Just Act the Hell Out of It

In the theatre, I have been blessed to work with inspiring directors. Many of them seemed to enter and re-enter my life at times when they could fulfill dual roles; stage director and off-stage mentor. Just as I could not have become the on-stage kings, fools, lawyers, doctors, and errant knights required, so I could not have become the geezer I am today (for better or worse) without their genuine care and, at times, curious advice.

Perhaps preeminent among them, if for no other reason than my bewildered youth at the time, was Charles Dickens.

That was his real name.

Charles was my advisor at UK. On Tuesday, during the “advising” session required before classes began on Monday, Charles filled out my roster of classes (my input was restricted to an awed and tiny “ok”), and informed me that my part-time job at the public library wouldn’t impede my freshman theatre activities since they didn’t cast freshmen anyway…but that I should attend and participate in the Sunday auditions of the season’s opening show (which he was directing) for the experience.

I responded; “ok”.

Monday morning, at 9:00, I attended my first college class (Physics: 101 – we learned to bend water with a comb) and was cast in my first show (“Playboy of the Western World”). I was slack-jawed at my Physics classmates (“Is that real water?”), and dazzled by my sometimes shabby but always quick cast mates in rehearsal. My path was clear.

That was in the fall of 1969.

In the spring, Charles cast me in his elaborate production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”. By then, I was a complete “gym rat” in the theatre. Every day began and ended in the Fine Arts Building; the Guignol Theatre, the Laboratory Theatre (now the Briggs), the Green Room, the Scene Shop, the Costume Shop…even an occasional classroom. I lurked in every rehearsal I could find.

During “Measure”, Charles was deep into his Peter-Brook-THE-EMPTY-SPACE period. I may have learned half of what I know about the theatre listening to him coach actors in these rehearsals. One night, Bill Hayes, a nice actor and UK alumnus brought in by Charles to play “Angelo”, paused rehearsal to question the meaning of the line; “Let’s write ‘good angel’ on the Devil’s horn, tis not the Devil’s crest.” Charles sprang to the stage and took Bill’s script and they pondered…and pondered… Finally Charles handed the script back to Bill with the profound instruction; “Just act the hell out of it.”

Just act the hell out of it?

I had fallen in love with Shakespeare with “Measure for Measure”.

I knew what that line meant!

I could say that line!!

I could change people’s lives with that line!!!

I swore if I ever got the chance…

Well, of course, having sworn, I did, 23 years later.

In 1993, the uber-smart Ave Lawyer cast me as “Angelo” in her production of “Measure”. This production featured a remarkable cast; Eric Johnson, Sidney Shaw, Holly Hazelwood Brady, Laurie Genet Preston, Jeff Sherr, Joe Gatton, Glenn Thompson, Donna Ison, Karen Czarnecki, Spencer Christiansen… WOW!

I had my chance.

I said my line.

I acted the hell out of it.

I got up the next day and went to my day job.

Hoops and High Notes

I have listened to or watched University of Kentucky basketball ever since eventual mayor of Lexington Scotty Baesler was the “sixth man” on an early 60’s Adolph Rupp-coached team. My mom and dad and I would sit around our yellow linoleum-topped kitchen table in North Lexington listening to the radio broadcast. Mom would keep score on the pad of paper we used when people came over to play cards, and dad would cuss and slap the table. I kept score in my head and memorized my dad’s vocabulary for later practice when I was alone in bed.

It was a real good time.

Cotton Nash was a god to me until Dan Issel came along. Mr. Issel was a god to me until Jack Givens came along. Then Kenny Walker. Then the Unforgettables. Then Jamal Mashburn. Then Antoine Walker. Then John Wall. Then Anthony Davis. Then……Wenyen Gabriel?

Fifty-plus years of watching the same dribbling, running, screening, and shooting on the same hardwood floors — why?

Why keep watching?

Because of Wenyen Gabriel.

Because, at any moment, a young person could have a transcendent moment in their life and by watching, you could be a vicarious participant in that moment.

Especially now, with daily political news being so unrelentingly grim and disgusting, I feel a renewed resurgence of hope and possibility for fixing things. To see a young person succeed beyond the expectations of today’s alarm clock, to see them rejoice in that unexpected success, to see them exult in simply being young and capable, is enough to keep me progressing, persisting, and resisting.

It’s just a game.

I know that.

The meanings I impose on that game are mine – perhaps the foolish dreams of an unrepentant hippie of the 70’s. I would not want my priorities to intrude on today’s young people, but I will gladly accept the inspirational intrusions of today’s young people on my priorities.

