Tag Archives: Walter Tunis

Earnest Words

Importance 06
1980’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the Guignol with Eric Johnson on the right and some duffer in spats on the left.

Janie and I had a lovely night at the theater Saturday night. We watched a crisp and energetic cast perform Oscar Wilde’s brilliant “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Athens West Theatre. If you can make it for their last weekend, it will be one of your happiest nights for the year.

I admired the efforts of Shayne Brakefield as a sometimes befuddled, often pompous local reverend (think Robert Morley in African Queen with a pencil-thin mustache), Janet Scott in full sail as Lady Bracknell, and Paul Thomas as the butler(s); mysterious, disheveled, inscrutable, vaguely obedient, barely competent, and clearly the mind behind every scene……not.

I have worked with all these actors before.
I know their gifts…and cherish them.
I know their habits and peccadilloes…and cherish them as well.

Last night I participated in a reading of Robert Penn Warren’s ALL THE KING’S MEN on the Carrick Theater stage at Transylvania with Joe Gatton, Sherman Fracher, Ellie Clark, Tom Phillips, Mark Mozingo, and Geoffrey Cobb Nelson.

I have worked with Joe, Sherman, Ellie, and Tom before.

Joe, Sherman, Ellie, Tom, Shayne, Janet, and Paul…
Together we’ve been to Dracula’s Transylvania, New Jersey, New York, a Midwest Mega-Church, Agincourt, Aquitaine, Deep South Mississippi, the magical forests of Shakespeare, Deep South Alabama, Upper-Peninsula Michigan, Russia, London, Pennsyvania, Scotland. We’ve been husbands and wives and daughters and sons and kings and vassals and brothers and sisters to each other.

We have history.

We have vocabulary.

When we step on stage with each other we have a big head-start to share with an audience; a dialogue that, in some cases, has been going on for decades.

These two recent stage experiences prompted me into a memory (what doesn’t these days?) of an early 80’s Guignol production of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. This was, in retrospect, a wonderful cast for me; Eric Johnson, Martha Campbell, Walter Tunis, Lisa Thomas, Georgia Ferrell, Tim McClure, Ann Dalzell, and Paul Thomas (once more playing the butler – murderous, scheming, ever-expanding……not).

This production was directed by Dr. James Rodgers, and he created an atmosphere playful, quick, and creative, but fierce in language…a happy culture in which Wilde’s mots, bon et rapide, could fly.

And fly they did. At the first table read, our Lady Bracknell encountered the word “indecorous” in the script. She paused and inquired; “Is that pronounced; ‘IN-DUH-COH-RUS’?” To which another cast member replied; “No, and if you say it that way, that’s where you’ll be.”

I suspect Oscar would’ve been proud.

Vocabulary matters.

Joe Gatton; You Say Lichen & I Say…

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”.

“What’s that?”

“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.

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.

BUT!

There’s always a “but”.

BUT…I live in 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?

@%^&$#*

Pronounce that.

Godzilla, Suspenders, & Short Pants

Movie night and my personal Japanese film odyssey continues.

This time I’m moving from riveting film noir to rubber-suited nuisances and from the remarkable to the regrettable. Tonight’s delicacy is GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (aka GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER). Do you suppose there might be a sequel; GODZILLA VISITS THE ISLAND OF PLASTIC BAGS?

Hedorah looks a cross between a giant tadpole and something unfortunate you might find on your shoe after walking the dog…oh…and with bloodshot eyes. One of Hedorah’s main weapons seems to involve projectile vomiting. I’m usually a pretty open-minded kinda guy but I’m thinkin’ deliberate hurling does not go on the positive side of the scoreboard for this epic. Ew-w-w-w-w.

I’m notoriously unashamed to admit my fondness for Godzilla flicks but there are some elements that regularly pop up in the films that are simply bewidering in polite society. This film has several of ‘em;

  • There’s a precocious child in suspenders and short pants. Wrong.
  • Godzilla is portrayed as a friend to humanity. Completely wrong.
  • There are scenes on Mt. Fuji for no reason at all. Film-makers seem to love shooting mountains. I’m guessin’ it’s because mountains are consistent in their line readings and always hit their mark.

Mercifully, Son of Godzilla is not in the flick, nor have there been any scientists in school-bus-yellow jumpsuits. School-bus-yellow jumpsuits…why not just write “EAT ME” on their backs? Perhaps Godzilla, Hedorah, Mothra, et. al. lack reading skills.

The film is given an unfortunate artificial jolt by a psychedelic (non-geezers, you may have to google that word) night club sequence that features hard-driving songs by The Honey Knights and The Moon Drops (Adam Luckey and Walter Tunis have all their albums) and random, drifting skeletons for no purpose useful to the telling of this tale. You can do that kind of stuff when you’re being psychedelic.

Oh yeah, the film’s bad, it’s real bad. I of course cherish every minute of it.

Well, maybe not every minute – suspenders and short pants – a terrible thing to do to any child.