Monthly Archives: April 2018

North Lime and the Christians

I have just finished a totally lovely experience performing Lucas Hnath’s The Christians for AthensWest Theatre. The script was fine, the direction astute and focused, the cast alert and wicked smart, and the choir on fire.

I could (and may…just a warning) write a daily description of the happy discoveries of our rehearsal process, but for the general purposes of this blog, let me simply describe the windows of our rehearsal space.

We rehearsed in the cafeteria of Sayre School, a room named “The Buttery”. Every evening we would rearrange the munchkin-scaled tables and chairs to create a space in which we could imagine ourselves in the epicenter of a mega-church. I say “we” but the overwhelming bulk of this furniture-moving was done by our stage manager and assistant stage manager (Paige Adams and Ben Otten) – champions……CHAMPIONS!

For me, the arresting parts of this rehearsal space were the huge windows overlooking the 200 block of North Limestone.

I strived to stay immersed in the religious crucible of The Christians, but I kept being pulled into another Lexington.

  • I recalled that Limestone was originally named Mulberry Street. It was the major artery carrying travelers from Lexington to Maysville, a key transportation leg before the Falls of the Ohio were made manageable.
  • It was a major lane of vice during Prohibition. To paraphrase an account of the time; “Prohibition became so bad in Lexington that a thirsty man had to sometimes walk a block to get a drink on Mulberry Street.”
  • In the 60’s and 70’s, it was a mecca for used books and comics. Dennis’s Bookstore and Whittington’s Books were there……what’s so important ‘bout dat?
  • Dennis was reportedly diagnosed with a terminal illness in the late 40’s. He was still going strong in the 60’s. That’s the kind of terminal diagnosis I want.
  • When Mr. Dennis learned from my mom that I loved mysteries (keep in mind, I was not yet a teenager), he gave her about twenty Agatha Christie paperbacks that weren’t selling well. I proceeded to fall under the spell of Hercules Poirot.
  • One blessed afternoon, I picked up a pile of Marvel comics at Dennis’s, including Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of Thor, the Mighty. You coulda just killed me then.
  • I recalled how many late night “Nighthawk Specials” were devoured at Columbia’s Steakhouse waiting for the delivery of the Lexington Herald to the newsstand just outside the restaurant with the opening night reviews of whatever local stage production we were involved with?
  • I recalled countless lunch breaks from my high school job at the library (now the Carnegie Center) truckin’ down for a $1.89 lunch special at Brandy’s Kitchen.
  • I recalled seeing a Lexington Repertory Theatre production of The Wager featuring an impossibly young Joe Gatton in a space that now is a fountain. Joe was good enough to remember – who could ask for anything more?

In my glass-enclosed time bubble at rehearsal, it was peacefully, blissfully, difficult to remain attentive to the job at hand.

Thank you, AthensWest, for that happy challenge.

A Runner Stumbles to 1977

I had a time-warp moment last Sunday.

After our matinée performance of Lucas Hnath’s The Christians at AthensWest Theatre, there was a talk-back session with members of the audience. Talk-back sessions are not a thrill for me. They’re usually sparsely attended and fairly short, with a few timid questions and typically one unpredictable pompous answer that serves to evaporate any remaining questions, comments, or conversation.

But this show is atypical.

The innate civility of the script seems to invite participation. Several dozen audience members have been lingering each night. People are moved and want to share…emphasis on “share”. They have been challenged to listen and think and explore without judgement or solution. They have not been challenged to either change or be considered deficient. There are no instant triggers to defend feelings or questions or beliefs. Curiosity and civility seem to be in ascendance. Pomposity has left the building.

After Sunday’s talk-back concluded, a lady approached me and said; “You probably don’t remember me…”

She was wrong.

Seeing her took me back 31 years.

I play a pastor in The Christians. The last time I played a religious leader was in 1977 at Studio Players. I played an erring priest in The Runner Stumbles. My Sunday questioner was my director. How cool is that?

Runner Stumbles 06
The Runner Stumbles (1977)

However, rolling my mind back to 1977 and that show reminded me that I first met two great friends and actors in that production; Gene Arkle and Paul Thomas.

