Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July Memories...

Fourth of July.  Brings to mind the show 1776.  For the longest time an underrated musical.  Sort of disappeared for awhile.  Then made a big comeback in the late nineties with a revival in NYC.  It is one of my favorite non-Sondheim musicals.  First time I did it was at Mill Mountain Theatre with a wonderful cast of some twenty or so actors.  Jim Barbour doing Jefferson, Bev Appleton as Adams in one of my favorite performances of that era of my life.  Raymond Sage as a stirring Rutledge.  And a very fine actor, unfortunately I've forgotten his name, as Dickenson (the role I always secretly wanted to play).  I was doing Richard Henry Lee in that production.  Some years later I took a swing at Adams myself.  But the Mill Mountain production was the better one, I have to admit.  Bev was the perfect Adams.  He fit that role better than I did.  And Jimmy, of course, a very fine Jefferson.  But more than the talent involved in that show, which was formidable, was the camaraderie we shared in that play.  Having done a few skits in my life, I know that sometimes a cast clicks and, well, sometimes it doesn't.  No one's fault, just the way it is.  My second 1776 cast didn't click so well.  I mean, it was fine, but not wonderful.  But the first one, the one in Virginia, we had a blast together.  That's the one I remember fondest.

That cast was a poker cast.  I loved it.  After the performance every night we would all gather in the kitchen of the old Mill Mountain housing and play into the wee small hours.  Nickel ante.  Nothing serious.  If you won or lost twenty bucks in a night it was a big night.

The theatre had purchased the area above a couple of storefronts across the street from the stage, which incidentally was beautiful, one of my favorite LORT theaters I've ever worked.  Anyway, the housing area, above these stores, consisted of about twenty or so nice-sized rooms, a commons area to watch TV, etc., a huge communal kitchen and a nice little balcony off the back.  Some years earlier the place had been a bordello, a whore house, and every now and then the buzzer would buzz and I'd go down the long stairs and answer the door and some old guy would be there to inquire about the women.  Word hadn't gotten completely around that a bunch of actors stayed there now.  Once, when I was doing You Can't Take it With You at that theatre (I did about 15 shows throughout the nineties there) I answered the door and there was an old guy, kinda drunk, with bib overalls on, about half his teeth missing, and he said, upon seeing me, "Um, can you still get women here?"  I paused a second and said, "Well, yeah.  But you're gonna have to spring for a dinner and talk endlessly about how good she was on stage tonight."  He just stared at me and then sort of staggered away.

Anyway, nightly poker in the theater housing.  What great memories.  We all took it very seriously.  This wasn't an excuse to drink.  No, we gathered up our nickels and dimes and quarters every night and played some very serious poker.  Sometimes till dawn.

That was the show I learned to play, I blush to confess, 'Pass the Banana.'  This was a highly unprofessional thing that a bunch of testosterone-laden guys would play every night much to the chagrin of the stage manager. Remember, this was big-time professional theatre, now.  It worked like this:  one actor, at the beginning of the show, would bring a banana onstage with him.  Because of our circa 1776 costumes, there was always ample places to hide it.  And he would, at some point, clandestinely pass it to another actor onstage who would then pass it to someone else and so on.  At the end of the night, whoever had the banana would have to buy the first round of beers for the entire cast after the show.  There were only two rules:  the audience could never see the banana and you could never refuse it if someone tried to give it to you.  Just a terribly unprofessional thing to do.  I loved it.

1776 at Mill Mountain Theatre.  One of my fonder regional theatre memories.

Barbour used to accuse me in that show of upstaging him with my baggy tights.  He would swear that I was wearing these baggy tights just to draw focus.  Used to drive him nuts.  The truth was they were just baggy.  There was nothing I could do about it.  And I kinda thought they fit my image of the slovenliness of Richard Henry Lee, too, so I never tried to get new ones.

Not surprisingly, most of that cast went on to really make a mark in NY theatre.  A bunch of actors that were hired for that one show, all of us doing supporting roles, that later went on to do mostly leading roles in big theaters around the country and in New York.  Just one of those happy accidents.

A good show last night.  One of my old college professors, Dr. Linda Park-Fuller was in attendance.  I think she really liked it.  Full house.  Very vocal audience.  Everybody was having a good night onstage.  I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

Ange and the puppies and I are gonna have a quiet fourth.  Just gonna grill a bit here at the house and watch some old movies.  The kind of day I adore.  Hanging out with my soon-to-be-wife and my puppies.  Life is good.  Life is surprisingly and undeservedly good.

See you tomorrow.