That said…

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 10, at the Singletary Center there will be a gathering of 26 singers from around the world competing for scholarships to be part of the nationally-admired University of Kentucky Opera Program. This will be the next wave of remarkable performers to shape Lexington’s vocal music experience. These will be the singers we will hear throughout Central Kentucky in our churches, and schools, and public concerts, and operas, and musicals, and recitals, and national anthem renditions, during the next few years until they mature and grace the planet with their talent.

It will be a magical day, a day of hope and inspiration, a day every bit as startling as Wenyen Gabriel’s 7-for-7 from 3-point range.

It will be a real good time.

Alaska Daydreaming?

Some ponderings on a snow-threatened evening in Lexington…

I recently passed my two-year anniversary of my time with the Canadian-owned Liquor Barn. It has since returned to being a Kentucky-owned business.

The anniversary prompts me to meditate.

My last two years with the very large group that owned Liquor Barn involved a lot of travel. It probably wasn’t that much travel compared to other hardy folks, but to this fixed-foot Lexingtonian, it was too much travel. Boston, Mobile, Tampa, Montana, Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, Washington…and Alaska required visits. These are all places that have interest for me, but for a business trip…meh.

I hated the travel. For those who know me you know I use the word “hated” rarely and deliberately. The air travel that was a delight in the 60-70’s has decayed from delight to ordeal. Hotels are amazing…but not my home. They try to substitute free breakfast, daily clean linens, and tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, for my wife, my critters, and my trusty roster of pizza delivery partners. LOUD BUZZER; thank you for playing.

Given that, I generally enjoyed my times in Alaska. There were things that stirred me to think;

  • Alaska’s young. They just recently celebrated their 100th We have neighborhoods in Lexington twice that age. There are whole periods of architecture not present in Alaska because of that youth. To quote one of my favorite songwriters; “It feels like something’s bein’ born.” There were no buildings in Anchorage that didn’t scream; “We think this is the way to be, but check with us tomorrow, we may change our mind.”
  • Anchorage is often suffused by an “end-of-the-continent Western light.” I’m paraphrasing Jack Kerouac’s description of a late 1940’s San Francisco. When this happened in Anchorage, I felt like I was walking in a nickel postcard from the 1950’s, a fantasy ideal, again quoting Kerouac; “What will happen! Hey!!”
  • Alaska is young but it lives in the shadow of instant destruction every day. Earthquakes and tsunamis…we don’t let those things affect our days in Kentucky.
  • The color pallet of Alaska seems to only include 12-14 shades of green, not the 1,248 we have in Kentucky. That’s a serious problem for me.
  • High humidity lingers for 15 minutes in Anchorage, not the four generations we occasionally live through in the Bluegrass State.
  • The distances that are part of Alaskans’ lives dwarf ours. No, they double dwarf ours. Their state capitol is a 750-mile flight over water away from their home, not a twenty-minute drive from my house. On clear days, Anchorage citizens can see Mt. Denali. That’s the equivalent of me walking out on my front porch and seeing Indianapolis. Damn!
  • Their mountains are towering, jagged, snow-covered, around the corner, and intimidating as hell. Ours are round, green, womb-like, enveloping, and seductively on the horizon.
  • Their nights are sharp and invigorating, challenging us to plunge ahead into the night’s adventures. Ours are soft, narcotic (thank you, Tom Waits), and contemplative, inviting us to go for a stroll.

All that being said, let me be clear; I enjoyed being in Alaska, not going to Alaska. It was a lo-o-o-ng journey for this geezer.

Casting the Runes

We live in a golden age of things to watch.

There’s the addictive Trump Reality Show broadcast 24/7/365 by CNN, MNBC, and Faux News.

HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. are producing their own wonders.

The Oscars might have suffered a decrease in viewers, but THE SHAPE OF WATER deserved every good thing that has come its way. When Sally Hawkins offered that egg to her new amphibian friend I was filled with wonder and trepidation.

That being so, why spend time on 40-50 year-old film adaptations of 100 year-old ghost stories?

Perhaps, because at times they also fill me with wonder and trepidation.

The ghost stories of M. R. James are erudite, they are a luxurious read, and if read thoughtfully, they are scary as hell.

Page-turners? No.

Sleep disturbers? Oh-h-h-h, yeah.

Two of his stories; “O’ Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “Casting the Runes” are not only effective as stories but seem particularly useful for film treatment.

The multiple times I’ve watched the 1968 BBC Omnibus production of “O’ Whistle” featuring a remarkable performance by Michael Hordern (mumbling, insular, soaked in intellectual hubris), unseat my ease every time.

