The Nearness of Sin

“He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!

And it was though he had said: Everything has begun.”

With those words, Nikos Kazantzakis closes his novel; THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. And with those words, I closed his book and ended my first reading experience with Mr. Kazantzakis. I was 20 years old in 1971. It was a delicious, hot, muggy summer in Lexington, and I was more than a little befuddled by what I had just read.

I liked the book. Kazantzakis’ descriptions of biblical geography were interesting. The characters were many and varied, and moved through that geography with pace and purpose that pulled me through the story. I did find myself wishing I had paid a bit more attention in my Southern Baptist Sunday School class as a child. The place names might have been easier to follow if I had.

What bewildered me were the hallucinatory passages in the novel, especially the extended passage at the end of the novel in which Jesus experiences and rejects the Devil’s final blandishment. My 20-year-old reaction was something on the order of; “Whoa! Where the hell (or heaven) did that come from? And why?”

Meh… Whatever.

I had read it and now I had to return the book to the upperclassman who had lent it to me with the usual unambiguous instruction that almost always accompanies a book lent unasked for; “You’ll enjoy this.” That phrase always sounds so amiable, but when it comes from an older friend whose apparent intellect and experience you aspire to, the phrase carries the weight of stone tablets from the Mount.

Returning the book meant a trip to the Geek House, usually a mind broadening if not mind improving occasion. The Geek House was a small cottage on a two-way street near the University of Kentucky. Like many of these small cottages it was infested (infested… yes, I think that is le mot juste) by students. Years later when I saw the film ANIMAL HOUSE it occurred to me how lucky Lexington was that the Geek House was a small cottage and not a large house. The population of Geek House was capped at four… or five…… or six………or… (it was a liquid situation) because of the limited space available. The rotating roster of the house included two or three theater majors, two brothers from Pike County (one was in pre-law and the other was a convicted felon who was a hell of a mechanic – it sounds like the making of a great team – I wonder where they are now?), and a graduate student from the Philippines. The graduate student had an amazing name that no one could pronounce. He shortened it for our convenience to Pu Pe. Of course that turned out to be an unwise choice of truncation. “Poopy” he became and remained for as long as I knew him. I learned a valuable lesson in diplomacy from Poopy. I knew he was a graduate student and a bright and well-spoken guy. Yet his English seem to desert him when it came to being properly offended by his nickname. He got along just fine with everybody.

One of the more charming traditions of the house was the weekend poker game. It would begin on Friday evening and continue with a variety of participants coming and going until it petered out on late Sunday afternoon as the last bleary participants wandered away.

This was a serious poker game. There were snorts and grunts that indicated calls and raises. Cards were held close to the chest, or dropped to the floor as the weekend wore on and small motor skills decayed. Challenges to manhood were common and personal financial statuses were altered. Sometimes you would even see a dollar bill in the center of the table on top of the quarters, dimes, and nickels.

It too, as you can imagine, was a liquid situation – mostly beer. I think that’s why they tolerated my spectator-only presence at the game. I was ground control. If any authority figure knocked at the door, I was sent to answer. Usually after a brief reassuring conversation the authority figure would go away confident in the knowledge that a sober 20-year-old adult had this situation well in hand. It was an innocent time.

One memorable Sunday afternoon, the game was continuing but grinding down. There was a knock on the door. I answered. It was the parents of one of the theater majors residing in the house. They had driven in from Madisonville to visit relatives and thought it would be nice to drop in on their son, Carson. Well, Carson had been participating in the poker game off and on for most of the weekend and he looked like it. He leapt to his feet, swiftly visited the bathroom, his razor, and his closet (where he found his “cleanest dirty shirt” as Kris Kristopherson so poignantly describes it), while I chattered away with his parents discussing all the people in Madisonville I didn’t know (not having ever set foot in the town) and while the other poker participants discreetly (again, the perfect word) transferred the beer bottles from the tabletop to the floor. Carson’s parents pretended to be oblivious. Carson presented himself as shiny as a newly minted penny (in his dreams). They left. The house was silent for a minute or two. Then Poopy turned to the pre-law brother and said; “Well, I certainly am glad you kept your filthy fucking mouth shut.” There was general agreement with that sentiment and the game ended about 10 minutes later with a prayer for Carson.

Often on Friday evenings before the game degenerated to Neanderthal-ness, the discussions around the table could be coherent and instructive. It was during one of these intellectual oases that my friend, Ray Skewes was expounding on the genius of Nikos Kazantzakis. He had finished reading THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST that week and was dying to discuss it with someone. No one was interested, but since I was the youngest in the room I was chosen to be the other member of his instantly created book club. Ray went to his bedroom and fetched his battered paperback copy of the book, placed it reverently into my hands, and instructed; “You’ll enjoy this”.

