Monthly Archives: July 2018

Atticus vs the Sound Effects

Mockingbird 01Summer outdoor theatre is a miraculous thing.

The miracle happens about six months after the summer theatre season, in the depths of winter. There is a moment when snow is on the ground and the wind’s a’howlin’. There is a moment on the ninth straight day of no sun at all, a moment when the clothing layers reach seven, when soup sounds real good once too often. At that less-than-golden moment, the summer night you spent on stage the previous year becomes pure gold.

That memory is purged of the heat. The roasted rehearsal on that concrete slab on that Saharan Saturday morning in full costume evaporates from your recall.

The bugs (many of which unsuccessfully screen-tested for the classic film Them and still harbored virulent stage revenge dreams) that you ducked, swatted, and often swallowed during performances were forgotten.

The memory of the “dead characters’ cocktail lounge” that grew in unholy influence during the run of the show until the curtain calls became wobbly bows from which returning to a fully upright position was far from certain, became quaint instead of alarming.

Rain? Lightning? Make-up that melted faster than it could be applied? Hecklers?

All vanished…erased…never happened.

It’s a miracle.

All that’s left is;

– Riding a bike to rehearsal.
– Humidity and iambic pentameter – a remarkably compatible combo.
– Bright, pretty, scantily-clad actresses.
– Loud voices.
– Large, well-lubricated audiences.
– Stars and moons (one per night) and pool of artificial light in which to speak beautiful words.

That’s all that remains.

It’s a miracle.

However, some of the non-miraculous is worth remembering as well.

In the summer of 1999, I was lucky enough to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. My luck expanded to include the fact that I was working with many of my favorite people in the world; Jeff Sherr, Eric Johnson, Anitra Brumagen, Sidney Shaw, Walter May, Glenn Thompson, Michael Thompson… It was a real good time.

Most of the time.

The first act of the show ends with Atticus’ closing statement to the jury. It’s about a ten-minute summation – inspirational and dramatic as hell – an actor’s dream.

On one night’s performance I arose to give the speech to a crowd of 1,000+ people (yes, most likely well-lubricated). As I walked downstage I heard the medivac helicopter approaching and I knew from previous festival experience that the flight path would be directly over our stage and loud. I took a dramatic pause before commencing the speech that exactly matched the flight path of the copter. Mrs. Leasor didn’t raise any fools.

I plunged into the speech and was achieving some momentum when, about five minutes in, I heard the sirens of the ambulance go ripping through the night.

At minute eight, the low-flying private plane rattled over and as I was winding up for the socko finish, you could hear the freight train moanin’ lonesome through the night.

Mercifully, the speech and the act ended, the lights went dark, and the cast trooped offstage. As I walked off the stage, Eric Johnson was exiting directly behind me and I heard him mumble; “Well, that was certainly a tribute to the combustible engine.”

I wept.

Shelter from the Storm

Whoosh!

That was a storm!

It may have been a genuine eyewitness-authenticated “frog-strangler”. I went out après-cataclysm and inventoried the frogs in our pond. I’m missing two. Perhaps they’ll reappear after a jaunt to Oz, but I’m doubtful.

Vanishing with the frogs was electrical power, internet access, and cable TV to the house. Quel horreur! I wasn’t sure how I’d survive till the generator kicked on thirty seconds later and gave me enough light to find the pizza delivery phone number.

Janie fled the state, leaving me with a compromised house, instructions on feeding feral cats three miles away, and two depressed critters (oh man, we have to put up with the white-haired geezer all week!)…and a giant plate of brownies for the ciné-cabal assembling at the house Saturday night.

She’s a complex woman.

I waved as she drove away to the relatively storm-free Finger Lakes. Bob Dylan’s protective heroine in his wonderful song “Shelter From the Storm” came to mind.

“In a world of steel-eyed death, and men fighting to be warm, ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’”

Not my lady! She’s hittin’ the road, Jack, and won’t be comin’ back till the electric coffee-maker’s perkin’.

I confess.

I felt bitter.

Then I turned and walked into my generator bubble of quasi-comfort and munched on a couple of muffins she’d baked and left for me (I gave half of one to the depressed dog).
Shelter from the storm…it can take many forms. One form may be a roof, or a hedge, or a generator, or a muffin…or a gathering of friends.