Jacques Tourneur directed CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) based on James’ “Casting the Runes”. I am unabashedly of the legions of film fanatics that revere Tourneur’s work with producer Val Lewton; CAT PEOPLE, THE LEOPARD MAN, and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

<<  Let’s take a quick time-out here. I hear the snickering over I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. You could not be more wrong. It’s a voodoo rendering of JANE EYRE and totally mesmerizing to watch…though, admittedly the appearance of Sir Lancelot, a calypso troubadour is a head-scratcher.  >>

Tourneur’s treatment of James’ story is not faithful, but who cares? Dana Andrews captures our interest and sympathy. We tag along breathlessly as he un-puzzles the situation. Niall MacGinnis is charmingly and gleefully evil. I would considered it a life well-lived if I never met the man. Séances, mysterious storms, hypnotism, curses on parchment, trains, planes, and automobiles in Britain – what’s not to like?

Thanks to my receiving another box of delights today from my friends at Sinister Cinema, tonight I watched a 1979 British TV production of “Casting the Runes” featuring Iain Cuthbertson and Jan Francis. Once again the adaptation is loose, but once again, who cares? The premise is plausible, the threat is real, the mechanisms are eminently difficult but doable…and the outcome is troubling. I’d call that; “mission accomplished”.

As loose as these adaptations are and as gifted as the adapters are, I can’t help thinking if the original story had not been so very fine…

Perhaps one more mosey through the M. R. James canon might be in order.

All the President’s Men

Notes on a re-screening (#9, I believe) of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

Rotary phones, paper slips at the Library of Congress, typewriters, walkies-talkies, real taxis with lights on the roof, phone booths and phone books, Rolodexes, legal pads, smoking in an elevator…these give such texture to a story untamed by 21st century whitewashing filters.

I enjoyed THE POST, but it’s not ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

The journalism depicted in ATPM is sharper, harder earned, elbows are pointier, and the stakes are higher. That resonates with me these days.

Jane Alexander’s anguish is palpable. It also resonates with me these days.

There is hope expressed;

“The truth is these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand.” –Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat.

After a day of Sam Nunberg, this is what hope sounds like.

A Close Encounter Revisited

Movie Night!

We cling to and cherish what constants we can find in our lives.

Well…..maybe not death and taxes…but most of ‘em.

For example, these are some of the verities upon which I depend;

  • Melinda Dillon will forever be Ralphie’s mom, possessor of all wisdom concerning the ocular hazards of Red Ryder BB guns.
  • Richard Dreyfus will forever haunt the drive-in restaurant and eat popsicles with Wolfman Jack and just miss appointments with Suzanne Somers.
  • Francois Truffault will forever make films about making films with Jacqueline Bissett and the exquisite Valentina Cortese in the totally sunny South of France.
  • Terri Garr will forever be Buck Henry’s befuddled date in the Steve Martin comedy short; THE WAITER.

I sleep better knowing these things are forever true.


Everything I thought I knew about these people…forget it.

Plus, there are visitors from outer space pickin’ up hitchhikers.

Double plus, I can hum the alien theme song.

I love it.

“Sometimes you do…”

I was lucky enough to work on the stage version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for about eight weeks one summer. There were so many moments of inspiration in the text it would have been easy to slip into the creative trap Peter Brook refers to as “holy theatre”. Fortunately, we had a fiercely intelligent director that kept us out of danger.

Of all those inspirational moments, I think my favorite was Atticus’ explanation of courage;

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Sometimes you do…

That phrase has gotten me through a few difficult decisions.

It seems useful to turn to it again just now.

Thank you, Ms. Lee.

The Voice of the Turtle

Well before there was Opus and Bloom County, Michael Doonesbury and Walden Puddle, Calvin and Hobbes in their spaceship box, and Alice on her manhole cover in Cul-de-Sac, there was a swamp in Georgia inhabited by Pogo Possum and his friends. The swamp was furnished with tree-stump homes with never-locked doors, flat-bottom boats with ever-changing names, fallen log pillows always near to hand, and endless time for big dreams, small-minded schemes, and more than occasional, if accidental, wisdom.

Walt Kelly was the creator of this world. He is a hero to me.

When I feel caught in a maelstrom of conflicting, negative news (all too often in these days of the 24/7/365 news cycle) I find it useful to dig out my old Pogo collections, drift into the lagoons of Okefenokee Swamp and jettison my final consonants. I drop in on Pogo’s home to see what he might have in the larder for lunch; whether he’s home or not – don’ matter – door don’ have a lock an’ he don’ mind.

