Tag Archives: Michael Thompson

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.

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

D’ya know what joss sticks are?

The tame definition in Wikipedia is that they are slow-burning sticks of incense, burned before idols in religious ceremonies. Well sure, you could use them that way…just as you could use your new $1,000 I-Phone to make a phone call or prop your book open while you read.

Or, your joss sticks could be notched and imprinted in such a way that when you tossed them like pick-up-sticks (remember them?) and pondered the resulting pattern, you could deduce future strategies for living. Or, as posited in Guy Boothby’s peripatetic “Dr. Nikola” novels, you could rule the world and direct its populations to nefarious, but profitable ends.

Wow!

How about tarot cards; similar purposes minus the world domination option (and don’t they look pretty on the table?)

Or tea leaves, or crystal balls, or palms, or horoscopes, or odd number coincidences, or Madame Cleo …or the Daily Racing Form for that matter.

Guidance; that’s all we’re seeking. Oh sure, we’ll take world domination, but that’s not our primary goal. We just want a subtle or crude finger-post suggesting; “Ya, might wanna try this.”

I admit I’ve tried all of the paths mentioned with pretty consistent results; zip, nada, uh-uh.

But…

…there is one oracle that’s been spot on.

Once upon a time there was a restaurant/bar in Lexington called The Bungalow. They had fine mimosas, sinfully delicious desserts (thank you, John Barker Gray), killer “Eggs Nova Scotia”, a later night crowd of vague genders and chimerically specific wardrobes,

…and a legendary jukebox.

There was a central master jukebox with satellites at the perimeter tables. The satellites had those wonderful manual tabs that could be flipped from A-3 (“I Believe in Love”-Barbra Streisand) to D-4 (“Johnny Angel”-Shelly Fabares) in a 1980’s second.

I loved that jukebox.

I adulated that jukebox.

I trusted that jukebox.

These were pre-Liquor Barn, Shoppers Village Liquors days for me. I would go to my office on Saturday mornings, check in with every store, check in with Rob (the owner), pick up Janie, have brunch at The Bungalow, and work in the stores in the afternoon. This was a “happy place” for me.

I could pretty well determine what kind of day it would be by the selections heard on the jukebox at brunch. Would be a “Stop! In the Name of Love”-Diana Ross and the Supremes kind of day, or a “Cry Baby”-Janis Joplin disaster of a day?

It rarely steered me wrong.

I think everyone rued the eventual demise of The Bungalow, but few were aware of the collateral damage of losing that jukebox. Guilty as charged.

About the year 2000, I had the great good luck to a do show with Michael Thompson. As to be expected, he was excellent in his role and excellent company to boot. Michael had served a good bit of time as bartender at The Bungalow. One night at rehearsal he handed me a jewel case with two cd’s. It was a compilation of all the selections from the jukebox at The Bungalow. He had also taken the matchbook cover from the restaurant and rendered it into a cover for the cd. What a treasure!

If you can wear a cd out, I have just about worn this one out.

And yes, if I pop it into my playlist and hit “random” and “String of Pearls”-Glenn Miller chirps free, I go about my day with a bit more irrational confidence. Or if “Beyond the Sea”-Bobby Darin starts crooning, I go find Janie and we talk vacation possibilities.

You can keep yer joss sticks.