Talking to Bobby Bermea is like buying a plane ticket, only to suddenly find yourself on a rocket bound for Pluto. He'll discuss his work as an actor and a co-founder of the Beirut Wedding World Theater Project, which he started with his partner, Jamie M. Rea, but he takes you on enthralling journeys to other realms. If you want to hear about God, romance or the stars, he's your guy.
That makes him the perfect person to chat with during a pandemic. Bermea's stories of his adventurous life—as a self-described "Air Force brat," he spent his childhood everywhere from New Jersey to the Azores—have a world-expanding allure, and the coronavirus hasn't diminished his defiant optimism.
"Art is like a river," he says. "You dam it up in one place, it's just going to go in a different direction."
Bermea's resilience shined as he spoke to WW about the people, places and objects that have helped define him. What he offered was both a list and an index of his artistic and spiritual influences.
1. Moab, Utah
"Moab—that whole area, Arches National Park, Canyonlands—is incredible. I remember I found a little place that looked like a seat and I sat there and the stars came out. For me, that was the closest I felt like I ever came to seeing the face of God."
2. Beirut Wedding
"Years and years and years ago, I saw a picture of a man and a woman who had just gotten married. The man was still in his tuxedo, the woman was still in her wedding dress, and they were walking through the bombed-out streets of Beirut, Lebanon. The caption underneath said that the man was Muslim and the woman was Christian. I remember looking at that picture and thinking, 'Man, whatever my art says, I would like it to say something like what the picture is telling me right now.'"
3. My comic book collection
"I think my first comic book was Avengers No. 102. My dad got sent on an isolated assignment to Thailand and we couldn't go, so me and my mom and my sister went on a bus trip, and my mom bought me a bunch of comic books. Mainly, I collect Silver and Bronze Age Marvel. Those comics helped define the parameters of my imagination in a lot of ways—what was possible, what I was excited by."
4. My family
"The person I'm with right now is my partner, Jamie. We've been each other's family for 20 years, off and on. It's never been a straight line, but she knows me better than anybody else. She's my favorite person. There are certain things about she and I that only the two of us understand."
"There were times when I was 12 and going into middle school and that guy was, like, my only friend. I would just go into my bedroom for hours, and it would be just me and Prince. Just the other day, I was listening to some of those old albums—Controversy and Dirty Mind—that I hadn't listened to in years. It's funny—if you asked me, I couldn't tell you any of the lyrics, but when they're playing, I know them all. I know every grunt and every scream."
6. Buddha of Compassion
"I own this little wooden sculpture of the Buddha, and he's sitting down cross-legged and he's bent over and his face is in his hands. Maybe like 16 years ago, 18 years ago, I was doing a show in Ohio and we went over to this dude's house. That statue was sitting on his table and it struck me immediately. That guy told me that the statue was the Buddha of Compassion, and I was like, 'What does that mean?' and he said, 'The Buddha is taking all the suffering of the world onto himself.' He was like, 'Take it. This obviously speaks to you, and I think it's supposed to be with you.'"
7. Painting of a man and elephant with child inside
"It's this giant painting that I have in my dining room. A man is standing next to an elephant that has a human child inside of its stomach. This painting was given to me by [my former roommate] in lieu of his phone bill. I want to say that guy's phone bill was, like, $85 and he could have given me the money and it would just be gone now, in the wind. But he gave me that painting and, 20-plus years later, I still have it."