OF AN ACTOR
CRUCIBLE-FROM THE BOARDS
TO A ROMANTIC COMEDY
ODETS IS 100
1955 YOU ARE THERE' LETTER FROM MONKEY BLOCK
THE SIXTIES, NEVADA CITY, CALIFORNIA
OF AN ACTOR
from the SF APWU News May-June 2005 issue. San Francisco Local American
Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO)
I stumbled upon stage acting about ten years ago when I took a class
at SF City College called 'Labor Speaks, Labor Sings' in the Labor Studies
were to write and perform a day in the life at work. I wrote of
the P&DC and an
old "Wobbly" (the IWW, an anarchist union formed at the turn
of the last century) who I'd have coffee with after Tour 1, he spoke of
the Great Depression. From that point on I was hooked. I think we actors
share a simular story of finding the magic and inspiration that first grabs
you and won't quit.
father did the same thing. In addition to being in the public school
teacher's union (NEA) he was also in the actor's union (Actor's Equity).
It took me until
my early forties to appreciate the same crazy life but now my father and
I have at least something more to talk about.
Theatre is storytelling.
Its cooperation, its a collective art form. The challenge isn't so much
learning all those lines as presenting a situation, a performance fresh,
new and alive after the thirtieth show.
played King Lear, Dr Faustus, Shylock in the 'Merchant of Venice', George
in 'Who's Afraid
of Virginia Woolf?', various roles in a Native American play called 'Black Elk
Speaks', the homeless Vietnam Vet Lymon Fellars living in the redwoods
in 'Redwood Curtain'. Sometimes you'll even see me as the Emperor Norton.
I'll never forget my
father taking me up in the balcony of the Wharf Theater in Monterey where
he performed in the early sixties. He said to me, "Bud" he said,
"if you're on the stage you must be able to reach the person sitting
in the back row of this balcony!" That was a huge theatre, 300 seats
maybe (since torn down and rebuilt), especially to a seven year old. But
for the audience in the balcony or standing within spitting distance, its
something more than just to be heard. Its to present a new perspective,
make sense of this complicated oddity called humankind. For the audience
to truly hear, they need to laugh, they need to cry. Not always easy but
one heck of a lot of fun.
THE CRUCIBLE-FROM THE BOARDS
from the APWU News September/October 2005)
1692. There are shames and shams in our soil. 19 people executed. 64
rounded up and imprisoned in the environs of their own community,
Mass. Call a crazy beggar a witch. Crush a man until he
admits he's a sorcerer. Try the slave from Barbados who's been caught
her Barbados magic ritual.
Witch trials and executions existed for hundreds of years before Salem
in both America and Europe. Salem only stands out only because good
people (judges, accusers), stood up and admitted to fraud. Sadly thousands
of innocents lost their lives.
It is said that Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' is a depiction of the
McCarthy era during the fifties when union leaders, screenwriters, scientists
and others were tossed out of work for nearly a decade by one man and
the U.S. Congress. The hysteria didn't concern 'devils' but 'communists'.
The accused would "cry out" the practices, the possible influences,
the "invisible crimes" of their friends or their colleagues
or their enemies in order to save themselves.
We've opened 'The Crucible' at The Playhouse in San Francisco. Why resurrect
this modern classic from 1952? 1692, under the Crown, landed gentry
could scoop up another's land for non payment of taxes. Between
hard working farmers, some newer to Massachusetts, there were factions
and divisions,accusers and the accused, divided at areas around Salem
sort of like red states, blue states.
Theology poisoning good governance. Literature talks as fraud walks
the pace of history, whether that be a vacationing
president or a president entertaining Iranian Mullahs, they
keep their courts. Do our Vietnams really "fight the devil" (I
mean every intervention since WWII) What about the Geneva Convention?
