Curse of the Starving Class

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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.

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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.

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