Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Last Year, When I Acted With My Wife

You'll have to excuse my nostalgia, but Katie and I were just discussing how much fun we had a year ago when we were in a play together.

So, you remember the part where I am not an actor, right? Yes, I was part of an improv troupe in college. Yes, I have been in plays. Yes, I enjoy being, how they say in the biz, "silly" in front of people. But to actually act? No. I can't do it. But about a year ago, Katie forgot that. So, when our friend Dawnie stopped by and asked Katie if I would audition for the new Signature Productions’ play Ten Little Indians, Katie assured her I would love to do it.

I’m not trying to be humble when I say I’m not a great actor. I’m not even being truthful, really, because the truth would be I am a horrific actor. I like to think my acting makes everyone watching uncomfortable. Like when you watch Keanu Reeves in anything besides Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (The Academy still owes you an apology for snubbing you on that one, Keanu.) So you can imagine my reluctance to even drive by a theater where auditions are being held; what with the warrant out for my arrest and the Wanted posters still hanging up from my performance in Ordinary People, back in college.

And I know I should have immediately taken comfort in knowing that this was community theater, but that actually made it worse. To be a self-proclaimed bad actor is one thing, to have the director of a community theater play tell you that you “just aren’t what we’re looking for” is more than pouring salt on the wound, it’s hooking up an IV directly to a gaping wound and pumping pure salt directly in.

But I went. I went because Katie, my darling wife, is so dang cute, I can’t tell her “no.” Unless it involves owning a pet or substituting tofu for beef. I went because somewhere inside me…I missed the creative energy of being in front of a live audience. And this seemed like a harmless opportunity to do just that. The auditions were being held at the Summerlin Library. There is actually a decent-sized theater attached to the library, and productions are put on here fairly regularly.

I walked into the theater and saw some of the mucky-mucks hobnobbing and brou-ha-ha-ing down by the stage. There were a number of chairs up on the stage, making a half-circle and facing the audience. Several people were already seated on stage. Dawnie, our friend and neighbor who started this whole situation, saw me and came over to chat. She has been in a few Signature Productions plays and had been asked to help out as a production assistant on Ten Little Indians. She gave me the low-down. They had most of the cast selected, but were still auditioning for the two leads. The female lead had come down to two women, both there and ready for their second audition, and the leading male was … still unfound. Apparently they had auditions the day before, and one of the men came close, but in the end he “wasn’t what they had in mind.” So they offered him one of the other roles and were still looking for a leading man. Which is why Dawnie had asked Katie to force me, at gunpoint, if necessary, to audition. And here I was.

I took a seat on stage, next to the young, blonde woman who turned out to be one of the two women auditioning for the female lead. I started looking over the script for my first time and tried to get a handle on what was supposed to be going on.

By the strangest coincidence, I had seen the original 1930-something version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. It was a dark and stormy night, August of 1988…almost 16 years ago to the day. Our family had just moved to the tiny island of Molokai, Hawaii. We were staying in the house of a friend of my dad’s. He rented it out to tourists and used it occasionally when he visited the island, and since it was unoccupied at the time, he invited us to stay in it. He didn’t have cable, and his video library consisted of one … single … video. Ten Little Indians. One night, out of complete and sheer boredom, my brother and I popped it in. I recognized it immediately as a useless and inept rip off of the superior Clue and Murder by Death. Since that time, I have learned to respect it as the original “murder mystery” where strangers are brought together and one by one die and/or disappear.

So I understood the premise, but not what was happening in the scene we were about to utilize as my auditioning piece. I read over it as they had the first woman audition for the female lead. She sounded fine to me, but when she finished the director said, “Now…can you do it again…with the English accent?” Oh, good crap. An English accent!? If there is a way to make me look even worse as an actor, it’s to have me attempt an accent. I was about to wet my pants, so nervous was I. I was about to wonder – out loud – what I was doing there, when the blonde next to me spoke up.

“Has anyone told you that you look exactly like Jude Law?”

(Looking behind me, then in the general area, and finally back at her) “Are you talking to me?”