Well…I had duly followed my instructions and now needed to return the book to Ray.

That August the house was practically deserted. The denizens had all dispersed to their various summertime activities. A couple of the actors had summer theater jobs, Carson had been ordered home to Madisonville for a period of debriefing and reorientation to the wisdom of making better use of his time, and the brothers had returned to the mountains to do something murky, into which it would be best not to inquire too deeply. Thus, everyone was gone except for Ray.

I drove to the house and bounced up on the porch and knocked on the door. There was no immediate answer until, after subsequent knockings, the blinds on the window next to the door twitched ever so slightly. Then the doorknob turned and the door opened about 6 inches and Ray peered at me. He was looking pretty rough. His hair was long and stringy and did not suggest that it had seen water for a while. His shirt and jeans were wrinkled and sagging and did not suggest that they had seen water for a while. He had about a three day growth of beard and it did not suggest… Now this look was not rare for Ray. Today we might even say that this was Ray’s “brand”. But that afternoon there was a haggard quality that suffused his usual fashion statement.

I explained my reason for being at his doorstep and held out the book. He looked at it for a moment, processing the information. Then his eyes lit up and he threw open the door and invited me in. He closed the door behind me, put on the chain, and adjusted the blinds for perfect opaqueness. That’s when the smell hit me. It was a sharp, dry, and dusty smell, and it was intense. Ray returned to his position on the couch to continue the project he was working on when I banged on the door. There was a garbage bag (filled with marijuana plants) on the floor in front of his feet and there was a grocery bag (almost filled with marijuana leaves) next to it. Next to that a soup kettle (for the stems he explained). Ray described his project.

“I was hiking in the Red River Gorge a while back and we came across this little field filled with marijuana. I made note of our location and went back last week and harvested all I could carry and brought it back here. Carson’s bedroom is filled with bags. I’ve got to get this stuff processed and outta here before the guys come back to school. Plus, I think it’s starting to stink (starting?). And now there’s fleas! I’ll never get all this done. Hey. How’d’ja like the book?”

I’d like to say I was cool.

Cool was what I would’ve liked to have been.

I was not cool. I was stunned.

I was scared to death.

I was appalled by the filth and the smell and the fleas.

Then…

The car stopped.

Cars were coming and going to and from the University all the time on the street, but they normally didn’t stop in front of the house.

Then…

The car door slammed.

Ray froze with his hands in the middle of the dismemberment of a plant, his eyes wide, and a sick, gray crept into his face.

Then…

A team of big men in dark suits and dark glasses and badges burst through the door. They put handcuffs on me and Ray, and proceeded to haul all those bags and us out to their vehicle and un-gently crammed us all in. They took us downtown in a blur and in an even faster blur we were in a jail cell. The trial was quick and decisive. Sentences and fines were meted out. They were paid and served. I emerged from incarceration to a world that did not wish to hire me for anything ever. No female would come near me. I never married. I meandered into a penniless, barren old-age.

Then…

The car door slammed again as the pedestrian being picked up got on board, and the car drove away.

Ray sagged in relief and resumed his activity. He gave a nervous shake to his head, grinned at me, and said “So, how’d’ja like the book?”

I believe my exact response was; “It was great but I can’t stay and talk about it now I gotta go I got something to do I got rehearsal I’m in a show but I can’t stay and talk about it now I’ll get with you later thanks for the book.”

As I recall, that response was delivered in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan. I then moved with great pace and purpose to the door and out of the house. I bounced off the porch and to my car and drove directly home, directly to my bathroom to take three consecutive showers – showers every bit as spiritually cleansing as Janet Leigh’s shower in PSYCHO. No, I was not attacked by the knife wielding mother of Norman Bates, but I felt like I deserved to be.

I never returned to Geek House. I only rarely ever saw Ray again and we never had a chance to discuss his book. I never inquired as to the final disposition of his summer project.

It was a long time before I felt clean again.

I had heard the phrase; “the nearness of sin”, but I don’t think it ever really registered with me until that day.

I understood it fully after that day.

I also had a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of Nikos Kazantzakis. That understanding and appreciation leaves me very comfortable with the possibility that none of this story actually happened and yet all of it is true.

