It was a brutally cold night in Lexington and for some unfathomable reason I was recalling a blistering hot summer afternoon in 1989.
We were rehearsing King Lear for Lexington’s Shakespeare in the Park. It was directed by Joe Ferrell and it was a strong cast, featuring Fred Foster, Lisa and Paul Thomas, Walter Tunis, Becky Smith, Robert Brock……and Joe Gatton.
Joe Gatton is a fine actor and a remarkable fellow. Smart, loyal, loud, murderously thoughtful, imaginative, hard-working, and an ardent admirer of cheezy movies featuring diaphanous costuming and intense backlighting. In short, a man of taste.
Joe possesses a pragmatic artistic wisdom that affects those who work with him. Michael Thompson, another highly experienced local actor explained to me one evening that he made many creative decisions by considering; “what would Joe Gatton do?” Was he serious? Knowing Michael, probably not, but it was just plausible enough…
This particular summer afternoon was a true ordeal by fire. Sunny, ninety-something degrees, 150% humidity…a real beauty. Compounding these balmy conditions was our rehearsal space. It was outdoors, in the sun, on a concrete slab that had at one time doubled as a shuffleboard arena.
The air simmered – it was hard to breathe.
The concrete sizzled – our shoes melted.
Gatton and I weren’t required on stage for a spell. We sought a shady respite. I can’t just sit and melt in the heat. I pulled out my ever-present Frisbee. Joe and I began a super-slow-motion tossing of the disc. The emphasis was not on running and jumping. The goal was tossing and catching with a minimum of actual movement.
It was cerebral, like a meditation.
Who am I fooling?
It was @%^&$#* hot.
I suggested we instead imagine something amazingly cool to fool our brains into cooling our bodies. Joe was game for the experiment. I suggested a co-o-o-ol, dark, cave with walls covered in lichen. I pronounced it; “litchen”.
“Litchin…litchin! That green moss that grows in co-o-o-ol, dark caves.”
“Oh, you mean ‘liken’.”
“No-o-o, I think it’s litchen.”
“I always thought it was liken.”
Well, we could never agree on the pronunciation, but we tried the thought experiment anyway. It failed (big surprise there) and we attributed the failure to the pronunciation uncertainty. These were pre-Google days. How’ya gonna look it up? Besides, we were being called to the stage – our turn to broil in iambic pentameter under a rampant thermometer.
However, the question has festered in the back of my mind for 28 years and a few weeks ago I thought I had stumbled upon the answer.
I was binge-watching a 1962 British TV sci-fi series called Pathfinders to Mars (no diaphanous costuming, no backlighting, just a boxy studio set with un-moving dials and blurry monitors). Yes, I am the world’s oldest hippie-nerd. Everyone else binge-watches Outlander and Game of Thrones. What can I say? Nerds gonna nerd. In the first episode of the series, the young actress uses “litchen”, but in every other episode it’s “liken”. I’m guessing the first actor goofed.
I’m ready to call Joe after 28 years and announce my discovery.
There’s always a “but”.
BUT…I live in a new and wondrous age now. We have (as the 2nd President Bush called it) “the Google”. I found a site that offered an audio pronunciation for the US and the UK.
US = liken
UK = litchen
Now we know. I’m not quite sure of the usefulness of what we know, but now we know.
Does that mean we have to do King Lear again?