At the first company meeting of The Runner Stumbles, we were polled by our director to give our first impressions of the script. The gentleman to my right replied that the script reminded him of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. He went on to elaborate, but he had lost me at Mahler. To me at that time, “Mahler” was just a clever rhyme in the song “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s Company. I recall my impatience by the irrelevance of his remarks and being more than a little intimidated. The gentleman was Gene Arkle. My impatience was quickly unveiled as the young know-it-all’s folly it was. Gene and I went on to do a bunch of plays together (some of them were pretty good), and because of Gene, I delved into the symphonies of Mr. Mahler (ALL of them were pretty good – go figure).

During the first blocking rehearsal of Runner, I was sitting in a scene awaiting my church superior, played by an actor I had never met; Paul Thomas. He entered and intoned; “Father Rivard, it has come to our attention…” That’s as far as he got. My guffaw brought him to a halt.

I said he “intoned.”

Actually it was more of a cross between Gabby Hayes and a soupçon of Ethel Merman, with maybe a smidgen of dentist’s drill thrown in.

I truly thought it was a rehearsal gag. I was ashamed when I was discovered my error and have spent the ensuing 31 years trying to make it up to my gifted friend. Paul and I have performed together about two dozen times and I was his best man when he and Lisa wed.

All of this flooded my mind when my Sunday lady prompted; “You probably don’t remember me…”

How wrong can a person be?

Moments of origin can’t be forgotten…certainly not by actors. We remember the people, the time, the place, the temperature, the wind direction, the smell, the sound. We dredge those moments from the past and use them to create today and hope always to launch new moments of origin…that won’t be forgotten.

It’s a powerful reason to get up in the morning…

Marilyn Moosnick…Firecracker!

One of the blessings of having been around the arts of a small city for a long, long time is the surplus of memories that every moment evokes.

One of the curses of having been around the arts of a small city for a long, long time is the surplus of memories…

The other night before the start of AthensWest’s production The Christians, during a period of “quality green room time” (thank you, Paul Thomas for that concept) in the men’s dressing room, a few old Lexington theatre stories were spinning. Marilyn Moosnick was mentioned.

I’ve written before of Marilyn and the affectionate place she fills in my mind and heart (see “I Killed Peter Pan” in this blog).

Summertree 11
One o’ them Moosnicks (Greg) on the right

In college at UK, I acted with her sons in two plays; Summertree and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. She and her husband Franklin would pick the boys up after rehearsals and we would occasionally chat a bit. I perceived the pride she felt in her boys and the high standards to which they were held. They were standards for creativity…way more than standards for behavior. She expected her boys to respond with imagination, respect their elders, and respond with imagination…in that order. Oh…and learn their lines.

Marilyn had the gift of total attention.

When she turned to listen to you, the world was depopulated except for you. What you had to say might possibly change the world…or her opinion on the matter at hand, which was pretty much the same thing to me. It was daunting. It made you think…and think again before you blurted. Talking to Marilyn was playing with live ammunition.

That said, Marilyn was fey.

The stories of impetuousness are telling.

Her son Greg tells of a night at Studio Players. Marilyn and Franklin had been dating, but there as yet were no commitments. Marilyn was in the show and Franklin attended…with a date. As Franklin and his escort were exiting the performance, an errant jar of cold cream sailed from the second floor window of the theatre and shattered on the walkway, rendering the walkway hazardous and Franklin’s interest in his friend even more so.

Decades later, Marilyn and I served on a committee to raise funds to refurbish the Guignol Theatre. Marilyn volunteered to solicit Harry Dean Stanton – they had dated (once) when both were Theatre Department undergraduates in the fifties. She later related to the committee her phone conversation with Stanton. Harry reportedly said; “Marilyn, honey, you sound like a real firecracker, and I’m sure we had a real good time…but I’m broke.”

She encouraged me. She scolded me. She encouraged me. She listened to me. She encouraged me.

She did the same for Lexington…in that order.

She was a firecracker.

I miss her.

Two Sharp Knives

Movie night!

Tonight’s opus gruesome is TWO SHARP KNIVES.

This is a 1950’s made-for-TV dramatization of a story by Dashiell Hammett.

Aha!

That’s why I watched it. How bad could something written by the author of THE THIN MAN and THE MALTESE FALCON be?

