.
We chatted with Mestre about growing up with a gay father, the trials of dating, and how she feels about her parents now.
If you’re in the Big Apple this April, be sure to check out a performance of Top Drawer on April 1st, 8th, or 15th at the Triad Theatre. For ticket information and times, visit BrownPaperTickets.com.
BettyConfidential: Your father was gay in a very homophobic time. Did you ever feel any pressure to either hide that from people or defend him?
Adelaide Mestre: When I first found out my dad was gay, I was terribly anxious about what people would think and tried to hide it from my friends. I struggled with wishing and wanting him to be different. Ultimately, I accepted him but it was a struggle for a time. Now I sometimes feel the need to defend him. When I encounter homophobia, even in my own family, I stick up for my dad, often even flaunting the fact that he was gay. I’m proud of him for contending with as much as he did and having the courage to come out.
BC: How did his coming out affect your relationship with your parents?
AM: It made communication difficult. I was angry at them for keeping me in the dark. It made me feel like I couldn’t trust them or even myself. I withdrew from my father for a time.
BC: How did your parents’ marriage affect your own dating life?
AM: Well, first of all, I often fell for gay men. That’s a given! I’ve been drawn to unavailable men. Not only gay men, but married men, men who live far away, or just simply emotionally unavailable men. I’ve struggled with feelings of self-worth, at times feeling unworthy of a man’s love and attention.
BC: What inspired you to become a performer?
AM: Certainly having both my parents in the arts was a big part of my inspiration. I was exposed to the beauty and transcendence of art often. As a child I saw that onstage, things were being addressed: big life situations, big life questions, people telling the truth about their experience, people grappling with big emotions and revealing their feelings… and sometimes, even singing about them!
BC: Your father and mother were both in the music world. Did you ever feel that you had to live up to their expectations?
AM: All the time. I suffered from their expectations greatly. I saw them suffer from their expectations. My father came from a very successful Cuban family where there was a high standard for success. As for my mother, her grandfather was a founding member of the Metropolitan Opera and her father was the Executive Director of the Met for many years. She lived in their shadows for a long time. I absorbed the belief as a young child that unless you were the “top” or the very best, you were nothing.
BC: In which ways were writing this one woman show a cathartic experience for you?
AM: At times it was a bit agonizing. I had to review really painful moments. But I came to understand my parents on a much deeper level and came to have more compassion for them and their struggles and in so doing, more compassion for my own struggles. I discovered that there was real love between my parents. This restored me in some essential way. Unearthing toxic family beliefs and examining where they come from has left me feeling quite liberated.
BC: Were family members or friends offended by anything you wrote in Top Drawer?
AM: No, I don’t think so. Perhaps a little embarrassed. I think it’s a bit hard for my mom. When she watches the show, she’s extremely proud but it’s also difficult, in moments, to see me impersonate her (though part of her loves it too!) and painful to revisit some of the episodes in our life with my dad. I was really nervous about my family seeing the show, but they loved it. My aunt cried during the whole show.
BC: Did anyone ever discourage your work on this show?
AM: No, amazingly enough. I have had nothing but encouragement every step of the way.
BC: Looking back, do you have any regrets about the show you penned?
AM: Not one. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t singing when I started this project and I didn’t know what was standing in my way. I was really tormented by feeling so blocked. A friend told me, “If you don’t sing your song, it will die inside you.” I couldn’t let that happen.
BC: What was the most difficult scene to write?
AM: The scene with my father’s suicide note. Before I wrote it, I didn’t imagine I would still experience so acutely how alone I felt and how frightened I was when I lost my dad so young.
BC: What do you hope viewers take away from Top Drawer?
AM: A feeling of triumph, of hope, of possibility. That we can survive painful experiences of loss and abandonment and transform them to ultimately live fuller and richer lives. That art can be an affirmation of meaning and a gift that can help us cope with –and transcend– the difficulties in our lives.
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.