Dracula & the Five Dollars I Owe You

Dracula 01Friday, Janie and I were with a couple of Louisville friends for dinner and the theatre. It was a lovely night. The companionship was first rate, Janie got to boogie in the aisles with a packed house to the lively strains of ABBA (I’m just grateful there wasn’t a vacant pole nearby), and dinner at the Bristol was, for us, nostalgic. We had subscribed to Actors Theatre Louisville for many years (see the blog entry; “Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic”), and part of our ATL ritual usually included dinner at the Bristol before curtain. I’m happy to report the Bristol’s green chili won-tons and filet mandarin still excel as theatre comfort food.

We explained to our hosts our past experience with the restaurant and ATL and discovered they too had been ATL regulars. The husband recalled that the first play he saw at Actors was DRACULA.

(Cue the weird music…perhaps an organ sting…perhaps the theme from JAWS…or that nee-nee-nee-nee music from TWILIGHT ZONE.)

All actors think they can play anything…anything. They can’t.

All actors know, if given the chance, they can play anything. They’re wrong.

The viewing public is protected from such hubris by the filter of directors who usually know better than to miscast actors in roles for which they are not suited. For example, though I know I could change people’s lives with my portrayals of Stanley Kowalski or Joan of Arc or Lassie’s “Timmy” (or Lassie for that matter), I also know my chances of being cast in those roles are minuscule. I think we all can agree the theatre-going world is made better by this protective filter (though, I’m tellin’ ya, I can scream “Stella” like a banshee).

However, sometimes the filter fails.

(Cue – a great disturbance in the Force.)

I had always wanted to play Dracula. In 1982 I got my chance.

The theatre company doing DRACULA, which will remain nameless, had been up and running for several years and had mounted impressive shows in impressive quantities. The core members of the group had just run off a string of productions and I suspect they were weary. The DRACULA project was turned over to an affable and bright young guy with little directing experience. None of the regular performers of the company participated as actors and were rarely seen during the rehearsal process. I think they were “taking a show off”. Mind you, these were the hardest working theatre folks in Lexington at that time, and theatre didn’t pay the rent or put food on the table. Taking time to find an income was a responsible business plan. Today, we call that “adulting”.

But it didn’t auger well artistically.

What did I care? I got to say those deathless (literally) lines.

(Cue the line – “Wolves. Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”)

<< Snickers from the audience >>

The show got a full-page spread in the newspaper with pictures of Dracula in repose on a crypt in the bowels of Morrison Hall at Transylvania University (Transylvania…sweet).

I wore my cape and my plastic fangs in the pictures…in the newspaper (sweeter and sweeter).

Just kill me now. Oh, wait. That won’t work. I’m a vampire.

(Cue the line – “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”)

<< Guffaws from the audience >>

Far worse things than death? I should say so. There’s opening night.

I made my entrance. I swept into the room with my cape, my pizza-pan sized medallion, and my floppy hair.

(Cue the review – “Leasor looked like the Dave Clark Five about to be knighted by the Queen.”

The actor playing Dr. Seward was, I believe, experiencing his first opening night. His pivotal moment was at hand. He must effect the introduction of Dracula and his nemesis; Professor Van Helsing. Without this introduction, we have no play. As I said, I swe-e-e-pt into the room, confronted Dr. Seward, and waited for his line. The actor playing Seward had a look on his face that to my dismay read; “Wow! Look at that cape. I can’t believe I have such a great seat for this show.”

It was an impasse.

I glanced over to Professor Van Helsing being played by Paul Thomas; a very experienced actor and good friend. Paul had worked a pipe into his character early in the rehearsal process and now I could see why. Paul sat, staring resolutely straight ahead, puffing his pipe and enveloping himself in an obscuring cloud of smoke. Occasionally, stray puffs of smoke would rise straight up. Being fluent in smoke signals, I got the message; “You’re on your own, Buster.” I made a mental note to review our friendship.

Mental note…that was it!

I lifted my arm slowly and placed my index finger over my eyebrow. I squinted my eyes in my best Johnny Carson/Karnak manner (it’s as good as my Stanley Kowalski). I stretched my index finger toward the cumulus-nimbus formerly known as Paul and intoned; “Ah-h-h-h, Professor Van Helsing, even in Transylvania we have heard of you.”

The theatre went silent. The moment was ridiculous. But it was early in the evening and the audience had to decide quickly;

  1. Accept the foolishness for the sake of having a night in the theatre…such as it was, or
  2. Flee the building for the nearest bar.

Downtown cocktail opportunities in 1982 were not as lively as they are today. I think that may have saved us.

(Cue the line – “I never drink…wine.”)

<< Angry murmurs from the audience >>

The script was poor.