The clan assembled Saturday night to enjoy three of the many good things in life; laughably-lousy films, any pizza, and each other. It’s a group of geezers of an age yet undetermined by carbon-dating. They’ve suffered some losses. Some physical; alacrity, hue of hair (or hair itself), stamina… Some of the heart; Sidney, Georgeanne, Tonda, Glen, Craig, Harlan… They’ve also gained from the years; thoughtfulness, vocabulary, timing, patience…waistline inches…

They are a group that has done and continues to do much. They teach, act, think, write, care, sing, paint, think, direct, care, speak, manage, organize, think, and care. In the stormy outside world they are looked to for answers: they are authorities in various fields. Tonight, however, they gather in the shelter of each other’s company to laugh.

And laugh they do, often and raucously, loudly and sometimes inappropriately.

Their moms would probably be ashamed.

I’m proud to know ‘em and thrilled I can bribe my way into their busy company occasionally with pizza, bad flicks, and shelter from the storm.

Life Under the Hedge; 2 – A Chinwag

Janie and I live under a four-to-seven-foot high hedge of trumpet vine on top of a six foot brick wall.

This would be a good moment for you to read the previous blog entry concerning the hedge; Life Under the Hedge.

The hedge is lush, green, and geographically greedy.
The hedge is insidious, persistent, and smug.
The hedge is reassuring, constant, and protective.
The hedge has tendrils, flings seed wisps that fly like Saharan dust, and networks well.
The hedge is sentient.
The hedge is chatty.

“You did a helluva job on those Japanese beetles this afternoon.”

“Thanks. You see what they’re doing to our knockouts? They’re shredding the leaves!”

“They’re determined. They’re hungry. But you took care of ‘em. You looked like a gunslinger out there with your hose set on ‘JET’, bangin’ and splashin’ ‘em off the roses. It was impressive. You were like a Master Blaster Gardener. I didn’t know ya had it in ya.”

“Mock if you must, but it got rid of the bugs.”

“Granted. The filthy beetles vanished……and returned in ten minutes…still hungry…still determined…and somewhat less filthy for the shower you provided.”

“@#$!%&^*”

“Eloquently put. Might you have a Plan B?”

“I do, as matter of fact. I’ve got some spray coming that should take care of the problem. It’s an organic soapy insecticide spray.”

“An organic soapy insecticide spray… Doesn’t quite have the same terrifying ring to it as ‘Raid’ or ‘Agent Orange’. I’m imagining you in a Master Blaster Gardener baseball cap and a white Windex-type spray bottle screaming; ‘I love the smell of an organic soapy insecticide spray in the morning! It smells like victory!!’……feeble.”

“What does a hedge know about Apocalypse Now?”

“I have tendrils. The Lowe’s next door watched it on Netflix last week. I was diggin’ the Doors music, but Brando and Hopper jumped the shark for me. It’s a great film, but Conrad’s story is better.”

“Agreed. Hey, wait, what does a hedge know about ‘Heart of Darkness?’”

“You have it in your library.”

“…AND you have tendrils…”

“I also have dim hopes for your organic soapy insecticide spray and fear for your self-esteem and the roses. Might you have a Plan C?”

“Ya know, you could help. Isn’t this what a wall is supposed to do? Keep out unwanted foreigners?”

“No, no, no. First of all, I’m a hedge, not a wall. The wall has no tendrils. The wall doesn’t talk and a wall can’t stop hungry and determined. Stop listening to Trump. You were raised better than that.”

“Yes…yes, I was……”

“Let’s see how the organic soapy insecticide spray works. Maybe it’ll be sensational and we can brainstorm a different name for it.”

“How ‘bout Master Blaster?”

“I said ya looked good with that hose.”

“…gotta get a hat…”

“That’s the ticket.”

Life Under the Hedge

Janie and I live under a hedge.

No, we’re not hobbits…though it’s a tempting notion.

No, we’re not deluded…I’m pretty sure.

No, we truly live under a hedge.

Almost 20 years ago, we built a brick wall behind our house. By design, it has missing bricks in a pattern that enables you see through it. It has a mighty trellis on top of it and an iron gate with a heron silhouette.

When it was completed, on the guidance of the wall’s designer (our friend, Sanford Pollack), we planted trumpet vine next to the wall. We didn’t quite follow Sandy’s guidance as faithfully as perhaps we should have. His suggestion to plant one vine was utterly disregarded. It looked so puny. So…we planted six.

As the vines grew and became one, we threaded it into the wall itself and eventually, into the trellis. We removed any trace of green below the trellis, but let the vine run amok above.

