COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY! (ch. 20) “Roshomon Chronicles”

DSCN3484!  !  !


Kevin’s kooky, kicky comic revue MADNESS AND INSANITY proved for good and all, that he was well on his way to being COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!



. Fresh out of high school, mother’s milk still wet on my lips, I enrolled in Pierce Junior College in early fall of 1974. I kind of drifted there actually, as it was local, cheap and I really didn’t know what else to do with myself. My brother had taken drama there, and it seemed like a pretty good program for what was essentially a cow college. So loving live theatre, I began, and was immediately cast in “Rashomon”, the Japanese classic about the subjective nature of reality- how each man is the hero in his version of the truth.

. It’s a truly great play, and I got a really plum role, playing the nasty, grubby streetwise wigmaker, stealing scalps from dead bodies and selling them for wigs! The play is framed as a story-within-a-story. A common uneducated woodcutter has witnessed something amazing. Huddled with a priest and the wigmaker under the great Kyoto gate in a heavy downpour, my character draws the story out of the reluctant woodcutter, as a Priest huddles nearby- and that story comes to life around us. For the uninitiated, Rashomon tells the tale of a (possible) rape and murder from the perspectives of the bandit, the “raped” concubine and the “murdered” samurai, via the trance of a medium in court, who channels his voice from beyond the grave. The thing is: none of the stories match, because in each one- the teller presents themselves as the hero- calling into doubt that there was really any crime committed at all. It is absolutely wonderful material.

. Since I was a part of this trio of storytellers, I really had no scenes with anyone else, making my fellow actors John and Michael close chums from the shared camaraderie. (I eventually lost touch with Michael after he moved to Boston and married, but John and I still live in the same town, and are still close friends.) I also grew friendly with Mitch, the very funny man who played the itchy, perplexed bandit- and especially, with my most unlikely comrade among the lot: the snobbish, uppity, elitist misanthrope Jed Milner. I tell a very funny story about the day we became friends, when Jed refused to shake my offered hand, as he felt me somehow “beneath” him. I just laughed and laughed at his buffoonery- something no one else had had the courage to do, I gather, disarming him and earning his grudging respect.

. We mounted the play in the spring of 1975, in a small, hot bungalow with a thrust stage- surrounded by audience on three sides. The set consisted of one large Japanese gate, tall enough for actors to enter and exit through, and the silhouetted impressions of a forest on all sides. We wore elaborate costumes from the ravishing kimono of the concubine to the tattered burlap rags my character wore. For audiences, the highlight of the play was the extended swordplay between the bandit and the samurai. This was an elaborately choreographed dance that required intense concentration and extreme dexterity from Mitch and Jed, because the fake swords they began to train with just didn’t cut it. They made a dull thud when striking each other, and the whole exercise just looked like children playing. In service of authenticity, our director Donald Horst switched to real, metal swords with actual blades, that whooshed as they cut through the air and clanged sharply when struck! This was a dangerous and delicate business. Due to the tight confines of the theatre, these actors would be slashing real blades at each other within a few short feet of the audience’s noses! There was no room for error, so Mitch and Jed rehearsed endlessly, until the movements were almost second-nature, and the fight came to feel almost real, and very, very exciting.

. I made my entrance from atop the gate, so I had to crawl up and take my place before the house was open. I had to lie in the darkness, unseen as the audience assembled, which was a bit of a thrill. From the moment I made my entrance at the beginning of the play, everything just clicked. The show really caught fire, moving along briskly and taking on a life of its own, the way truly good productions do. And this was a truly good production. Everyone was perfectly suited to their roles, and Donald Horst had managed to wrest the most, from the possibilities inherent in such a small house. Audiences loved it, delivering standing ovations and soon drawing full houses from word of mouth.

. After our three week run was over, Donald thought it such a success, he wanted to commit the show to videotape for posterity. So, more than two weeks after the run was over, he asked the whole cast and crew to reassemble for a video shoot. All the participants agreed, and the following weekend, we all gathered for one last performance. The set was dressed, the technical cues run. All the actors got into costume and makeup, and everybody was there… except Jed.

. Picture the scene: Donald Horst is getting nervous. He has called Jed several times, but got no answer. Everyone is beginning to fret. Where could he be? About five minutes before we were supposed to roll, Jed comes careening up in his sporty convertible, and he’s so drunk he can hardly get out of his car! (Liquid escape was a big anesthetic for his many demons.) We had to help Jed get into his big white kimono and put his makeup on for him, and we started to worry: “Oh my God! He’s the drunkest man I’ve ever seen! Is he going to remember his lines?” With great trepidation, we shepherded Jed out onstage, and he seemed to be doing okay, a little unsteady on his feet and slurred of speech, but he seemed to be remembering all his lines… until we suddenly realized: Oh my God! What about the sword fight? It been choreographed down to the tiniest movement. But would Jed remember his moves? Would this drunken sot have the necessary reflexes to execute this delicate paux-de-deux? We all watched tensely from the wings…

. Sure enough, when that moment came- Mitch brought that blade down,- but Jed did not leap out of the way nimbly enough. And ZIP! A big rend tore Jed’s flesh! The bottom of his white kimono bloomed blood-red in seconds.

. Our director stood up and called out: “O-kay! Shoot cancelled. Everyone go home. Jed, go see a doctor!”

. As the cast and crew dissipated, Jed careened backstage and tore off his stained kimono, revealing a truly hideous wound- his thigh splayed open like a slashed melon, the flesh extruding like a big glistening red cauliflower. It was the most gruesome thing I’d ever seen. He struggled to pull on his Levis, and in an instant, one leg was soaked with blood. And as we all tried to restrain him, Jed stumbled back to his sleek car, and drove away, drunk. (Later, we discovered that Jed never did get the stitches he so obviously needed, but just passed-out and let nature take its course- lucky not to get blood poisoning or bleed out!)

> And that was it for Rashomon. Suddenly, it was all over, (again) and for all the effort, we never did get that performance on videotape…




© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About KPKeelan

Fool, Philosopher, Lover & Dreamer, Benign TROUBLEMAKER, King and Jester of KPKworld, an online portal to visual and linguistic mystery, befuddlement and delight.
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