The cast and director were mostly inexperienced.

I was dreadful……and not in the right way.

(Cue the review – “Children might enjoy Leasor’s performance as he looks like he’s going to break into a song-and-dance at any moment.”)

It was a healthy lesson for me.

Unfortunately, a lot of people paid for my education.

They should have been better protected.

(Cue the line – “The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly… The blood is the life.)

<< Pitchforks in the audience are unsheathed and the box office is stormed for refunds >>

By the end of each night’s performance, the audience was probably feeling like the unwary fly and they were certainly out for blood.

(Cue the sigh.)

Sigh.

If you saw this show, I owe you five dollars. The check is in the mail.

A Geezer Breakfast

I came across this note from the spring of 2016. Not much has changed.

 

“It was a geezer breakfast!

  1. Average age; 70-plus – check.
  2. Aches and pains chronicled in excruciating detail – check.
  3. Mutual acquaintances in the medical profession established and marveled over – check.
  4. Flirting with the married, mother-of-two waitress – check.
  5. Head shaking over the attention span (or alleged lack thereof) of anyone younger than 50 – check.
  6. Joe Gatton and Walter Tunis stories exchanged and enlarged upon – check.
  7. Re-validation of the miracle of baseball – check.
  8. Conundrums of the 2016 presidential race and various other problems of the world solved – check.

So what made this geezer breakfast a bit different?

The three geezers breakfasting have probably been involved in over 250 theatrical productions in the Lexington area and yet have only worked in the same show once. How, oh how is this possible and (more important to my selfish interests) how can it be remedied?

By the way, for the record;

I’m younger than some of the trio, my back’s OK (knock on wood), I only knew one of the doctors discussed, the waitress was patient and bored, I know at least two whippersnappers who actually read books, I’m saving my Gatton and Tunis tales for my tell-all book (unless useful payments are sent to a PO box number I will provide), I will watch the Reds this year even if they suck, and as for the problems of the world……..my omelet was spot on!

I’m good.”

 

Follow up note –

Since this exercise, I’ve met about fifty (truly…fifty!) millennials who I’m convinced can make America great again, or at least make America sing again which is almost as good.

Fitty-Lebmm

Fitty-lebmm.

I’m not sure that’s the correct spelling. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s even a word!

Fitty-lebmm.

I’ve never played it in Scrabble, and I’m pretty sure I’d be challenged if I did. Too bad; with an “f”, “y”, “b”, and two “m’s” the score would be sweet.

Fitty-lebmm.

This is word my mom uses. She may have invented it.

“I’ve told you fitty-lebmm times not to fan that screen door!”

“I can give you fitty-lebmm reasons why that’s not a good idea.”

“There were fitty-lebmm people in line at the grocery store. I didn’t think I’d ever get home.”

You get the idea…and I get the idea every time…and the idea is usually accurate and wise, if a bit sketchy math-wise. It’s also a case of rampant exaggeration. The rampant exaggeration gene has happily passed on to her son. What’s the harm? It’s not like we’re runnin’ for president.

I remember when I was mastering the intricacies of math, I could never decide if fitty-lebmm equaled 5,011 or 550 (50 times 11). I do know that in new math it either equals “the artist formerly known as Prince” or “Thursday”. Again, what’s the harm? I don’t need any new math – I just got used to the old math.

In Richard Adams’ lovely book WATERSHIP DOWN, the rabbit protagonists, having only four digits, considered any quantity larger than four to be “five”. Ten years was five years. Fifty miles was five miles and five feet equaled a mile. Cute, but my mom’s word is better, if harder to spell; “fitty-lebmm”.

So…what dredged all this foolishness up?

I was late for a meeting today because I ran into a repaving project in Lexington. I’m here to tell you there are currently fitty-lebmm repaving projects happening in Lexington. I know. I’ve driven through every one of them.

I’m not really complaining. I like having smooth, safe roads to drive on……I do. But, do they all have to be in my path? What kind of schedule are they following?

Wait!

I think I know the answer to that one.

The schedule is being determined by me. There are spies monitoring my movements and instructing the re-pavers where to be and when.

So…

As a service to all my friends; if you want your street repaved, let me know the name of your street and when you want the work done. I will drive on your street that day and by the time you come home from work you will have bright, shining new asphalt awaiting your arrival.

FEEL the power!

You can thank me later – fitty-lebmm times.

Dang-a-Dang-Dang — Revised

I used to drive around Kentucky quite a bit in my job. Most of the time, it was a great blessing. I love living in Kentucky; the people and the places are precious to me.

