This project was very rewarding and a lot of good fun. Not just for us performers, either; a lot of people who saw it commented that it was one of the more satisfying evenings of theatre they’ve been to in a long time. I think there’s a reason for this: it’s because we were doing short - but nonetheless complete - plays, rather than mere scenes. As a result the audience got the satisfaction of seeing an entire story (seven, in fact) for their money, and this seems to have been more satisfying than the usual bill of fare at Hollywood scene-nights - where you get five minutes from fifteen different plays slapped together with no rhyme or reason. With a better format, our performers in turn were able to shine better, since people had a complete story to tell rather than a partial one, and there was no “starting in the middle” or “coming in on the high note” of a play, which can be both jarring and confusing for the spectators. All in all, then, this was a very successful experiment, and a lovely way to end the year.
My play was about a guy in the bleachers at a baseball game. He starts off razzing the batters, whooping it up, etc. Then he’s joined by a lonely-seeming girl, who sits further down the same bench. They get to talking, and presently discover that both of them are there out of a sense of tradition: he (me) because he used to do this with his late wife, she because her father always promised he’d take her to a game, but never did. They bond. They commence what may be a new friendship. Very sweet. End of play.
The young actress I worked with, Elizabeth Kouri, is a wonderful talent and it was a pleasure doing the scene with her. In fact, she’s such an interesting person that often she and Jerry and I would get together to run through the play and end up chatting the whole night long instead. Some people you just meet and bond with; Elizabeth’s one of those for me. I didn’t even get to meet her husband until closing night! He was so polite about giving us our space to rehearse that he would go into the back room whenever I came over and not put his head out the whole evening. Very nice guy, named Adam. Together with their daughter Io, they make a lovely little family.
Opening night I was standing there razzing the ‘batters’ in the ‘game’ I was ‘watching’ and to my delight the audience thought this was about the funniest thing they’d ever seen. So naturally, like the ham I am, I kept it up. With a few more nights under my belt I ended up making a whole new beat out of this business; the top of the show became a two minute sequence of me going “Whooo!” and waving a Dodgers flag and generally acting like a nut in the stands. Then Linda DeArmond (the playwright) finally came to see the show. Meeting her afterwards I was a little mortified; I felt like I’d taken considerable license with her script, and I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it. Turned out she was delighted; a real good sport. I ceased to worry after that.
There was lots of good work in this evening but for my money the funniest part by far was Jerry Lambert in his own piece, “Straight Talk.” Jerry played a father giving cryptic advice to a prospective son-in-law; so cryptic, however, that neither the young man (played by Byron Field) or the audience can figure out exactly what the heck he’s getting at. “Catch my drift?” Jerry would say after some tortured and wholly incomprehensible story. “Er, no, sir, I really don’t” the poor kind would reply. It goes to show that the simplest ideas are - I won’t say ‘better’ - but are often just as good as more complex ones when it comes to theatre. In this case, the whole play was variations on this impasse, but it was utterly, side-splittingly hilarious. Towards the end, for instance, the father reveals that he’s been in prison. “Let me give you another example,” Jerry would say. “I was standing in the prison yard one day when I was approached by an inmate called ‘Big Leon.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you! You’re my punk! You’re my new bitch!’” At this point Jerry would look significantly at Byron, and then say, “I had a choice to make right then and there, Darren.” He’d take a deep breath, turn back to the audience, sort of squint into the middle distance as if remembering, and then say, “And when I woke up next to Big Leon the next morning...” HUGE LAUGH. Pause while it dies. Then: “...I realized, I’ve made the wrong choice.” UPROARIOUS LAUGH. Sometimes the show would stop for a good ten or fifteen seconds at this point. Simply wonderful. My kudos to Jerry. Beautiful. Just brilliant.
My best-friend Tori King was also in this piece, as Jerry’s daughter. As is her wont, she was fearless, sexy, and funny all at the same time, and made me proud all over again of knowing her.