With any kind of luck at all I’ll avoid crossin’ paths with Wiley Catt, or Mole, Deacon Rat, or Sarcophagus MacAbre the funereal buzzard; who needs that negativity? I’ll delight if I happen to run across Freemount Bug and receive his universal assurance that everything is “Jes fine.”

And then there’s that giddily chirping turtle in his pirate hat; Churchy LaFemme. Churchy’s lament from the 1950’s resonates with my own reactions to the news reports from the last few weeks.

“…I is doin’ my duty as a citizen…night an’ day! Lyin’ awake worryin’ at night – afeared to sleep in case I gits blowed up in my bed an’ never knows! An’ all day – scannin’ the sky – not knowin’ when…wonderin’ whether to wear pajamas that night so’s to be found decent – wonderin’ whether to take a bath…whether to pack a light lunch.”

I know the feelin’.

It’s reassuring to me to know we fretted about the viability of our world 60 years ago – that we didn’t invent the urgency we currently feel – that it all might be solvable and survivable.

That light lunch sounds good too.

Tommy Hale – The Hawk

How do we just…lose people?

I’ve just learned tonight of the death of a high school friend, Thomas Hale.

Tommy was bright. Tommy was verbal and cheerful.

He knew more than I did about music in general and jazz in particular. By that, I mean he didn’t just love the music, but he knew why he loved it and he could share that knowledge.

Tommy DJ’d a Sunday afternoon jazz program on WLAP-FM.

This was in the late 60’s. At that time, FM radio was an afterthought. Most of the radios in the market didn’t even have FM reception and the owners of those that did were mostly uninterested. FM was where I went to hear Ben Story’s late Saturday night folk music broadcast (where I discovered Judy Henske, Phil Ochs, Patrick Sky, and the Limeliters – look ‘em up, — you can thank me later), or classical music and opera, or rhythm and blues (Gladys Knight, Ike Turner, Hank Ballard, and Carmen McRae – look ‘em up), and jazz…yes, indeed…jazz.

WLAP-FM’s format (this was before we knew what “format” was) was targeted to the African-American population of Lexington…enthusiastically so. I believe, at one time, it was rated #1 by Ebony Magazine.

It was trés cool.

<< “Well hello to you and salutation from the West Georgetown Street Blooooooz Association. Sink or swim, you’re in with them; WLAP…FM” >>

Totally exotic.

All the DJ’s had on-air nom-de-plumes. “Little Bee” assured that he was about to “put a little hep in your step, glide in your stride, and gut in your strut.” I was in my teens and needed every bit of that I could garner.

Tommy was “The Hawk”.

His Sunday program didn’t feature too many vocalists and it wasn’t “easy to dance to”. He tried to keep it lively but he was passionate about the music and he could tell you why.

A couple of Sundays he invited me to join him at the station for his show. I sat in the back, a goodly distance from the live mikes, and watched and listened. Tommy had to be his own engineer. He juggled tapes and lp’s and a myriad of dials and switches to deliver a seamless (to my worldly 16 year old ears) program of Brubeck, Tommy Hale, Miles, Tommy Hale, Prez, Tommy Hale, and Coltrane…and the Hawk.

Some of it all…

…not enough…

…but some…


To this day, I hear this music and recognize it and thrill to it instantly. But I can’t always tell you why.

Tommy could.

Tommy and I graduated from Bryan Station and went our separate ways. I have not seen him since.

And now he’s gone.

He gave me a treasure, a soundtrack for most of my life.

How do we just…lose people?

‘s not right.

Curling Collectibles

I collected baseball cards when I was a kid. Some of them were sacrificed early (Donn Clendenon, Marv Throneberry…) and attached to the spokes of my bike to change my whirring wheels to WHIR-R-R-R-RING wheels. But others were precious; Pete Rose’s rookie card, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn, Fritz Brickell…treasures all.



Which curling cards would be the gems?

Well…this tyro would be seeking the cards of Nina Roth (US Ladies’ icy assassin), Switzerland’s Benoit Schwartz, John Schuster and Tyler George (the passion and the skill of the US Men), and the sultry Russian, Anastasia Bryzgalova (because…well…damn).


AND the entire South Korean Ladies squad. They gave themselves English marketing names based on what they had for breakfast. Ya gotta root for a team with players named; Pancake, Sunny, Steak, and Annie (a brand of yogurt).

Curling…cool…before cool was cool.