I, for once, am running late, caught up in a barrage of thoughts and local children’s book stores. So, when I arrive at a salad place near Union Square in Manhattan, New York for our lunch date, Bonnie Davis is already there. She blinks at me from a rather angular booth, her coat and gloves and pile of winter outerwear stowed messily beside her. She leaves the stuff behind as a placeholder as we mosey on over to the food line. “Good thinking,” I think, though the place isn’t its usual lunchtime mob.
And with that, conversation is off and flowing. Much more off and flowing than one might ever believe it to be, considering Bonnie and I have only spoken in person three times, including today, and all such conversations have happened in the last few months. Before that, she was known to me as a tumblr persona I stumbled upon after finding out that I was a tumblr persona she had stumbled upon awhile earlier. She is also a recent NYU grad, and a friend of an ex, and so also friend to a handful of other acquaintances I’d known for stints throughout my four years at NYU.
Conversation flows easily from the shores the immediate (“It’s taken a lot for me to believe in salad,” Bonnie muses), to the best hotels in Las Vegas (The Venetian, we agree, mostly for its gondola rides) to her love for New Jersey, especially her impossibly picturesque upbringing in a house surrounded by a six mile wide open field owned by the local electric company.
As we reclaim our booth from invisible hawkish salad squatters, we find ourselves, on our most beloved shared topic of convo: theatre. Bonnie herself is an actress, though one through which the body is a medium for the love of theatre, not in which the theatre is a medium for the love of self. Her eyes shine bright and her affect glows with gloss as she extols the virtues of Stephen Sondheim and we collectively gush over one of our favorite songs from Into the Woods. When the conversation turns to finances (or lack thereof, living in New York), Bonnie sighs into her bowl. “Theatre and food,” she says, are the only things she spends money on, by both necessity and choice. Theatre is a lifestyle she buys into, and acting as a profession is a natural outgrowth, the only natural outgrowth, of that love.
Her dream role is Laura in The Glass Menagerie, and as she says this, I easily picture her plopped unobtrusively on the edge of a stage in the role, auburn hair a mess, surrounded by a tiny glass figurines, legs bent awkwardly in front of her yet perfectly at home. But nonetheless, in her time in training at NYU, she ended up on programs cast as witches, servants, and often, roles for men. When I say it’s a mark of bravery to be an actor who can step so far outside of herself, she looks down sheepishly, for through she possibly agrees, she’ll never take a blatant acting compliment with an overt embrace.
And I know on some level, perhaps through deprecating humor, she must feel unconfident. In fact, the thing I’ve heard her speak most confidently about is her own strangeness and lack of confidence. And yet, there is a curious inner strength derived from this unabashed abashedness. There is an absentmindedness to Bonnie, sure, but also a surefootedness within that; a self-awareness of every aspect of herself, from strengths to shortcomings, and an acceptance, or even commitment, to that. There is something so completely determined about her from moment to moment, from the way she messily picks at salad bits at the bottom of her bowl with her fingers to un-bridled her enthusiasm for Molly’s Cupcakes, a place we decide to move to, putting an end to our healthy salad lunch.
So, when we get there, we sit on a couple of wooden swings strapped to the ceiling, perched over individual swabs of dessert, talking theatre and identity and which NYU acting studios align to which Hogwarts Houses. And as a group of little boys enter, act rowdily, and are kicked out by the shopkeeper, she mumbles “don’t kick them out, they’re only kids after all,” and looks at their sad forms through the window with a frown that goes all the way up to her eyebrows. At that moment, I smile back at her; the kindest under-30-year-old in New York proper.