One blissful evening I drove to Bowling Green to attend their bi-monthly city commissioners’ meeting which turned out to be a sterling lesson in civility and good government that completely refuted the “government doesn’t work” message that dominates our television news channels. Those smart, well-prepared, gracious public officials efficiently moved through their agenda, addressing issues of waste management, zoning adjustments, car-towing policies, golf course maintenance, personnel changes, and alcohol sales. Every voice was heard. No voices were raised. Decisions were made and accepted. Some of those decisions went the way I preferred. Some did not. Life goes on. I could not have admired the experience more.

Seriously!

What can I say? I’m a wonk.

Sha-nah-nah-diddy-diddy-bomp…

Then I drove home, fairly late at night – certainly too late to be talking to folks on the phone as I drove (which of course I would never do).

That means I had entered and was truly immersed in “Windshield Time”.

Nem-nem-nem-nem-nem-wurp-wurp-wurp-wurp…

Windshield time is akin to dreaming, especially on I-65 on a midsummer night.

  • The tiny rhythm of the eight million bugs repainting your car with their lives.
  • The mighty rhythm of the eight million trucks buffeting your car while chortling at your rate of speed.
  • Giant dinosaurs looming at one roadside attraction.
  • Adult bookstores larger than Fayette Mall looming at another…

Your mind disengages and works on unresolved issues of the day or, if you’re lucky and open to the night and the rhythms, it embarks on far more interesting paths not bound by the day’s sound bites and tweets and grunts.

Thus it was this evening.

Doh-doh-doh-doh-ooooo…

I listen to a lot of music in the car. Queued up this particular night was a mini-festival by the pride of Pittsburgh doo-wop group, the Marcels.

In order to truly appreciate the Marcels you have to get past some curious facts. But, as a Trump-supporting friend of mine regularly and gleefully chants; “Facts lie!” Well, these are fairly benign facts. I think we can accept them without destroying the planet.

  1. The Marcels were named after a haircut. The “Marcel Wave” was very popular that year and one member of the group had a family member who was a hairdresser and she suggested the name. Compare this to the opposite dynamic with the Beatles and their hair choice. It became a “Beatle Haircut” after their success as a band. Trust me; I know this…all too well from my years as a rock and roll singer who occasionally glanced at mirrors…though I think I’ve destroyed all the negatives and daguerreotypes (remember them?).
  2. The Marcels’ vocabulary was amazing, but had little to do with English as we know it. I’m sure they must have been the inspiration for a Mad Magazine piece I recall that quoted a fictional rock singer’s biography entitled; “Famous Syllables I Have Sung”. Everyone has heard the story of how Dr. Seuss was challenged to write a children’s story with only xx number of words and how the result was THE CAT IN THE HAT. I would suggest that the Marcels managed to build a career on fewer words than Dr. Seuss if you deduct the un-definable syllables sung between the legitimate words.

Mum-mummum-mum-bah-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip…

Undeterred by these facts; in my 70mph dreamy opinion there has never been a better version of “Blue Moon” than that of the Marcels…

Bomp-bababomp-bom…

…and their “Get a Job” is an American anthem worthy of being sung before athletic events. Imagine 20-40,000 people with a few beers in ‘em wailing;

Dit-dadit-dit-dadit-doo-doo-didit…

I’m smilin’ at the concept and wonderin’ how this ol’ white-haired hippie might look in a Marcel Wave. An-n-n-n-d woooosh! There goes the Willisburg exit! Only 44 miles to go.

Lilla-lilla-lilla-lilla-wah-wah-wah…

God bless the Marcels!

Curse of the Starving Class

curse01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another new/old Lexington theatre yarn.

Just to let ya know, if you’re doing a Sam Shepard play and want me to come see it, I’m busy that evening…all the evenings.

If you’d like me to do a Sam Shepard play, I’m more than likely available.

I feel the same way about Pinter, Ibsen, and Albee. I love performing them, but I’m not beatin’ down the doors to watch. It’s a mental defect I guess, but there it is. Godot is simply not worth waiting for.

So, it’s 1987 and Joe Ferrell is directing Sam Shepard’s THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS for Actors Guild Lexington (usually referred to as “AGL”). This is when AGL was performing in a rickety building in downtown Lexington called the LMNOP building (usually referred to as “LMNOP” – go figger). The LMNOP moniker stemmed from its life as “Club LMNOP”, a legendary night club in its day. By 1987 this building had been rode hard and put up wet to dry. Creaked? No, it shrieked. It wobbled. It was seasonal, which is an apt euphemism for little discernible heat and air. But the rent was right and in the theatre, that usually rules (remind me to bore you with my “theatre verismo” experience one January doing TERRA NOVA in the basement of a downtown Lexington restaurant – yes, I have pictures).