Well…

It was part of the Westinghouse Studio series. Westinghouse’s slogan at the time was; “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse”.

Sure of what?

You certainly couldn’t be sure of a quality piece of entertainment.

No.

No sir.

However there were points of interest;

  • A very young Abe Vigoda plays a very young cop. I’m stunned that such a thing was possible as a very young Abe Vigoda.
  • The commercials for Westinghouse washers and dryers feature a Westinghouse store owner inviting you to bring your dirty clothes to his store for a free demonstration. Now there’s a gig.

I came away thinking (to paraphrase George Kaufman); Westinghouse should close the studio and keep the store open late at night.

I watched this…so you don’t have to…you can owe me.

Dinner With Nick and Nora

Movie Night!

Didja ever play the mental game of planning the guest list for an ideal imaginary dinner party? I do it all the time. Most of the time I include Nick and Nora Charles from THE THIN MAN.

If Nick and Nora are among your guests, you’ll feel secure in the success of your dinner party as long as the bar is amply provisioned and a stylish cocktail shaker is at hand. You know there’ll be no awkward gaps in the table chatter and there could quite possibly be some fascinating party crashers named “Rainbow” Benny, “Face” Morgan, or “Spider” Webb.

Warning: there could also be gunplay.

Throw in some weepy drunks, a befuddled police detective or two, a crooked bookkeeper, a murderous jockey, an inscrutable Asian, a socialite grande dame with sleepy siblings, a bitter rejected lover, a gardener with or without his mustache, and you’ve got a shindig that Anita Madden would covet.

I would even let them bring their dog. Our Chloe would totally ramble through the house with their Asta. The pups could swap tips on expanding their respective household dominance which is already near total.

I could pretty well watch “Thin Man” movies forever.

Another Hamilton?

Neil Hamilton…Whatta Career!

Let me pose a question for all my geezer theatre friends. If I offered you an acting career that included roles;

  • As Beau Gest’s brother
  • As Nick Caraway in THE GREAT GATSBY
  • In two Fu Manchu films
  • And two Tarzan films
  • TV appearances in MAVERICK
  • ZORRO
  • 77 SUNSET STRIP
  • THE REAL MCCOYS
  • THE OUTER LIMITS
  • PERRY MASON
  • THE MUNSTERS
  • And MISTER ED
  • Oh wait…and then you get to play Commissioner Gordon in the TV show BATMAN.

Would’ja take it?

Well, that was Neil Hamilton’s career and he’s starring in tonight’s 1941 cinematic delicacy; DANGEROUS LADY. It’s a “Thin Man” knock-off and not great, but Hamilton’s not bad and it ends with a frozen-in-place “THE END” kiss – well worth the price of admission (in this case; free).

Did I mention an appearance in MISTER ED? Whoa!

Livin’ on the Edge With Joe

My stage director/mentor/friend Joe Ferrell had a birthday this week.

Who cares?

I gather he’s getting old.

Who cares?

Well…

I kinda do.

I’ve read a bunch of tributes this week from various actors and students and friends. I am humbled by their reminiscences and the life-changing echoes of those reminiscences.

I have some of my own, of course…some might get us arrested…

May I share a silly one?

The year was 1984.

For some inexplicable reason (at least to me) Lily Tomlin came to the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky one evening and practiced a reading of the beginnings of a new one-person play. She was the “one-person”…go figure. It was free and the house was packed…go figure. I was on the front row. Thus, Lily Tomlin spit on me. I didn’t shower for two weeks. My social life dove from pitiful to non-existent…go figure.

The next day, Ms. Tomlin held a q&a in the Laboratory Theatre (now the Briggs) for the Theatre Department students. I took the day off from work and lurked in the back of the house (sans shower remember). Joe Ferrell was the moderator of the session.

Commenting on the barrenness of the stage – nuthin’ – no chairs, no stools, — nuthin’, Joe introduced Ms. Tomlin and suggested that they simply sit on the edge of the stage. Ms. Tomlin’s eyes twinkled a challenge echoed by her voice; “I’ll sit on the edge if you will.”

I knew Joe and I knew the answer to that challenge from anyone, anywhere, anytime, in any theatre.

They sat on the edge.

That’s my Joe, and I’m standin’ by it……on the edge.