Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Old Friends...

One of the cool things about Facebook is the whole reconnect thing.  People we haven't seen for ages suddenly popping up with a picture looking vaguely like someone with which we used to spend hours and hours, days and days, huge patches of our formative years.  That's happened to me a lot on Facebook in general and whole lot in recent weeks.  And for someone like myself, who can slip easily into a wistful, nostalgic countenance, it has been bitter-sweet.

Mostly sweet.

Did a few shows with a very fine character actor named Gary Wingert at the now defunct New American Theatre.  He was one of the few bright spots in Servant of Two Masters, a play I blogged about recently as not being one of my favorites.  We later played the Duke and the King, respectively, in a production of Big River which also featured my dear friend, Kyle Puccia as Huck Finn.  That kind of amuses me now because at the time Kyle played a 16 year old boy and did it believably.  Today Kyle could pass for an ultimate fighter.  He works out a bit.

Anyway, Gary and I clicked almost immediately.  One of those wonderful first meetings that happens occasionally to the traveling professional actor like myself in those days.  I think within five or ten minutes Gary and I realized we had identical senses of humor.  That is to say  dark, absurd and irreverent.

A couple of years later we did the musical, Big River, together and spent hours honing our bits together.  In hindsight I think we did that more to make each other laugh than the audience.  We worked on split second takes and gestures ala' Laurel and Hardy.  WE thought it was funny.  At one point we took a five minute scene and turned it into a ten minute scene with just silly physical stuff, much to the chagrin of our PSM.  Both Gary and I loved that stuff.  The director, not so much.

But it spoiled me.  Later I did another production of Big River and worked with an actor in the role of The King that wasn't anywhere near what Gary was as a physical comedian.  Frustrated the hell out of me.  His idea of being funny was to yell a lot.  Which CAN be funny if you happen to be in a public library.

Also reconnected with a very close friend from my undergraduate days named Dwayne Butcher.  Dwayne was another I met and clicked with almost immediately.  I don't remember our first meeting but I do know we were nearly inseparable during that time.  Dwayne and I did a number of shows together back in those days; 1940's Radio Hour, Oh, Kay! and one of my plays, The Flagger.  Maybe some others, but I don't remember.  I always thought Dwayne was very funny on stage and even funnier off.  And as gentle readers of this blog will no doubt appreciate, funny goes a long way with me.

Neither one of us suffered fools gladly in those days and had a well-deserved reputation of being obnoxious to others in the theatre department.  But we didn't really care because we were part of a group of arrogant, young actors that were entirely self-sufficient:  Dwayne, myself, Joe Hulser, Dave Brady, Robert Fiedler, a couple of others.  At the time I lived in a really big apartment over on Belmont Street, near campus.  That was our den of iniquity.  You practically had to have an embossed card to be welcomed there.  A card that said "ass" on it.

In undergraduate school, Missouri State University, there was what was called The Vicky Awards every year; sort of our own Tony Awards for school.  There was a professor, Dawin Emanuel, who had, for whatever reason, taken me under his wing in those days.  Unlike other professors there, Dawin had actually been a working, Equity professional for many, many years before becoming a university teacher.  He made it very clear he only befriended the truly talented students.  Like myself, he had very little patience for bad work and phony people.  Very Salinger-esque, we were.  Anyway, I remember with great clarity the final Vicky Award Ceremony I attended in college.  Dawin was persuaded to go with us.  A grand ballroom was rented out.  Everyone was in a tuxedo or a gown.  A big to-do.  Our gang of bully-boy actors commandeered a big table in the corner and sat and jeered and cheered throughout the night and guzzeled cheap scotch.  I won best actor that year for a role in Fifth of July, the wonderful Lanford Wilson piece.  I think Dwayne won best actor for some one-act festival.  Joe won for best director, as I recall.  But the point is, we were insufferable over there at our corner table, cheering wildly for each other and remaining conspicuously silent when one of "ours" didn't win.  Very childish on our part.  In retrospect, it was one of our last hurrahs, our little gang of miscreants at the corner table.  Dawin sat and grinned and cheered right along with us, proud to be the figure-head of our snotty little group.  I loved that night and it is one of those few nights I wish I could live again.  I felt a part of something.

So Dwayne and I, after a couple of decades, reconnected through Facebook.  He's in a small town in Oklahoma now, not sure what he does, but it's nice knowing he's only a keyboard away.  I think he's happy although I'm not sure.

Joe Hulser, another member of that self-satisfied bunch of ne'er-do-wells, lives very close to me here in Los Angeles and we hang out now and then.  He came to see my last play, in fact, From the East to the West.  We go to lunch together once in a while at this terrible little diner near us called "Sittons."  It's just awful.  We love it.

And finally, my old high school choir teacher, David Rice, and I reconnected.  I always liked Mr. Rice.  He was an amazing vocal teacher and a fine singer, too.  He was occasionally very strict, but he always had a great sense of humor.  That goes a long ways in my book.  He's retired now and working as a pastor in a small town near the town in which I grew up.  I had a very troubled boyhood in Fulton, Missouri, and David Rice was the first teacher to speak with me privately and empathetically about it.  I shall always be grateful for that.

There are others, of course, that I've found again through Facebook.  Maybe I'll blog about them someday.  The one that stands out like a shining beacon, of course, is Angela.  But that's a different story altogether and one I don't care to expound on.  Suffice to say it changed every single thing about my life.  In a very, very good way.  A delightful paradigm shift.

Chicago, in some respects, was such a terrible time for me.  I spent a decade in that city I've come to loathe.  Los Angeles is exactly the opposite.  Nearly every minute is filled with joy and gratitude.  I never would have thought that.  I think a lot of it has to do with getting older.  Los Angeles is much slower than Chicago or New York.  And so am I.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled for a whole battery of tests regarding my recent discovery of diabetes.  I have no idea what will come of all that.  But whatever comes of it, it is exactly what is supposed to come of it.  There are no coincidences.  I have been very fortunate to have the constitution of a Missouri mule most of my life.  Considering the trials I've put my body through in years past, it's amazing I'm on my feet at all.  I trust all will be fine.  And if not, that will be fine, too.  I very rarely fear tomorrow these days.

See you then.