Well, I was hot for this project. I had worked with Joe on Shepard’s BURIED CHILD a couple of years earlier and it had been a very satisfying time. I played a raging psychotic single-amputee who was tormented in the second act by his own brother (played by Vic Chaney) who used own his prosthetic leg as a club against him. It was a laugh-a-minute riot. I was proud of the portrayal even though it took my knee a year to fully recover. I was hungry for another bit of fluff like that.

My previous role for Joe was as a gay, double-AK-amputee Vietnam War vet. It was intriguing to me to do a show with Joe in which I could use all my limbs.

Oh sure, the script of CURSE called for a scene with complete male nudity, but it wasn’t my character and surely Joe would find a work-around to avoid going that far in my beloved 1987 Lexington, where I was dealing with the public every day in my retail career……surely…………surely.

Well, it was a remarkable cast and crew. It included Joe Gatton, Martha Campbell, Glenn Thompson, and Carol Spence, all of whom I have worked with numerous happy times.

It also included Kevin Haggard. Kevin and I had never worked together before and we’ve not worked together since. Dammit. In CURSE Kevin played my son in a strikingly (emphasis on “strike”) abusive father/son relationship. I tend to work quickly in the rehearsal process – Kevin works more thoughtfully. I didn’t know that then. The first two weeks of rehearsal I kicked his ass all over the stage. I feared I might kill him if he didn’t start reacting with a bit more alacrity and how was I gonna explain that to his mother.

Not to worry; from the third week of rehearsal through closing night, Kevin’s character grew every night. I was impressed and bit scared for my own well-being. By opening night I discovered in one scene Kevin had ascended the heights of our kitchen and assumed a manic 45 degree angle against the fridge. I was supine on the kitchen table at the time and chaos was eminent.

It was a fine moment.

curse05
It was a fine moment

It was Kevin’s character that had to deal with the nude scene.

As the rehearsals proceeded, it was sometime in week three that it dawned on me that Joe was dealing with the nude scene by simply doing it as written.

Whatta concept!

What made the scene more special was that Kevin had to carry a sheep during it. This was after a first act scene in which he took his sister’s 4-H “How to Butcher a Cow” chart, tossed it on the floor, and pee’d on it. He was an endearing character.

I was envisioning letters to the editor at least, or pitchforks and torches at worst. Didn’t happen. Instead, we played to great reviews and sold-out houses. Go figger.

About six months later, two gentlemen came to see me at work to discuss Liquor Barn’s participation in the United Way. One of the gentlemen noticed a picture on my office wall of one of my shows. He remarked; “My wife and I go to the theatre often. Last year we saw a play where a character actually pissed on the stage!” I gave him my biggest grin, shook his hand, and said; “I played that boy’s father!!”

That was the last I heard from the United Way that year.

But all in all, CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS was a good experience.

  • Big audiences.
  • The building didn’t collapse.
  • I got to work with Cambo the Clown and his “Ya-Ya Juice” (another story for another time).
  • I didn’t have to deal with the sheep.

Baa-a-a-a.

A Checklist for Geezers

Sometimes I question my qualifications as a geezer.

Oh sure.

The hair is white,

Coat & tie is still standard for most days,

Joe Ferrell, Walter Tunis, Joe Gatton, Eric Johnson, Jim Rodgers, Paul Thomas, and Chuck Pogue are all friends of mine.

I haven’t recognized a “Star-Spangled Banner” singer for a decade.

And I can yell “Get offa my lawn” like a banshee.

But sometimes I worry that I’m missing something somewhere.

Then my music mix shuffles to the next selection and by the end of it I realize I’m grinning in complete happiness at Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters’ rendition of “Don’t Fence Me In”.

Punch my ticket. I’m totally validated.

Drinkers of the Wind

Drinkers 01

The answering of the phone

One day in the late summer of 1987 the phone rang at Roger and Janie’s house and the wrong person answered.

It was a time of great changes and great busy-ness.

Janie and I had just gotten married and bought a new house.

The liquor stores which were my business career had just unexpectedly become mega party stores (Liquor Barn) and my primary responsibility.

I had just completed an eighteen month performance schedule of directing one play (BULLSHOT CRUMMOND – Actors’ Guild), singing and acting in two (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC – UK, and MAN OF LA MANCHA – UK), acting in three (THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS and THE EBONY APE – Actors’ Guild, and DEATHTRAP – UK), and singing in one friend’s doctoral recital.

