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Young thespian Kevin tests the waters in a couple of student productions, in the ongoing quest to become COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
In Part 2 of PLAY PRODUCTION FOLLIES:
> THE SAGA OF THE MISER
. From the very first line in the play (“Then you’ll marry me? You’ll marry me- you will?”), we knew we had a hit on our hands. Audiences leapt to their feat in spontaneous standing ovations the instant the last syllable of the play was spoken. For a mere high school play- it was a triumph!
. Charlotte Motter had been waiting for years to assemble enough talent to mount her dream production of Moliere’s THE MISER. She had found a very funny modern translation by Miles Malleson that successfully bridged the gap of time and culture necessary to bring historical works to life on the stage. At last, she had the group she needed. From the first day of casting there was never any doubt that we had something special on our hands. It’s a rare thing, when the perfect conjunction of talent and resources comes together to form a truly stellar production of a classic play. This production promised to be just such a wonder.
. The second he opened his mouth to audition for the lead role of the stingy old geezer, it was clear who would be our Harpogon! Tall, thin, delicate senior Mark Wilmot was beyond funny in the role, from the get-go Mark was Robin-Williams-hilarious! It was pointless for anyone else to go for the part. We had a guaranteed a rock-steady anchor in Mark Wilmot.
. Surrounding him in the exceptional ensemble were Scott Tidstrand (Emily’s inappropriately lascivious father in OUR TOWN), and Leslie Bruns as the lovers, Steve Cohen as a fussy French reincarnation of himself, my friend Shannon Vance (LADY PRECIOUS STREAM) playing a scoundrel named LaFleshe, my crony Byron Brace as a crusty old nobleman, who is reunited with his long-lost twins, and a supporting cast featuring Kerry Wolfus (the sexy librarian in my schoolboy fantasy, the first day of that junior high drama class) and Ellen Gloyne as the daffy servants. Talk about beauty and the beast! Kerry was Venus de Milo incarnate! (Plus arms.) Ellen was Janis Joplin on a bad morning after a major bender.
. I was cast in a secondary role that was peppered with wonderful comic bits. Master Jacques, a manservant with a moral dilemma, is whipped at the beginning for daring to tell an unpleasant truth, and threatened with hanging at the end for telling a necessary lie. It was actually a pretty damn good role for a freshman, and the more we rehearsed the more stoked I became.
. In time, I became very close to Shannon and Ellen and Byron. It was the experience of a lifetime bouncing off the incredible talents surrounding me, learning much more from them than I realized at the time. I got good. We all got good. Mark Wilmot got great! His creaky voice, comic timing, prickly prissiness, his astonishing energy and stamina were a wonder to behold. The rest of us would break out in applause for Mark at the end of rehearsals. I didn’t know that anyone could be that funny! This was why I was in drama. After a day that was often hellish, Play Production promised sweet moments of unadulterated joy at the end of the schoolday.
. By the time we were ready to premiere the show for the student population, our production of THE MISER was a perfectly polished gem. The set was very simple: mirrored panels flanking an ornate drawing room, but the costumes were excellent and Mark’s old-age make up was gasp-inducing. On the first of our two student matinees, we got so many laughs the show ran fifteen minutes longer than it ever had, and we were ripping-through it at breakneck speed! Steve was fussy, Shannon sly, Byron very funny as a stuffy octogenarian. I got laughs in all the right places, and a few I didn’t expect. Mark went from invisible nerd to campus celebrity before the final curtain fell. Our peers jumped instantly to their feet and cheered.
. Come the evening performance, the cavernous house that was usually less than half full with close friends and family for these affairs, was nearly full. Students were doing something they never dreamed of doing before: they were returning to see the show again. And again: it was a near-perfect piece of amateur theatre. The massive crowd of nearly eight hundred sprung to their feet the instant I delivered the final line of the play: “Whipped for telling the truth, hung for telling a lie- and now, my beautiful Sucking Pig- burnt to a cinder!” As we took our bows to a thunderous roar that was indescribably ecstatic, they began to chant for the star: “Wilmot! Wilmot! WILMOT!” When he finally came onstage at the curtain call to accept his accolades, Mark was trembling from the exertion of a near-superhuman performance, every pore on his body gushing with sweat. Temporarily blinded by the fountain of perspiration trickling into his eyes, we took him by the arms and led him forward to bask in what may well have been the greatest moment of his life. It was, as they say: the stuff dreams are made of.
