“The showâ€™s major drawback is Humphriesâ€™ straightjacketed performance as Jon. He huffs and puffs from one scene to the next with unvarying gesture and intonation, unable to take his character beyond a blandly drawn portrait of frustrated agitation, even though one senses heâ€™s grasping to do so. “
That’s the review I woke up to on Wednesday morning – the hump day standing tall between dual weekend performances of the show I’m costarring in – “Love, Sex & the IRS” which is currently being performed at the Gateway Players Theater in Southbridge, MA (with two dates remaining this coming Friday and Saturday evenings).
And those slings and arrows weren’t fired by some wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter on the Southbridge Middle School beat. This one came from the real deal – Paul Kolas, the vetted theater critic on staff at our Big Time rag, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which is a paper that is a step down in circulation from the Boston Globe but likely on par with the Lawrence Eagle Tribune or Providence Daily Journal.
Which meant that of their 100,000 + readership, about 10,000 peepers would have spied the offending piece and would suddenly free-associate my good name with other theatrical calamities – worse than the time Ruben Studdard essayed all three Dreamgirls. With one fell swoop and 47 words, Mr. Kolas effectively eradicated the fruits of my future Google searches – a vanity project that once upon a time matched my name with a famed serial killer in South Florida and a supporting role in the 50’s creature feature, The Giant Gila Monster. Now I wouldn’t rate a walk-on as the Lonely Wildebeest in Putnam, CT’s upcoming revival of Zoo Animals on Wheels.
Two sentences can royally mess with your mojo.
Now here’s the thing. There’s a real part of me that thinks this guy is right on the money. After all, I’m not a trained actor. I like doing it – hell, I love it, but it’s not my strength. In fact, if there’s one thing I’m pretty damned sure of after 37 years on this orb, it’s that my strengths are limited but where I’ve got them, they are rock solid.
I feel I have a decent command of my voice, in print. I may not be aiming for the Great American Novel but I think I can express myself with the best of them and with each rambling, run-on sentence, transport each of you into my head for this running travelogue. And hopefully the sights are worth pointing out.
I think I also have a decent sense of humor and when free of inhibitions, I can let loose.
I also try to stay pretty light which given the last year – as I found myself Up in the Air looking for gainful employment – was no easy task. We all have problems – I know that – and as challenging as things had grown for a guy who was just starting to feel nice and snug, I know that my challenges pale in comparison to people staring down horrific medical diagnoses, loss of family, loss of homes, loss of dignity, etc. That being said, I won’t diminish my hardships. I lost my job and that was a heavy cross to bare.
And every day that dawns is another day that my beloved little boy Colin embraces his challenges – as he looks to burst free from his bubble and become more socially aware, so I realize that our family has our work cut out for us.
But we’re always looking for that stress relief. For that light. For that life.
It’s what keeps us all moving. And if you’ve seen Up in the Air, a window on the times that views humans as sharks – beings that must keep moving or else they die – then you’ll know what I mean. We’re not predatory but if we find ourselves sedentary, life just settles to the bottom. And what type of life is that to lead? What type of view do you get down there?
And that’s what led me to Gateway.
Two years ago, I moseyed on down to the local auditorium on a warm, summer’s eve punctuated by a scattershot collection of thunderstorms and sat spellbound, as the wind whipped outside and my wife transported the audience away from the sound and fury with the sweet melody of her voice as her aria climbed every mountain, chasing down The Sound of Music.
She had learned early on that the local Gateway Players theater company was planning a summertime production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical, and she made a beeline for the part she was born to play. She nabbed the role, worked her ass off all summer, and then acting alongside an expert cast including Dave Corkum as the Captain, Billy Bolster as Max and a talented cabal of child actors – they sold their plight and we believed their love.
And I felt the call reverberate. Here was something outside of my norm. Sure, I had acted back in High School and early college – and I toyed with student films here and there over the years – but this was something that was missing. My life had become the Nine-to-Five. Clock in. Clock out. Eat Dinner. Watch TV. Rinse and Repeat. And I don’t have hair so the whole concept of Rinse and Repeat is completely lost on me.
But in the days following that performance, I felt something stir inside me. I saw Andi have the time of her life, and a selfishness grabbed root. I wanted what she had – even just a little taste. And when she returned home one night, following a celebratory cast party – and mentioned, matter-of-factly, that Dave wanted to know if I had any interest in acting (to which she replied – “No“), I went ballistic.
“CALL HIM BACK!!!”
I wanted in. Now, I didn’t want a lead and playing a cadaver or dancing penguin would be just fine by me but anything to get a peek behind the curtain and get a hint of that magic – to dip my toes in the proverbial Fountain of Youth – would do wonders to rid my head of my earthly concerns. As my days were stretching deeper into descending twilight, this felt like something that would ward the night terrors away. This was the breath of life I needed to mix things up.
Find something you love doing and do it as often as you can.
For me – there’s many things. I love to write. I love my family. I love my friends. And I love to make people laugh.
And I’ve found that I love performing on stage. For a guy who lived his first stage of life, painfully shy; somewhere along that winding road of life, I kicked the wallflower to the curb and never went back to check on him. This outwardness has colored my career success – making me a good candidate to sit down with a client as I can walk into a room and just chat up a bunch of strangers. Somewhere along the line I got real social and real good at it, too.