The result?

Today, under the trellis, the vines are 1-4 inch woody snakes entwining the bricks. They resemble Hugh Lofting’s line drawings of trees in his “Dr. Doolittle” books or the various dancing trees in Fleischer cartoons. Those squiggly sequoias support the hedge above the trellis.

The hedge is about 30 feet long and ranges from 4-7 feet high above the trellis, reaching a peak of about 13 feet above the ground, and is quite impenetrable. It’s dense, green, and celebrates each summer with hundreds of clumps of butter-yellow and orange-red trumpet blossoms. I’m told it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite garden plant. I share his opinion except when I’m combatting the hedge’s myriad “volunteers” that insinuate themselves everywhere at the rate of several inches a day.

I love living under the hedge despite the constant battle with its efforts of expansion.

– It’s on the weather side of the house and garden. Its mass offers at least the illusion of some natural defense against natural assaults.

– When cirrus-eyed poets from pre-drone days wonder at “How many colors of blue make up the sky?” and speculate on eyes watching us “make love well” from above, I’m happier with the illusion of privacy the hedge offers.

– In winter when the vines are denuded of their foliage, I’m encouraged when the hedge becomes a chattering condo for tiny nesting birds, though the heron gate beneath suffers the indignity of the resulting guano rain.

Yes, I love living under the hedge, and weirdly enough, despite my determined eradication of its invasive offspring, I think the hedge patronizes me and thinks me to be of some interest.

Otherwise, why would it speak to me?

(Cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone”)

Pranks for the Memories

Dial 01

Pranks in the theatre are traditional…unfortunately.

Pranks in the theatre are just good clean fun…uh…no.

Pranks in the theatre are mostly legendary…mostly.

Pranks in the theatre make the bestest stories after a few drinks…thank God.
My favorite on-stage prank story tells of Tallulah Bankhead. Ms. Bankhead was, I gather, a high-maintenance performer who, though admired for her ability to fill seats in the house and provide steady paychecks for her fellow company members, garnered little affection from said company members along the way.
One evening, in a dramatic duet scene, as Ms. Bankhead passed near the phone on the set, the sound booth thought it would cute to ring the phone unexpectedly. Ms. Bankhead paused, looked at the phone and waited. Sure enough, it rang again. She picked it up, listened for a moment, turned to the other actor on stage, and said; “It’s for you.” She handed him the receiver and exited stage right.

Touché and more than a bit touchy.
I despise theatre pranks, but I love the stories. I could bore you with a few dozen more, but despair not. I’ll simply refer you to a lovely coming-of-age-summer-stock-theatre flick; Those Lips, Those Eyes. Frank Langella plays a summer stock leading man and prime target of some very funny moments.
I will share one and only one from my own experience.

I was in a play that featured a second act moment in which I had to enter a darkened room to find a dead body sprawled. I was to turn the body over, examine it, and then leave it to rearrange the scene of the crime to suit my nefarious purposes, all before my wife entered to share a 20 minute or so scene to finish the act.

This was in a small theatre in which the audience was a mere 5-10 feet away from the action on stage, a small theatre in which the lights (the very warm stage lights) were a mere 5-10 feet away from the action on stage.

I entered, perceived the corpse, and knelt to turn it over and study it. The actor playing dead (extremely well, I might add) had used his eyebrow pencil to cleverly and legibly write a message to me on his eyelids, one word for each eye. This exercise thus required the message to be concise, no 144 characters here. I vividly recall the message to be; “F@#K YOU”. I may not have that spelling exactly right.

There I was, facing a cozy packed house, watching my every response, torn between the bred-in-me demand that “the play must go on,” and atavistic urge to defile a corpse, real or feigning.

I did both.

I rearranged the crime scene as required by the script, I also took a moment to fetch the heavy woolen blanket from its perch on the back of the sofa and respectfully and gently cover the foul corpse from head to toe…under those relentless lights…for the rest of the act.

By the intermission, when I next saw the corpse’s face, the message had melted away.
Occasionally, there’s justice in the world, even in a world of make-believe.

 

As I’ve stated, I despise theatre pranks, but I love the stories and I’d be happy to hear yours.

Get More Game in the Game!

