The story of my serious acting life really begins with this play; this weird, kooky little fantasy piece whose plot you couldn’t drag out of me under torture because I simply don’t remember it. There were guards, a princess, and an evil lady of some kind. There was a young prince, and a Stranger from Thessaly, and there might even be more than that for all I know. We had axes and swords; and robes and spells. But what was it all about? You’ve got me.
Which is all the more ironic because if you were going to pick any play in my life and call it a turning point - or at least, the first turning point - this would be it.
Oh, well. In general terms, I can tell you that this was my first play with the new Glenview drama teacher, Brian Van Norman, at the helm. If you look elsewhere at my Glenview Notes, you’ll see that Brian had come to the drama program at GPSS quite recently - and so had I. He was 25 and figuring out how to teach this stuff; I was 15 and, if possible, about the most ardent pupil he had. I certainly became obsessed with theatre arts very quickly. And so, when “The Golden Doom” was announced, I was burning to try out for it.
I loved being in this show. We had a set made of risers with carpeted ramps, and I can still remember the novelty of setting them up in that big school gym where, just a few years earlier, I had watched Wait Until Dark. The play excited me, partly because it was published. I clearly remember holding photocopies obviously made from some printed book, a fact that impressed me greatly.
Brian and I got along well in rehearsals - just the same way we got along in his theatre arts classes. In both, something about his desire to do our very best - a real, strong sense of mission - fit right in with my own feelings. Working hard and long at rehearsals became the norm very quickly. Work? It was joy to me.
Among my few surviving memories: I recall one day when we were rehearsing the first scene in the play. As the curtain rises, you saw Jim Griggs and I as two guards, lounging around and chatting, whiling away a hot afternoon. As we worked on the scene it became clear that Jim’s character was the smart one and I was the dumb one. So one day Brian said: “Paul ... try delivering that line a little dumber, will you?” I thought about it a minute. Then I did it. And it got a big laugh!! I was so delighted!! It’s still the best feeling in the world, to take a piece of direction, add a little of your own mustard to it, then bring it back and have everyone like it. You feel as though you could walk on water.
Another funny memory involves John. You have to picture John MacKenzie as “the Stranger from Thessaly.” John stood a good 6 foot 2 in those days, and was a slow-moving-giant type guy. Sometimes too slow, however. One day we were working on a scene at the top of the play, where The Stranger From Thessaly comes on and tries to talk his way past the guards. We send him packing with a few threatening jabs of our spears. Well, Brian felt that John wasn’t getting off the stage fast enough. He kept giving John the direction “Faster, John. Go faster when you’re leaving.” But John would still end up departing at a gait that seemed unhurried.
So finally, during the next break, Brian came over and whispered to Jim, “If he doesn’t move faster next time, jab him.” Sure enough, when we got back to work Jim told John to take a hike, and, as usual, John didn’t move fast enough ... and so this time Jim took his weapon (a big wooden battle-axe - see photo) and gave John a good sharp poke in the rear!
I will never to the end of my life forget John’s expression; partly amazed, partly outraged, and partly frightened that his fellow actor had maybe lost his mind. Then Jim gave another jab, and at that point John literally flew off the stage. A minute later, when we finished the scene, he popped his head back in and cried, “He poked me!” Hilarious.
(By the way, poking a fellow actor without warning onstage with any kind of prop is completely unprofessional. The only reason this is funny is because we were students at the time and nobody knew better.)
I would love to find the script for this little play again someday, just so I could read it and find out (a) who wrote it, and (b) what the heck it was all about. Brian and I were talking about it a year or so ago, and even between the two of us we couldn’t remember the plot.