Tag Archives: Lord Byron

Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic

I’m reading a script these days that was originally performed to some acclaim as part of the Humana New Play Festival at Actors’ Theatre Louisville. It reminded me of another Humana New Play Festival experience Janie and I had years ago that was, shall we say, “differently acclaimed.”

I subscribed to Actors Theatre of Louisville for about 24 years. I love this theatre and have enjoyed a number of transcendent evenings over the years. Susan Kingsley and Ken Jenkins in “Childe Byron” was magical. Likewise, “Tobacco Road”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Sea Gull”, were wonderful, and their production of “The Tempest” was the best I’ve ever seen. There were some head-scratchers along the way (“King Lear” in burkas bewildered me), but overwhelmingly most of the shows were inspiring and entertaining.

So…why did we stop subscribing?

I was working almost every Saturday then. The only performance we could count on attending was the nine o’clock curtain on Saturday nights. I would get away from work about five, we would drive to Louisville, have dinner at the Bristol, make the curtain at nine, get out of the theatre about midnight, and drive home.

Ah, there’s the rub.

That late night drive home became increasingly burdensome. Before dogs took control of our lives and clocks, sometimes we would snuggle in after the show at the Seelbach, have a languorous brunch, and get back home sometime Sunday afternoon. Well-l-l-l, you can fergit dat, O Keepers-of-the-Kibbles!

Janie and I began to question how much pleasure we were getting out of our Louisville theatre habit. Impetuous kids that we are, we debated it for a couple of years. Then there were two productions in that last subscription season that finally convinced us to drop the commitment.

The first production was actually quite well done. It was a gospel concert nominally disguised as theatre. Now, I can enjoy gospel music (or bluegrass, or German lieder) for about fifteen minutes just as well as the next guy, but this was two hours and forty-five minutes more gospel music than the Geneva Conventions probably allow. That night’s drive home was glazed in bitterness and that is the gospel truth.

The other show…

(…shudder, squint, tears begin to flow…)

The other show…

The other show was titled “Beyond Infinity”. It was part of the Humana New Play Festival.

The play consisted of three intertwined (sorta) stories set in the same desert at three different times in history.

One story was of an ill-fated wagon train. Beyond sad. I found myself expecting Ward Bond to come out wailing “Bring out your dead!” (100 trivia points for identifying the geezer reference.)

The second story was told in a sporadic monologue in monotone by one of ATL’s regular actors whose name eludes me at the moment. He was a gaunt, Sam-Waterston-Abe-Lincoln-Harry-Dean-Stanton-looking fella. For this show he was dressed like Tonto. I don’t mean he was dressed like a Native American. I mean he was dressed like Jay Silverheels in “The Lone Ranger.” Whenever the show’s innate hilarity moaned towards out-of-control, the lights would come up on Tonto. He would gaze at a spot about ten feet over my head (looking for what?…inspiration?…his light?…his lines?…his agent?) and drone. I caught occasional words (kemo sabe, walla wah walla walla walla wah, bibbity bobbity boo) but we were never EVER in the same time zone as a coherent thought.

The third story…

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

(Imagine that having just been said by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. Go on. Go back and repeat it just that way. You’ll love the way it feels and sounds and you’ll work it into your personal dialogue tomorrow. You’ll owe me.)

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

The third story involved J. Robert Oppenheimer and his merry pranksters in the desert working on the atomic bomb. At one stretch in the second act (second act of twelve, as I recall), Oppenheimer is standing in the desert night, holding a smallish volume of the Bhagavad Gita (you can’t make this up!) and a cigarette. His assistant is standing next to him. For ten minutes Oppenheimer reads aloud, translating on the fly, from his tiny book by the light of his assistant’s Bic lighter…you can’t make this stuff up!!

Wait…someone did, didn’t they?

About this moment, Janie, who had shed her shoes and was curled up in her seat in the fetal position, tugged on my sleeve, leaned near and whispered “there are 87 lights up there.” Why not count the lights? What else was there to do?

It ended…as all things eventually must (except baseball games).

We shook the sand from our shoes and shuffled out of the theatre.

Now, one of the rituals involved with living in Lexington, two glasses of wine at dinner, and attending shows in Louisville is the obligatory pre-drive-home bathroom visit. Well, I’m there, at the urinal, “inflagrante delicto” as it were, when the bathroom door is banged open by a three-piece-suit type who angrily announced to the room; “Well, I have been to the desert on a horse with no name!”

