“Is that what you call drunk?”
It was a gentle question from the director of the play, delivered quietly, but the sneer behind it was clear.
I was appalled. I was nineteen and had never had an alcoholic drink in my life. What was wrong with me? How did the director know? What did I do wrong?
Wait a minute.
The question wasn’t for me.
The director, a 22-year-old student himself, was relentless; “You understand this guy’s a drunk…and he’s a hired killer…and he’s in no hurry? You understand that?”
Relentless, as only a student peer can be; “You played that like a cartoon.”
Relentless; “Have you never been drunk in your life?”
Eddie, the actor being skewered; “Well…as a matter of fact……no.”
Amidst the snickers, I tried to become invisible in my shock; (“Holy moly, there’s two of us on the planet!”)
The director, juggling his months-old worldly sophistication with two decades of Southern Kentucky parental expectations, struggled to find a path that would advance his play without making his mama ashamed.
“Well…we’ll need to fix that.”
A date was set. Eddie volunteered his apartment, which was great ‘cause he had the only TV set in our cast. The plan was to rehearse and then take the whole cast over to Eddie’s place and get him drunk. The director would question Eddie during the liquid applications, we might do some of the scenes from the show, and Eddie would absorb a useful sensory memory upon which he could draw to portray his villain on stage.
Ol’ Constantine Stanislavsky would be so proud.
Cherry vodka was the agreed-upon ingredient: one pint was the agreed-upon dosage. I’m reminded here of the gospel according to Woody Guthrie; “There’s a lotta truth in a pint of whiskey…but not too much in a quart.”
What could go wrong?
Eddie’s character in the play was Irish, sullen, murderous.
Eddie was a big fan of Fred Astaire and Cole Porter and had always wanted to sing.
He was loud. He was full of glee. He was occasionally in tune.
It was useless for the purposes of the show, but it validated my belief in the basic, boisterous, goodness of the human race and the genius of the American songbook.
Unfortunately, it made me miss the late night movie I was hopin’ to see on Eddie’s TV. I think it was Flying Down to Rio, Fred and Ginger’s first film together.
High art demands high sacrifice.
(see what I did there?)