And it’s served me well on the stage. Sure, I get butterflies two seconds before walking out but once I’m out there, I love it. There’s a real charge that comes from performing in front of a crowd. My one regret is that I waited so long in this life to steal drops of that elixir. But it’s never too later, right?
So when Dave cast me in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest back in late-August 2008, I was over the moon. I had a small supporting role as Aide Warren, Nurse Ratched’s malevolent right-hand man. I had something like 30+ lines but was usually a menacing presence in most scenes, barking and scowling at the inmates and keeping order.
I learned a lot and made some tight friends. And I got that charge I was looking for. And when the show was shuttered, drunk off of the positive reviews we garnered (including a 4-Star review from the aforementioned Kolas who mentioned my supporting contribution as “distinctive”), I knew I needed to seek out another sip.
With two young children in the house, and a Mommy & Daddy suddenly in love all over again with the theater, we decided that we would tag in and out as shows came along – that way we would always have child care in place. The day would come someday, soon enough, when we could both grace the stage together. So, in 2009, I took a hiatus while Andi filled her dance card – with Godspell, The Love Boat and The Wizard of Oz spilling into early 2010.
It’s at the latter show that I ran across my former cast mate Mike Dupuis who mentioned he was going to apprentice as Assistant Director on the Spring comedy “Love, Sex & the IRS”. He thought I might make a decent Leslie, which I took to mean Mike was seriously looking to feed his vice and get me in a dress, but the spark was lit. Hell – if I could snag that role, I’d have Blog material for weeks. Besides, my kids are too well adjusted. Seeing me prancing about as a melting clown would be good for their future therapy. After all, we crazy ones are the real sane people!!!
So I went for the role and was thrown a curve ball. My good buddy Scott Metras landed the cross-dressing Leslie and I would be the man with the plan, Jon Trachtman. Leslie gets all the good lines and I’m the straight man. The way I read him, there were two ways to play this part. Cool, cocky confidence or rapidly escalating stress as my well-laid plans crumble around me. I took the latter approach. After all, the script hints early on that I have a bit of a Hulk in me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
Apparently Mr. Kolas doesn’t, either.
Which brings us full circle. I harbor no illusions that I am by any means a great actor – or even a good one. I think I’m serviceable. I can learn my lines. I can deliver them. And I don’t bump into props.
I can also append some sort of character to a role. I’m not an angry guy on a regular basis so the rampaging creep I degenerate to in this play is my attempt at acting. It’s the approach I’ve gone with. It doesn’t illicit a lot of laughs but I don’t think I’m supposed to. My character is the catalyst for the madness and the anchor too. There are some larger than life clowns in the script, with the surly landlord Ms. Jansen and that sneaky tax man, Mr. Spinner, written to entertain.
And then of course there’s Leslie and his predicament – and when you get a load of his makeup – which renders him as either the most hideous woman to walk the Earth, a one man Insane Clown Posse (which is probably why he’s insane if he’s solo and thinks he’s a posse) or a surprisingly-hot Susan Broyles. Either way – when Leslie, Jansen and Spinner quickly enter the equation, the audience is off and laughing aided by an astounding cast. Seriously. You want to know why I’m singled out as the weak link? I’m surrounded in every part by greatness!!! And that’s a good thing for a show to have.
And over two nights, we have brought the house down. It’s true what they say. Some shows aren’t made for critics. This one is a crowd-pleaser and one that I’m proud of. The laughs came fast and furious both nights, so much so that when we gathered this past Tuesday to perform a special taped performance for our upcoming DVD, the lack of an audience led us to feel as if we were acting in a vacuum. It just felt so unearthly not having the booming accompaniment of 60+ people having the time of their lives – or at least, an entertaining night out. We were so used to filling time to find a quiet moment to hit with the next line, that it felt weird. The audience ate this show up this past weekend.
The critic did not.
So it shouldn’t sting as much as it does – or did – but I can’t deny that waking to that review just killed me. I had this sneaking suspicion that my character was the weakest part – or the necessary foundation upon which to build the jokes. I’m in this thing non-stop but my guy is not the crowd-pleaser, nor meant to be.
And despite the goodwill of an audience, it’s hard not to paraphrase a critic’s review – especially when all you have to do it read the first half of the first line and it reads like “The shows major drawback is Humphries…”
Stop right there and it’s just devastating. If it weren’t for this chronic dry eye I’ve been plagued with these past few years, I’d be moved to tears but I don’t want to waste the precious few I have. Certainly not after a night when Lost sucked!!! Talk about a Wednesday from Hell.
So, I spent the bulk of yesterday in a funk. I was reminded of that old Homer Simpson maxim:
“Kids – You tried your hardest and failed miserably. The moral is… never try.”
But by the end of the day, I went off for a great second interview. And I realized – Hey, I can act after all. Now, I’m not saying an interview is an act – far from it – but in every facet of life, we wear different hats. We need to be different people. The Dad in me is different than the guy hanging out with my buddies at Fenway or the Client Relations Manager planning a quarterly Senior Management Dinner at the Capital Grille in Manhattan. We need to take on the personas as the role requires and play the part to the hilt in order to get the job done properly and leave everyone happy.
And that late inning success yesterday gave me new resolve. I wasn’t going to change a damn thing.
I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow that critic’s opinion right down.