Whine, whine, whine… too much goodness…too much opportunity… woe is me.

But I truly was stretched thin and worn out at that moment.

And then Dr. James Rodgers called and Janie answered.

In 1987 Janie knew there were two phone calls to which my answer was nearly always “yes”; Jim Rodgers and Joe Ferrell. Well, why waste time? Jim wanted me to do a show. She said; “Of course, Jim, whatever you want.”

“Of course.”

Oh-h-h man!!

Well there’s no lettin’ Jim down once you’ve promised. I was now a member of the cast of DRINKERS OF THE WIND.

Jim wrote DRINKERS. It was a celebration of the horse, a compilation of poetry, songs, stories, and chants by Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein, Saki, Steinbeck, Greek legend…and Doc Rodgers himself. Jim wrote the piece! Another reason why ya don’t let him down. It’s his baby!

Yes, it was a celebration of the horse, but in one scene I had to play a goose. Go cypher on that for a while.

I hated that goose.

At least I wasn’t alone. Jim had recruited a stellar cast; actors that I admired and was challenged by; Billy Breed, Martha Campbell, Trish Clark, Russell Henderson, and Eric Johnson. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone in the cast was experiencing personal pressures of their own. It led to a grumpy group meeting each night in the face of Doc Rodgers’ sunny instructions. Despite that, progress was made.

BUT…there was the challenge of Helen Hayes looming.

Helen Hayes

UK’s College of Fine Arts wanted to enhance their visibility. To do so, they scheduled a “Gala”. It was held in the Singletary Building and featured performances by various disciplines of the College capped by an appearance by the legendary Helen Hayes. It was a big deal and the night of the Gala the Singletary was packed and the crowd was decked out to the nines and all a’twitter.

Jim had committed our cast to provide a scene for the Gala and not just any scene. The most difficult scene in the show was a retelling of the legend of Bellarion and Pegasus. It was long, it was complex, and it included Billy Breed as Pegasus dancing to the words – words, mind you, not music. Any misplaced or mis-stressed syllable would pretty well leave Billy hangin’ high and dry.

Ah-h-h, no pressure there. It was a week before our opening night and instead of having a useful working rehearsal, we were doing our hardest scene in front of 1000+ people and Helen Hayes.

I remember, before the show that night, looking around the small dressing room in which we were all crowded and thinkin’; “Well, at least we’re rockin’ these tuxes.” You seek solace where you can.

In that dressing room we decided to run the lines for the scene one…more…time. As we did, I noticed Billy over in the corner marking his choreography with tiny moves as we recited. I’m not namin’ names, but one us skipped a line.

Silence ensued.

Soul-crushing silence ensued.

A silence of the damned ensued.

We immediately looked at Billy and he had acquired the hue of Casper the friendly ghost…with a facial expression that was far from friendly.

We were called to the stage.

We were introduced individually. Little Martha Campbell was first. When her name was announced, she marched martially and grimly to her place, fists clenched. She picked up her chair, ate it, and spit the splinters into the lights. She gave the audience a look that said; “I got yer Helen Hayes right here.”

I dunno…

It gave me a kind of perverse courage.

We did the scene.

Billy lived to tell the tale……and later move to Oregon, about as far away from UK as you can go.

Whatever.

We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in front of Helen Hayes (though I don’t believe she bought season tickets).

Now, we only had to do the show.

Opening night

A week later we opened. After the Gala we worked diligently, confident in the knowledge that our loved ones would still love us (as long as we didn’t press the matter) and that we probably wouldn’t derail the performing career of Billy (as long as we destroyed the evidence). Plus, we were still rockin’ those tuxes.

Then Jim dropped a little bombshell.

It seemed there was something called “The Dean’s Circle”. This was a group of donors to the College of Fine Arts. One of the perks of being in The Dean’s Circle was having a Q&A with the cast after Theatre Department production opening nights. The cast of DRINKERS did not see it as a “perk”.

Whine, whine, whine, whine.

I mean, if anyone from the audience asked me about my motivations while playing that damned goose…well, the College of Fine Arts was probably gonna be lookin’ for a few new donors.

We did the show.

We peeled off our tuxes…slowly.

We trudged upstairs to face Judgement.

It was a love fest.

There were no questions. It was a contest between audience members to extol their favorite scenes from the show. They liked everything and everybody……except for the goose.

The grumpy cast members looked at each other. The shame in each other’s eyes was palpable.

The rest of the run featured an enthusiasm fueled by “make up for”.