I play the Marshall,a poor soul required to arrest and execute his
friends and neighbors. I'm a drunk and a shipwreck by the end. Come
a fine cast with a transforming story, proud to employ three union
actors (raises the quality of health and safety andthe quality of
PRELUDE TO A ROMANTIC COMEDY
from the APWU News November/December 2005)
Comedy's not a norm for me. I see myself more tragic, exploring the
dark and flawed sides of the human soul. Romantic comedy. My wife,Jeanie
and I are once again on stage together. (Uncle Fred and Aunt Dorothy-
we've never played husband and wife before).
Humor. An artist friend of mine in the neighborhood, 'momo', says
humor is the "most subversive emotion".
In Stalin's day when one could be imprisoned or worse for critisizing
the Soviet system or their fearless leader, the issue could be raised
effectively by the telling of jokes. The verbal blasting of Joe Stalin
could infect the entire Soviet Union because you just can't squash humor.
But we're in a free country so, why comedy? Do we allow ourselves to
be cordially chastised by a problematic situation challenging the normal
state of things only to be an observor of our own kooky fishbowl? Laughter's
an orgasmic elation.
Comedy restores our humaness. The word 'prelude' is also defined
as an introduction to a musical composition. 'Prelude to a Kiss'
name of our play. Its actually the prelude to a marriage when the
unmistakeness of the other, the love that seems undying, the joy
that two people can
share makes for the proposal of marriage. An old man, riddled with
lung cancer and psrosis of the liver wonders into a wedding reception,
the young bride and -zap- exchanges souls with her. Suddenly "puppy,
puppy" as a pet name isn't so endearing to the groom. The politics
are different, things have changed. "Nothing was wrong exactly",
says the groom, "but nothing felt...nothing felt".
We're here to turn things on their head, us actors in a comedy. If
we're doing our jobs well you'll laugh and live theatre will pleasantly
take you out of your routine, make you laugh at yourselves maybe.
magic happens, a magic particular to the stage in my opinion and love
wins this time and love lasts. "Nothing to lose. All you've
got to do is want it. Bad enough..."
Come see us at the SF Playhouse, a union shop once again with two excellent
Actor's Equity actors.
CLIFFORD ODETS IS 100
(Reprinted from APWU News May/June 2006)
The playwright Clifford Odets would be 100 this year. This means
there are revivals of his plays across the country, Broadway and
DC in particular. A dramaturgy is presented with the problem of relevancy.
Depression era, post-WWI plays, part of the ‘Group Theatre’ were
deemed to present socially significant contemporary plays and to create
an artistic theatre. “Propaganda” for lefties in the thirties?
These were desperate times. At performances of Odets ‘Waiting
for Lefty’ audience members would jump out of their seats and
return to performances over and over just to shout “Strike” in
unison with players playing cabdrivers at the end of the play. ‘Waiting
for Lefty’ was in fact used for solidarity material at some
So along with a bunch of other innocents Odets gets drawn before
HUAC, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the fifties.
Reds out. Odets was a Communist Party member for less than a year.
Quit because he couldn’t devise his scripts for ideological purposes. “I
am against war. I am against Facism. I am for a third party.” he
told the witch trials. They let him off.
Odets enamored us with that part of the American dream of rising
above adversity. We see Frank of ‘Golden Boy’ climbing to the
top of the boxing ladder to fame and fortune using his own wits, might
and determination, ruining his hands and his father’s dream of
his son becoming a concert violinist. Odets also clawed at the middle
class. In ‘Rocket to the Moon’ a dentist caught out on
the edge with his assistant returns to his old life where wife is business
manager and “everyday is Monday”. Let’s hope the
husband finds something on the weekends or pokes around in the ashes
for some kind of spark with his wife.
“ Say it in the movies, Joe-they pay Clark Gable big money for
1.1 ‘Waiting for Lefty’. Odets was said to take pokes
at Hollywood movies which at the time were jam packed with escapism
desperate times. People were known to buy tickets for the movies
during the Depression moreover food for the family. If Odets were
today he might be referring to video games and the vast playland
of the Internet, or the fact that the vast majority in line at the
Office have neither a book or newspaper.
Odets was part of a movement during the thirties which went about
making art and theatre more relevant and politically astute.
