A Geezer Remembers; Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic

I subscribed to Actors Theatre of Louisville for about 24 years. I love this theatre and have enjoyed a number of transcendent evenings over the years. Susan Kingsley and Ken Jenkins in “Childe Byron” was magical. Likewise, “Tobacco Road”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Sea Gull”, were wonderful, and their production of “The Tempest” was the best I’ve ever seen. Oh sure, there were some head-scratchers along the way (“King Lear” in burkas plumb evaded me), but overwhelmingly most of the shows were inspiring and entertaining.

So…why did we stop subscribing?

I was working almost every Saturday then. The only performance we could count on attending was the nine o’clock curtain on Saturday nights. I would get away from work about five, we would drive to Louisville, have dinner at the Bristol, make the curtain at nine, get out of the theatre about midnight, and drive home.

Ah, there’s the rub.

That late night drive home was becoming increasingly burdensome. Janie and I began to question how much pleasure we were getting out of our Louisville theatre habit. We debated it for a couple of years. Then there were two productions that last subscription season that finally convinced us to drop the commitment.

The first production was actually quite well done. It was a gospel concert nominally disguised as theatre. Now, I can enjoy gospel music (or bluegrass, or German lieder) for about fifteen minutes just as well as the next guy, but this was two hours and forty-five minutes more gospel music than the Geneva Conventions probably allow. That night’s drive home was glazed in bitterness and that’s the gospel truth.

The other show…

(…shudder, squint, tears begin to flow…)

The other show…

The other show was titled “Beyond Infinity”. It was part of the Humana New Play Festival.

The play consisted of three intertwined (sorta) stories set in the same desert at three different times in history.

One story was of an ill-fated wagon train. Bleak. I found myself expecting Ward Bond to come out wailing “Bring out your dead!” (100 trivia points for identifying the reference.)

The second story was told in a sporadic monologue in monotone by one of ATL’s regular actors whose name eludes me at the moment. He was a gaunt, Sam-Waterston-Abe-Lincoln-Harry-Dean-Stanton-looking fella. For this show he was dressed like Tonto. Whenever the show’s innate hilarity moaned towards out-of-control, the lights would come up on Tonto. He would gaze at a spot about ten feet over my head (looking for what?…inspiration?…his light?…his lines?) and drone. I caught occasional words (kemo sabe, walla wah walla walla walla wah, bibbity bobbity boo) but we were never EVER in the same time zone as a coherent thought.

The third story…

Ah YES-S-S, the third story…

The third story involved J. Robert Oppenheimer and his merry pranksters in the desert working on the atomic bomb. At one stretch in the second act (of twelve, I’m sure), Oppenheimer is standing in the desert night, holding a smallish volume of the Bhagavad Gita (you can’t make this up!). His assistant is standing next to him. For ten minutes he reads aloud, translating on the fly, from his book by the light of his assistant’s Bic lighter…YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!

At this moment Janie, who had shed her shoes and was curled up in her seat in the fetal position, tugged on my sleeve, leaned near and whispered “there are 87 lights up there.” Why not count the lights? What else was there to do?

It ended…as all things eventually must (except baseball games).

Now, one of the obligatory rituals involved with attending shows in Louisville is the pre-drive-home bathroom visit. Well, I’m there, at the urinal, “inflagrante delicto” as it were, when the bathroom door is banged open by a three-piece-suit type who angrily declared to the room; “Well I have been to the desert on a horse with no name!”

I just about missed the urinal.

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