. In the aftermath, we were giddy- flushed with joy and drunken with a success that would be very hard to equal again. Puffed-up with pride and satisfaction, we were a smash! Too bad the run was over. That was it: three fleeting performances, then- poof. Time to strike the set. It’s the nature of the beast. In fact, it is this very transitory magic of live theatre that makes it such a pure delight. THE MISER only had three performances at Canoga High- but what glorious performances they were!
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. After the thrilling highs of THE MISER the following weeks were a bit of a come-down, as the reality set in that it might well have been the best show most of us would ever be in. We set about making plans for the next play with subdued enthusiasm. So it was quite a shock, when tiny powerhouse Charlotte Motter called us all together to make a major surprise announcement: Without telling anyone, she had submitted the production into the first annual Southern California High School Play Competition. There was a clandestine judge in the audience on that final triumphant night, a spy with a yellow legal pad. Among all participating schools, judges chose three finalists to remount their productions for the final competition at a high school in downtown L.A.- and yes: THE MISER was in the running!
. Our deft director wisely added an extra two week rehearsal period, to brush up and regain our timing and pacing, and keep us fresh for our single encore performance. It was strange going back to work on a production that had already come and gone before audiences. Resurrecting it felt a little weird, but we managed to regain footing and generate excitement and momentum towards the command performance. But one day about a week into this period, I came to work coughing and sniffling- a condition I might normally have used as an excuse to stay home from school and lollygag, but for the afternoon’s brush-up rehearsal. Noticing how muffled and lethargic my malady had made me, Ms. Motter insisted I go home and rest. She told me to take as long as I needed, because I was very important to the show. Surprised to be shown this level of respect, I followed her instructions and went home to recuperate.
. As it happened, I missed only one more day, feeling fluish. But when I returned, recuperated and excited to be back, I discovered to my astonishment and fury, that for the second time, I had somehow managed to get myself kicked out of a production of THE MISER! Having taken my trusted director on her word, it was a blow I absolutely did not see coming. My friend Bob Jacobsen had been given my part. It was a shocker! I went through a range of emotion- all of the stages of grief, I would imagine. The whole thing seemed completely unfair to me, and created no small amount of bad feeling in me. For the entire week before our MISER redux I was a moribund grump.
. Though ostracized from the current effort, I was nonetheless still a part of the group- drama was still a big part of me, so I swallowed my pride and went along with my former castmates to cheer for them at the big competition. Watching them perform THE MISER from the anonymity of the back row was an otherworldly experience. Obviously, I had never seen the play in its entirety from the audience. It was so damn good I only felt more sorry and sad and frustrated. Bob was okay in the role of Master Jaques, but he missed so many opportunities and didn’t seem to comprehend much of the humor and irony in the lines. I felt no bitterness toward Bob. He came in at the last minute, and struggled just to memorize his lines in time- but I knew in my heart that I was better in the part, which only made me more long to be onstage in costume and makeup, helping my friends impress the judges.
. It was an all-day affair. THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH performed at 11 AM, we got the middle slot at 2 PM, and a very twisted MARAT/SADE from Chatsworth High hit the boards at 5 o’clock. Then, following a break for dinner, we all met again for the final awards ceremony at 8 PM.
. Frankly, I had mixed feelings about the fact that among the three finalists, THE MISER was awarded first place, even without my contribution...
Kevin finds it a humbling experience to play a 300 year old Puck, in Part 3 of PLAY PRODUCTION FOLLIES: “DEAR BRUTUS: We Are Underlings”.
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