Tonya Durdel aka “Tawny”
A few months ago, I attempted to find a travel-related saying to print on several prizes I’d be giving away during a gathering on my cruise. I wanted something simple, but meaningful, and I decided on this as it highlighted what I wanted to express:
“IT’S THE FRIENDS WE MEET ALONG THE WAY THAT HELP US APPRECIATE THE JOURNEY!”
There are friendships I have made from traveling, but there are those I’ve made through the things that – at some point in my life – were impactful: my career, times of happiness and sorrow, my love of movies, my love of writing and the desire to share my words. I had no idea when I discovered an online group called “Crowe’s Nest” during a search of all things Russell Crowe-related following Gladiator, that it would lead to not only being able to return to writing but to making friends, among them a person we all knew as Tawny.
We became more than fans needing to express our admiration for a talented actor, one who immersed himself in each character with such totality, each was distinctly different. We wrote of the characters we found the most interesting, the ones who fascinated us on a level beyond what each movie presented.
For Tawny, it was one of the most unlikely. Not Maximus or Bud White, the better-known roles at the time, but SID 6.7, the antagonist of Virtuosity, starring the popular Academy Award winner Denzel Washington. Outside of Crowe fans, Washington fans, or science-fiction fans, it’s doubtful the public knew of its existence. Virtuosity was not only a box office bomb but negatively reviewed. However, Tawny knew it; gravitated toward it and I think I understood. After all, there are times none of us are certain on what level a movie will affect us, whether in the positive or the negative and in a manner others may not comprehend.
A few of us asked ‘Why SID?’ because he wasn’t the hero, but a confusing, complex villain in this equally insane mess of a virtual reality/simulated reality movie from early in Crowe’s American career. One could barely make heads or tails of it, no matter the number of viewings.
She managed in a way not even the screenwriter did, peeling away what gives a character an amount of depth a play or movie often cannot capture for whatever reason: time restraints, screenplay rewritings, or studio interference. Her story, Mirrorball became a favorite among our readers, not only on the old Crowe’s Nest site but the Gaslight Hotel website as well. It struck a nerve with those who wished to better understand SID, whether they empathized, sympathized or despised him. It’s been said that playing a villain is more difficult; you might hate them, but you have to ‘get them’ or they come off as a mustache-twirling stereotype tying maidens to railroad tracks, or they’re so unbelievably over-the-top, all you can do is laugh every time they open their mouths.
Tawny took SID, showed his evil, stripped him bare, and in the world of what was called ‘Crowe’s Point’ gave him purpose so that he and her protagonist discovered a mystifying harmony whenever they played off one another. SID might still be a troublemaker within the Point world, but around the protagonist of Mirrorball, he revealed another, previously unseen side. The story could be a hard read, but good stories often are. Mirrorball is definitely that.
It’s a testament to what an excellent contributor the real Tawny was to the Gaslight Hotel site.
I had the privilege to meet her on several occasions. I think when I first met her, having read Mirrorball, I was prepared for a cross between Mary Shelley and one of the Bronte sisters, but instead of intense and melancholy, I got someone who tickled my funny bone.
The first occasion was in my hometown when a group of us from the Gaslight site got together for a girls weekend filled with food, drink, sightseeing and binging Russell Crowe movies (although at the time we called it marathoning). Tawny kept us laughing, no matter where we were or what we were doing.
I met her again when Crowe and his band, TOFOG, performed in Chicago in August of 2001, and we fans came literally from around the world to see him as he came fresh off his triumph in Gladiator, the movie that made him a true star. Hundreds of us filled the floor of The House of Blues to watch, and in-between waiting and waiting, those of us who knew each other would converse to pass the time. I already knew how funny Tawny was, with an amazing and slightly warped sense of humor that – once you were in tune with her – couldn’t help but make you laugh. She knew how to make you smile. No matter someone’s background, she found a way to connect so you always felt at ease.
Even when the zenith of the Crowe days was behind us, Tawny and I stayed in touch through emails. The occasional “how are you doing” or “Merry Christmas” was shared. When The Gaslight Hotel website was revamped and we sought out the permission of many of our writers as far as republishing their stories, Tawny was at the top of the list of contacts as Mirrorball remained one of the most popular of our stories. She agreed. I would have expected nothing less of someone like her, although I think she remained surprised at how many loved her story.
And it is with regret that I write all of this because she is gone.
It is always difficult writing an eulogy no matter how close we are to an individual. I wanted to share with all you what Tawny meant to those of us at Gaslight, both as a friend and a writer. Her words in Mirrorball live on, and as is often said, as long as we think of them, a person is never forgotten. I hope you will take time to read Mirrorball, for the first time or as part of a rereading. You won’t regret it.