It was great.

But (sigh) …it wasn’t over.

The National Tour

Jim reassembled the cast and reconstituted the show that early spring (you cannot say “no” to this man!). He had booked us in colleges and junior colleges in Eastern Kentucky for the week of UK’s spring break.

For three days the cast (sans Jim who had developed a convenient cold/flu-like symptoms/plague/pneumonia/hangnail) loaded our stools, boom box, and tuxes into a van and charged out to the exotics of Cumberland, Betsy Layne, Somerset, Hogwarts, Riverdale, etc. Eric was driving – a poor choice. The redbuds were blooming – an excellent choice.

We arrived at one venue (which will remain nameless) after driving on a mountain trail on which I swear I saw while peering down the rider’s side of the hill, Gandalf crying “Fly, you fools!”, and then through the back of a bedroom closet through Narnia, and then through the rabbit hole, and then down the yellow brick road. I’m sure there was probably a more direct route but, as I said, Eric was driving.

We were scheduled for two performances at this stop. We set our stage (six stools) and our technology (one boom box), donned our tuxes (still and always stylin’) and waited in place to be introduced. I was in the wings stage left and could clearly see Trish in the wings stage right.

A small matronly lady marched to center stage and said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

That’s when I knew I was in the presence of a mensch.

I confess to being impressed and more than little intimidated.

Then she said; “These people have come all the way from Lexington.”

And walked off the stage.

I looked across the stage at Trish and she gave me a wide-eyed shrug that announced; “We’re on our way, Buster!”

And we were.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and pulled ourselves together for our second show. I will admit that there were some unkind aspersions made in respect to Jim Rodgers’ health. Something to the effect of “If he thinks he’s sick now, wait till I get a’hold of him!” But it was all in good fun……right?

I was stage left.

Trish was stage right.

The mensch marched.

And said; “Y’all settle down now, y’hear?”

And they did.

Then she said; “Yer ‘bout to see some real good actin’.”

And left the stage.

I looked across at Trish and she gave me a wider-eyed two-thumbs-up that announced; “We’re stars, Buster!!”

And we were.

I’m proud of that show.

I’m happy for the time I spent with my friends…yes, even Jim.

And that one sentence from the mensch might be the review in my life I’m most proud of.

Be that as it may, I try to answer the phone at home before Janie whenever I can…and I still hate that goose.

Absolutely!

I’m not much on absolutes – haven’t had much luck with ‘em.

I’m not sayin’ there aren’t any – but there’s certainly not many, and most of the ones I uncover seem to be negative.

There’s death and taxes…and of course, my dancing abilities. I think we can all stipulate to the absolute awfulness of those.

But practically speaking, it’s real hard to find principles that work every time in every situation.

That said, I have one modest, but useful absolute to offer that has never failed……thus far.

ANIHILATION PREVENTION STRATEGY (APS, if you must)

There are four steps;

  1. Identify and locate all things nearby that tend to explode and/or burst into flame.
  2. Don’t stand next to them.
  3. When implementing #1, err on the side of instant assumptions, right or wrong.
  4. When implementing #2, err on the side of alacrity and distance, right or wrong.

I know this sounds like a solid recipe for a dull and unadventurous life, but the key word here is “life”.

This has always worked for me……thus far.

By the way, it also works for emotionally combustible people.

Shriek of the Mutilated Musings

Movie night! Because…Tropical Storm Cindy?

What’s up with that?

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is tonight’s delicacy. It’s so very bad and so very strange. In the extensive catalogue of “Yeti” movies, has any film been good? This critter seriously needs a better agent.

The best thing about the film is the title.

Which sets me to thinkin’.

I can think of about a dozen or more movies that totally waste intriguing titles on totally less-than-intriguing flicks. Here’s a few;

  • THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN immediately comes to mind (ouch!). This beauty actually had two titles, the other being; MADMEN OF MANDRAGORAS……I jes’ don’t know. Frankly, they coulda given it twenty titles and it wouldn’t have improved things a jot.
  • CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. This is a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wanna-be. Unfortunately, it’s not as interesting as NOTLD, though it does have the advantage of being shot in Miami instead of Pittsburgh.
  • THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a brutal giallo that actually is pretty interesting and features a brief but fascinating performance by Valentina Cortese.
  • KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. Clowns, aliens, circus tent rocket ships, demonic ice cream trucks…what’s not to like……or……what’s to like?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting you rush out to see these films, but aren’t those great titles? Besides, you don’t have to watch ‘em. I already have. Ew-w-w-w.