I just about missed the urinal.

Fire Truck (Revised)

Now before I start ramblin’, all you fact-checkers, and score-keepers – just let it go.

Relax.

This little tale has been pressed through a 40-year-plus filter of memory. If it’s not perfectly factual and accurate…as the very fine Kentucky songwriter Mitch Barrett puts it; “I ain’t lyin’, I’m tellin’ you a story”.

Besides, it’s not like I have the codes to our country’s nuclear arsenal or anything.

This is simply how I remember it.

Groucho Marx tells a story of how he ended up in show business;

“I saw this advertisement in the newspaper for a job. I needed a job. I ran 15 blocks and up 5 flights of stairs and I knocked on the door. This fellow answered the door wearing lipstick and a dress. I thought; ‘How long has this been going on?’”

I suspect most theatre participants have had a similar moment of truth (or deception).

I know I did.

When I was in high school, I had a part time job in the children’s department of the public library in Lexington. At that time, the library’s main (and only) branch was in what is now known as the Carnegie Reading Center in Gratz Park. I would finish my school day at Bryan Station High School, walk over to the junior high building (neither middle school nor paper having been invented then), and catch the city bus for a 35-minute ride to my 70-cents-an-hour part-time gig at the library. Did I also mention that it snowed every day and the roads all ran uphill – coming and going?

I loved the job and I loved being in the Gratz Park neighborhood.

The bus would drop me at the Apothecary (not drug store, mind you – apothecary) on the corner of Market and Second, usually about 30-40 minutes before I was scheduled to start my shift. The Apothecary was next door to the original Morris Book Store. Occasionally, I would peruse the book store. Mr. Morris himself special-ordered for me my hardbound editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in 1968. But most of the time, I would slip downstairs to the Apothecary and get a bag of chips and a coke and slink through their back door and down the hall to a strange little subterranean chamber in which resided a parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) on a guano-ringed floor stand. There were also stacks of story magazines in the room. No, not porn, just story magazines. I would feast on my chips and coke and reading material under the baleful eye of the parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) until it was time to cross the street to the library. It all sounds so exotic today – not so much then.

I would take my lunch breaks and either throw my frisbee in the park until Mrs. Gratz (for real!) would come out and explain that her-husband-had-given-the-land-to-the-city-and-frisbee-throwing-was-not-what-he-had-in-mind-and-how-come-my-hair-was-so-long-if-I-was-a-boy, or I would walk down to Brandy’s Kitchen, step over the Smiley Pete memorial, and get a $1.35 daily special.

At nine o’clock, I would catch the bus home unless my mom came down to give me a ride home. Any excuse for mom to visit the library was legit.

My duties were sometimes tedious, but mostly heavenly. I would shelve the returned books (restricting myself to only reading every other one), assist the “kiddie-lit” students from Transy, and listen to the children recite their reading adventures so they could gain credit in their “Busy Bee Reading Club”.

I fear it was during this period that Dr. Seuss, Walter Farley, Carol Kendall, Hugh Lofting, and Enid Blyton became more important to me than Milton, Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley (Mr. or Mrs.).

One afternoon, my assignment was to read and tell a book to several Head Start classes visiting the library. It was a rainy day. Thus, I think there were 80+ kids in that session. I read the story and then selected several kids to act it out. There weren’t nearly enough parts for all the kids. There were two six-year-old boys on the front row who were raucous in their desire to participate. (RAUCOUS PARTICIPATION IS ENCOURAGED – wouldn’t that be a great title for someone’s biography?) I pointed to one of the six-year-olds and asked him if he could play the fire truck mentioned in the story. He roared; “YES!” and began to wail his “siren” and wave his arm as a ladder. His partner and lifelong friend (six years old, remember) was crushed to left behind. I asked him what color the fire truck was. “Ray-udd!” he shouted, and with my extraordinary but certification-lacking linguistic dexterity I immediately interpreted that as “red”. I asked if he could be “red”. He leapt to his feet, stood next to his fire-truck-playing friend, made “jazz hands”, and danced frantically around his friend.

The room and I went graveyard silent in sheer awe and admiration.

That was my Groucho Marx moment.

“How long has this been going on?”

At that moment, I wanted to grow up to be that 6-year-old.

I still do.

(April, 2016 – Revised February 1, 2017)