Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

Snarling Charles and the Case of the Christmas Gas Bag

“Look at the fog!”

Chuck peered out his front window at his first Christmas season in his new neighborhood. After decades of Christmases living under the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, clearing the bougainvillea droppings from his hot tub, and watching reruns of Bing, Rosie, Vera, and Danny thrilling to the snows of White Christmas, coming home to a Bluegrass blurry Christmas was nettlesome.

Bouncing around his ankles, also aspiring to be nettlesome but too wee to succeed was Nigel.

Nigel, Chuck’s fierce and tiny Yorkie was on a biological schedule. “Itstimeitstimeitstime – DadDadDad – letsgoletsgoletsgo – Igottahikemyleg-g-g-g.”

Chuck continued to survey the smudge of a yuletide evening that was far from being “…just like the one I used to know.”

“I haven’t seen fog like this since my first trip to London.”

Early in Chuck’s successful screenwriting career he wrote two most excellent Sherlock Holmes screenplays that also provided an extended stay in London as the “screenwriter-in-residence” on the set of the filming. He had spent much of the residency turning his well-nurtured Anglophilia into full-blown Angl-Oh-h-h-sweet-mystery-of-life.

He savoured (note the spelling) Scotch eggs, marmite, warm beer, and old champagne. He favoured (sic…and sick) cricket over baseball and snooker over pool, though he still couldn’t play any of them.

He adopted a sort of uniform for his post-prandial wanderings through the misty streets of night-time London. He had an ulster-ish coat. He eschewed the arms of the coat and draped it over his shoulders like a cape. He had acquired a billed cloth cap with a hounds-tooth pattern. It wasn’t exactly a deerstalker but in the fog…

He also had a cane.

Not a mere cane for walking assistance, but a cane of hidden menace.

A twist of the handle and voila – a twelve-inch blade!

But wait…there’s more, and I’m not talking Ginsu knives.

With a commanding arch of one eyebrow, a radical lift of lip, and a sideways glance worthy of Sam Elliott, Snarling Charles was born and the city on the Thames trembled.

Tonight, now that he thought of it, all those ingredients were still in his possession…and the fog…and the dog…

“Alright Nigel, you silly bugger, let’s venture forth.”

“Charlie! Wait. I have something for Nigel if you’re going out.”

Chuck’s Lovely Wife Julieanne (she was contemplating a legal change of name to “Lovely Wife” but had not yet committed) ran up waving a plastic straw. It was one of those light sticks that, when violently bent and twisted, emitted a sickly green chemical glow. She wrapped it around Nigel’s neck (twice – tiny bugger that he was). Nigel bounced; “nownownownownow!”

Cap, cape, cane, canine, and sneer all in place, Snarling Charles and his noble beast were on the street and on the prowl. Thomas Burke would have approved.

Alas, there were no ill-lit shops inhabited by Quong Lee, no lamplights, no hansoms, no foghorns or chimes, no newsstands, no blind match-sellers; just prim, new residences hunkering down in the murk. Even the murk was marred by blobs of harsh light bobbing on the lawns.

There were blob reindeer, and blob Santas, and blob angels, and blob snowmen. They were inflatable plastic yard decorations, garishly lit from the inside, and staked to the earth to limit their contagion. At least that’s how Snarling Charles thought of them.

“Nailing‘em to one place is good for a start, but I can think of a more permanent cure for this infestation. I’ll nail them gas bags fer good!”

He approached a six foot high snowman doing a handstand. The sheer fantasy physics of a glowing snowman cavorting on his hands was maddening.

“How would his hat stay on?”

Charles gave his cane a twist and voila!

“I should name this little sword ‘Voila!’” He thought.

He hovered in front of the offending balloon. Nigel bounced about in triumph; “LooklooklookDad! It’s a quality poop, just like they promise on TV! Pickitup-pickitup-pickitup! We’ll add it to the collection!” Nigel had long been convinced that somewhere there was a gallery of The Poops of Nigel, the Silly Bugger.

Just then, the front door of the house to whom the prancing abomination belonged, opened and a man’s voice bellowed; “Ay! What’re you doin’ out there?”

Snarling Charles bristled at the tone, but maintained a civil front.

“I’m simply admiring your yard…art.”

“Well, you just admire it from the sidewalk and get offa my lawn!”

There was a final duet of a door slam and a vocalized “Pervert!”

Charles was left in a silent fog, the darkness broken by a radiant upside down snowman and a bouncing Chernobyl green glow stick.

No…it wasn’t London.

No…it wasn’t the snowman’s fault.

But someone must be made to pay.

He sheathed his sword and left the poop.

And by the light of his good dog Nigel, he wended his way home.

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not for hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas and thank God, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry about the singing…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could find time for that.

I got to walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to briefly return to his former life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.