By Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly
It is tempting to wax poetic on the romantic significance of two college students feeling the first stirrings of a deep and lasting love while working together on a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” But though the Bard’s poetry makes for some of the most moving declarations of love ever written, a thousand balcony scenes between two overwrought Italian teenagers couldn’t hold a stage light to the emotional resonance of how Bill Rauch and Christopher Liam Moore still gush about each other after nearly three decades together.
“I don’t know what I did in a past life,” Moore says. “I must have, I don’t know, saved a village or something, because I can’t believe that I started going out with him when I was 19 years old. I can’t believe that I met him.”
Rauch says he was immediately drawn to Moore’s “sense of humor, his brilliance as an artist, and his incredible heart — just his beautiful, beautiful heart.”
“He’s my muse,” Rauch adds. “He has been for going on 30 years now.”
This is a pair of highly accomplished hubbies, and much of their success has come while working together — and working a lot. This year alone, Rauch, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, is directing two plays featuring Moore — a member of OSF’s acting company and a guest director — while Moore is himself directing a show for the festival. Rauch is also helming Portland Center Stage’s “The Body of an American,” opening in the Rose City on Oct. 5.
During the height of rehearsal season, Rauch’s schedule, for example, usually includes working from 9 a.m. to midnight, six days a week. Plus there’s the small matter of raising their two sons, 12-year-old Liam and 7-year-old Xavier.
“We knew we wanted to have kids,” Moore says. “That was sort of a given, I think, from very early on in our relationship. We were always waiting for the right time to do it, and then we realized there was never going to be a right time — that we had to make the time.”
The boys, both of whom joined the family through open independent adoptions as newborns, take priority when it comes to what free time their dads have left.
“But then the problem is, we’re not taking care of ourselves as a couple,” Rauch admits.
Their basic relationship maintenance involves going out to dinner without the boys at least once a week when not in rehearsals, as well as the rare, coveted weekend away, just the two of them.
And, most importantly, “No matter how tired we are, no matter how late at night one of us goes home, we sit down … and just talk about what happened during the day,” Rauch says. “It’s just those little things that keep us invested in one another and in our relationship.”
“I think working together and living together the way that they do, it’s the kind of thing that either makes your relationship or destroys your relationship,” says Alison Carey, an OSF playwright and director who has been the couple’s friend and collaborator since college. “The pressure that those two men are under constantly — there are people who couldn’t thrive in it. … The fact that they are able to do such great work together reinforces their relationship rather than challenging it.”
WHAT’S YOUNG LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Carey and Rauch were already close when Moore came into the picture at Harvard, so she was witness to those first romantic sparks.
“They were clearly meant to be together from the beginning,” she says. “They got together very quickly.”
For Rauch, the relationship didn’t feel quite so quickly attained.
“I had a big bad crush on him the moment he arrived at school,” recalls Rauch, at the time an older and wiser junior directing a freshman Moore in his first role for the Harvard stage.
It wasn’t until almost two years later, as they were working on the first incarnation of “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella” — an experimental mash-up co-adapted by Rauch and starring Moore as Lady Macbeth that they’ve resurrected several times in the last few decades, including during the current OSF season — that their romantic relationship truly began.
“We started going out, and there were these three very tempestuous months, and I wasn’t really out, and I was just very confused,” Moore recalls.
Shortly after Rauch graduated, the two were visiting his parents in D.C., driving along the Washington Mall on a beautiful summer afternoon in a convertible Volkswagon Bug — top down. Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” came on the radio — and suddenly Moore knew exactly what it had to do with it.
“It was literally the closest I’ve been to being thunderstruck,” he recalls. “We were driving, and I had been very back and forth, and ‘I don’t know if I can be in this relationship.’ And I just turned to him … and I realized, ‘What are you doing? This is the man you’re supposed to be with for the rest of your life. Just let all that nonsense go.’ And I was 19 — I was a kid. … And we’ve been together ever since, and I don’t know what I did to deserve him. I really don’t. He’s an amazing man.”
One other significant hurdle remained to fully embracing themselves as a lifelong couple: “I did not come out to my parents until the seventh year of our relationship,” Rauch says. “I really lived in terror of coming out to my parents; it was a big, big driving force in my young adulthood.”
His fears would prove unfounded.
“They immediately assured me they didn’t love me any less,” Rauch recalls of his coming out. “They’ve had their struggles, but I’ll tell you what changed everything was when the kids were born. When two of their grandkids had two dads, then the rest of it just had to melt away.”
MOMENTS OF GRACE
Certainly, their life together hasn’t been an unblemished fairy tale — how could it be when homophobia and bigotry prevent two men with such obvious love and commitment for each other from being legally married in most of the nation? (Moore and Rauch are registered domestic partners, however, and had a big wedding ceremony and celebration with their friends and family in 1997.)
“Look, we live in a homophobic world,” Rauch says, “and I know that our kids having two dads will not be uncomplicated. It’s not uncomplicated for them now; it will not be uncomplicated throughout their lives.”
Shortly after his arrival in Ashland, Rauch recalls being told he was throwing his sexuality in his audience’s face after mentioning his husband twice during a lecture. He’s also been accused of bringing a “gay agenda” to OSF.
Rauch, though, contrasts such incidents with the reaction of a born-again Christian woman — whom Rauch had worked with years before and liked very much — upon first discovering over a decade ago that Rauch was a gay man with a husband and an infant son.
“My heart was really heavy because I thought she was going to reject us,” he says.
Instead, she declared baby Liam “the luckiest baby in the world to have two such great dads,” and proceeded to shower the child with gifts.
“I’ve had so many moments of grace like that in my life,” Rauch says, “in terms of people affirming our family and affirming our couplehood. I’ve got plenty of horror stories, but so many more things that give me hope.”
See Christopher Liam Moore in two Bill Rauch-directed shows at OSF —“Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella” and “All The Way” — now through Nov. 3 (www.osfashland.org). “The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa,” directed by Moore and penned by Alison Carey, closes Oct. 13 — the same weekend as Southern Oregon Pride (Oct. 11-14, www.sopride.org). In Portland, catch Rauch’s directorial handy work in “The Body of an American,” Oct. 5-Nov. 11 (www.pcs.org).