“Of course! Has anyone told you you look completely like Jude Law?” (Sidebar, Jude Law was at that time on the cover of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful Men Alive…starring Jude Law as the most beautiful man alive.)


“Well, you do.”

“You mean a middle-aged, chubby Jude Law?”

“Oh…you.” And then she started singing. Loudly. Then she turned to me and asked if I’ve listened to the cd from the new musical Avenue Q, from which she was loudly singing this song that she apparently loved.

Is she flirting with me? I asked myself. She couldn’t be. I must be 10 years older than her, not to mention the wedding band I was proudly sporting. Who is this girl and why would she show up drunk at an audition?

Sensing that he had lost control of the room, the director, Victor, asked me to stand up and run the scene with the first girl who is auditioning for the lead. This girl seemed nice, but even more nervous than I. The scene felt really stiff. Then Victor asked Blondie to trade places with the first girl and we did the scene again. I have to admit, I felt better. Blondie had a great English accent, which seemed to help mine. She was really comfortable and projected well and it just seemed like a better scene, especially since she didn’t start singing the soundtrack to Avenue Q in the middle of our scene.

Now, here is the hilarious part. I’ve done the scene twice, right? Victor then asks the first girl to walk with him, and as they head towards the door, he is obviously letting her know “she wasn’t what they were looking for.” He then comes back and tells Blondie that she gets the part. Then…he turns to me…and with a big smile says, “Congratulations…you are our Captain Lombard!”

At that moment, I simultaneously realized how desperate they were and how doomed the play was. Sure, it was their ship I was going to sink, but I was the Captain.

Victor seemed so pleased to have me. So proud. One of the ladies on the Board chimed in, “The moment you walked in the room…I knew we had our Captain Lombard.” Dawnie, a true friend, assured me the other guy was worse than me. And that is pretty much the truest definition of this success story.

So, then the first play practice. Initially the practices were held in the ballet theater behind the library. So we could pirouette as we run lines. I found the room where we would be practicing – because most of the cast was standing outside the room, chatting. Apparently a number of them know each other from previous plays and whatnot. I recognized only Blondie, from the audition, so I took a place in the social circle, standing next to Blondie. When somebody asked who I was, she answered, “He’s my Love Monkey.” This made me nervous. So I stood by a guy I didn’t know, but whom I was fairly confident would not refer to me as his Love Monkey.

During the first practice we just read through the play, and much to my surprise and horror…I did not have the worst English accent in the group. There were a few cast members who even asked if their characters could be visiting from America, so as to avoid the use of an accent all together. They didn't get much of an argument from anybody.

The next day, before practice, we are all chit-chatting when out of the blue, the Blondie to whom I am a Love Monkey announced that she just got married. That afternoon. About three hours before practice. Some guy that she had dated for years, they broke up, recently got back together. They’re young, crazy, and in love. She is ecstatic and we are all happy for her. My impression is that even before this episode she was fairly confident that the world revolved around her…but now she even had something to point to to prove it. As the night progressed she became more and more uncertain about being able to commit to the play. What, with her being the only one married and all. Oh, that’s right, almost all of us in the play are married. At any rate, she all but backed out of it by the end of the night. And that was fine by me. I don’t know if it was her flirtatious nature, my being married for nine years, or me not being used to acting since…ever…but I was struggling in our scenes together. I’m supposed to be coming on to her, stroking her skin, playing with her hair, touching her face, making eye contact. At the end of the play we would even kiss. I was hoping I was supposed to poop my pants after that, because I was pretty sure that’s what wass going to happen. But suddenly there’s was no need to get comfortable being romantic with Blondie. She dropped out. We needed a new female lead, and in my heart of hearts, I knew Katie would be fabulous. And she was.

Truth be known, I couldn't have imagined doing the play without her. We both knew it would be crazy-insane on our lives…but we knew how much fun we would have performing together. While we were talking about it tonight we both agreed it was a good thing we took the opportunity when we did...because we don't know how we would do it now. Especially with Katie being nine months pregnant. But what a great sequel! Nine Little Indians & One Pregnant Sqaw.