By Brandon HENSLEY
Brenda Adelman is an actress who recently presented her powerful one-woman play at the Center for Spiritual Living in La Crescenta. The play, which she wrote and performs in, is a tale of triumph over tragedy. It is the story of her family that was torn apart when her father Jerry killed her mother Barbara. Last week we learned of the events leading up to that shooting; today is the final installment of “My Brooklyn Hamlet.”
Brenda Adelman used to be straight. As in, she liked boys and boys only. But at a party in April of 2001, after class at the University of Santa Monica, where she was pursuing a degree in Spiritual Psychology, another world opened up when she locked lips with her soon-to-be partner Dayna Dunbar.
Much had happened in between Barbara Adelman’s death and Brenda’s kiss with her classmate.
In the weeks after her mother’s death, Brenda, now 30, went into a depression. Her relationship with Len eventually ended. She quit her job and had to fly from coast to coast to deal with lawyers regarding the estate. “I would just sit at home in my apartment and cry all day,” she recalled.
Jerry went to jail in 1996. Brenda’s brother, Warren, had agreed to a plea bargain whereby Jerry was sentenced to one-and-a-half to five years in prison. The weapon that Jerry used – the same .38 Smith & Wesson that little Brenda had shot with – couldn’t be found. Because of that, there was potential for Jerry to not serve any time at all.
Before Jerry’s jail time – of which he served only two years – he moved in with Brenda’s aunt, Jeanette. Several months later, Jerry invited Brenda to a wedding: his and Jeanette’s.
If this sounds like a modern day “Hamlet,” it’s because it is. What was Brenda to do? How could she make sense of anything that had happened? In 2000, she had her answer. It was at the University of Santa Monica where she developed the idea for a one-woman show detailing her family life. She performed it for her class, and Dunbar, an award-winning author herself, was watching. Months later at the party, they finally met.
Brenda called it “an exploration of love.” Dayna called her the straightest woman she knew. But things clicked. They ended up taking a trip to Europe that year.
Perhaps their ultimate explosion of affection didn’t occur until the end of the semester, when during a sharing session, Brenda got up and, among other things, announced that she was in love with Dunbar. She had poured her heart out, about finding love in such an unexpected way, and the class erupted afterward, and offered congratulations.
Dunbar said a hole in her she never even knew existed was healed. “Just over the moon,” she described herself. “Blown away by [Brenda’s] courage.”
Jerry Adelman used to have a heart. Maybe even that’s debatable, but the fact is it stopped one day in 2004. He was 67. For all Brenda knew he was still married to Jeanette at the time. She hadn’t seen him for around four years. In 2001, there was a civil suit filed, and Brenda thought he might show. He didn’t.
“I still thought my dad would be there and tell the truth and take responsibility and that I’d have my dad back,” she said.
The judge awarded Brenda and Warren $2.2 million in punitive damages relating to the wrongful death of Barbara Adelman. The only problem was, they never ended up getting the money. Warren’s attorney tried to track down it down, but he wound up in Florida with only a record of a rental property in Jeanette’s name. Jerry had put most of his assets in offshore accounts.
Before her father died, though, Brenda ended her bitterness toward him. Racked with too many years of too much heartache, she took his fedora atop a mountain in Topanga, and threw it off the hill. She called it a ceremony of release.
“I forgive you,” she said, letting go of the fedora. “You crazy son of a bitch. Right here I choose to open my heart again.”
And that’s what Brenda teaches today. She performs her show, “My Brooklyn Hamlet” all across the country, and even did so in La Crescenta last month, at the Center for Spiritual Living. Afterward, she held a forgiveness workshop.
“I believe that she’s a self-study, and she really wants to purify her mind and her heart of anything that isn’t positive,” said the center’s Rev. Beverly Craig. “And to that end she wants to help other people.”
To this day, Brenda believes her father killed her mother for money. Divorce in New York doesn’t come cheap. But that’s behind her.
“I realized my anger and unforgiveness was hurting me. I don’t want to hurt myself anymore,” she said. “How to forgive is to take 100% responsibility for your life, and that’s hard. Most people don’t want to do that.”
People of all walks of life can look to Brenda, or maybe another tragic story, and actually be encouraged. As Dunbar said, “If this woman can handle this, I can do anything.”
The choice to forgive, as always, is within. Brenda Adelman used to think otherwise. She doesn’t anymore.