This evening, the Yankees are rudely and repeatedly defining “launch angle” for the Boston pitcher. I’m not convinced geometry was the pitcher’s best school subject.
This afternoon and yesterday afternoon, my beloved Reds played powerfully and dominated the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. If they continue this style of play, I’m convinced that by September they can be out of last place. After that, the sky’s the limit…well…maybe a .500 season’s the limit.
I love baseball.
It is experiencing some problems, yes, but it has always needed adjustment. The players and coaches have always made those adjustments. Those adjustments, the ones from the players and coaches, work best. Adjustments that originate outside the game may sometimes be necessary, but are usually inferior. The designated hitter, performance-enhancing drugs, inter-league play, tinkering with the height of the mound, replay review…these have not improved baseball. It is a validation of the rigorous beauty of the game that it survives such crimes against its nature.
For example.
The defensive shifts dictated by sabermetrics are a nuisance and have currently shaped the game into a homerun or strikeout experience. The hitters have adjusted to the shifts. They understand that an out is an out, whether it’s a strikeout or a ground ball to a third baseman improbably standing in shallow right field to which he has no valid passport. Hitters will always try to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” So…where ain’t they? For sure, there are no fielders in the stands beyond the outfield wall. Hit ‘em there! Thus, the 25-degree launch angle becomes a player adjustment to the coaches’ defensive shifts. As I watch the Yankees hit their fourth (woops, make that fifth) homerun in the first four innings off David Price, former Cy Young Award winner, I know this is not the same game I’ve watched for over 50 years.
But that’s OK. Pitchers will adjust. I suspect low outside sliders two inches off the ground, and high inside four-seam fast balls two inches off the batter’s chin will become a bit more prevalent. Put yer 25-degree launch angle on that, Buster!
The game as it’s played on the field will adjust to every nudging of the limits with a correcting nudge. That doesn’t worry me.
There are a couple of things that do trouble me. They concern the length of the games. Understand, I’m not at all bothered by the fact that a game, if tied, could theoretically last forever. I cherish that threat. Bring it on…and on…and on…and…
(I’m hearing Harry Carey braying in the background; “I don’t care if I ever get back.”)
At this point, I should take an opportunity to recommend W. P. Kinsella’s novel, THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY to you. It posits just such an expression of the potential of an eternal horsehide struggle. Mr. Kinsella’s better-known book, SHOELESS JOE, is the book upon which the film Field of Dreams was based.
No, I acknowledge when I purchase a ticket to a baseball game that the rest of my journey on this mortal coil may consist of wearing out the path between my seat and the hot dog stand till the end of time or till the end of me. I’m good wit’ dat. I like baseball game hot dogs and I made out a will.
I’m not looking to put baseball on a clock. What chaps me is the amount of time spent on non-game activities. The time stolen from the game and the audience’s lives by equipment adjustments, equipment changes, pitching changes, pick-off attempts, mound meetings, off-the-mound/out-of-the-batter’s-box meditative strolls needs to be examined and eliminated.
I wanna see some baseball.
I have a few suggestions. Yes, I am aware they are adjustments not originating from the players and coaches, and therefore probably inferior, but I gotta try. Four-hour nine-inning games are only helping the beer vendors.
My probably inferior suggestions;
– Pitchers, you get one unsuccessful pick-off attempt to a particular runner on a particular base. After that, each unsuccessful pick-off attempt costs you a BALL on the batter. This would save time, make stealing bases more viable, thus making a base hit more enticing.
– Pitchers, if you leave the mound between un-hit pitches, it costs you a BALL on the hitter. No moseying. Stay on the mound and pitch.
– Batters, if you leave the batter’s box between un-hit pitches, it costs you a STRIKE. No meandering. Stay in there and hit.
– No batting gloves. Go back to pine tar. Pine tar doesn’t have to be adjusted after every pitch.
– Batters, if you wear protective gear while batting, you must wear the same gear while running the bases. We will no longer have to wait while you effect a costume change at first base.
– Coaches, one pitching change per inning, barring injury.
– Coaches and catchers, the only visit to the mound allowed is during a pitching change. If you need to communicate with the pitcher, use hand signals, smoke signals, or just shout in pig latin.
– Eliminate all replay reviews. Let the umpires call the game. If they make a mistake, well, so do the shortstops. It’s a game for chrissakes. A game! If the important thing is (as the announcers assure us in their most funereal tones) to “get the call right.” Why do we allow Mr. Trump to do anything?
I feel we can get a regular nine-inning game down to about two and a half hours or less and keep all the excitement.
See the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball. Run like hell.
It’s really pretty simple.
And it’s beautiful.
Even the pine tar……beautiful.