Harold Clurman, founder of the Group Theater of which Odets was
involved, wrote of these artists as “representatives of something astir
in the country, something bigger than the art world- life in America
itself.” American theatre since has placed itself squarely in
topics of controversy and relevance. ‘Hair’ brought the
nudity and the hippie revolution to the stage, ‘Equis’ the
nature of violence, and ‘Angels in America’ the AIDS
epidemic. What is theatre or art for that matter here for? Stir
up the emotion
obviously, make us think, make us question, possibly take action.
1955 YOU ARE THERE' LETTER FROM MONKEY
(Reprinted from North Beach Aquarium September 2006)
Tex knew how to sling those records. His music'd make
us happy or sad. All kinds of music, all day long. Hank Williams, Bill
Haley and his
Comets, Billy Vaughn, Bessie Smith, from gospel to Mexican mariachi
music. Music to work by. The day has a mood and he'd play to the mood,
of dig the tempo of the people waiting in line and play maybe
Frank Sinatra for some beautiful secretary or patriotic songs, Christmas
songs or "jazz" or "bebop". Most people loved
it and he had a stack of records. Some days business would be slow
and the Italian would get out his mandolin and I'd get out my guitar
Tex would play country and we'd try and play along. Well, one day,
we're slow and we're playing and then we get this line of people but
this country or trying to play this country and this square in a bowler
starts rapping his cane, rapping his cane says, "I want to speak
to your Supervisor!" Tex rips off the record and me and the Italian
stop playing and Tex says "Supervisor ain't here!" Glares
at the cat in the bowler ands slowly puts that record on at the beginning.
That darn line of 15 people had to wait until me and the Italian were
done trying to play along with the Carter Family while Tex stands there
with his arms crossed staring eye to eye with this cat in a bowler
and a damn cane. I sure can't play the guitar very well but the Italian
is good on the mandolin everyone in line at the Post Office line clapped
when we was done. Well, that old buzzard wrote the Postmaster. I was
already in a heap of trouble for setting fire to a trash can with a
cigar. Boss Henderson appears with the PO police and the nurse. Tex
swears to high heaven. Boss Henderson says, "Tex, you can talk
all you want but that profanity's gonna get you in trouble." he
says this while he's lighting a big fat cigar and they'd just finished
putting up the NO SMOKING sign. We're packing up musical instruments.
But before Tex packs up his harmless record player he plugs it in elsewhere
in the Post Office. Blasts out with ' Sing, Sing, Sing ' by Benny Goodman.
Blackie the lefty poet comes in the next day, he works around there. "Where's
all the music man?" "Man, like..." and we told him the
story. Blackie says, "Man, you got to ORGANIZE!" he says.
I like blackie. He's crazy in a good way but he's crazy. " This
is the US Post Office, blackie" He wants me to call my country
people and my gospel people and Tex call his jazz people and
get them to play you-know-where. I left the square there when I got
the second job swamping the theater. Its quiet now down at the monkey
block, I mean its quiet with no music. The Italian is still learning
English, mostly from the secretaries they send to the Post Office, says
stuff like "Signorina, ha gli occhi da fata!" (Miss, you have
fairy princess eyes), laughs at everything because he's so darn happy
to be in America I guess. Tex is simmering but his mood gets better
as it gets closer to Friday. I'm not telling any of my friends from
the square up there to 'bring back the music' to monkey block, no way.
Me, I've got my science books, my guitar and Jesus.
THE SIXTIES, NEVADA CITY, CALIFORNIA
(Reprinted from North Beach Aquarium May
and I would put the Chronicles in the Wagoneer and drive up the road to Bev and Dick's.
Even as a kid I wondered how one read a week of newspapers late. But
then again how could one live 5 miles out of town without a car? Bev
and Dick Hackett did. She was wood blocks and wood block prints. Beverly's
were accurate animals with spirits d'vivre. He was oil paintings, Nevada
City whores of the fifties, vibrant landscapes. He and Mom and friends
would go out painting and he'd sometime describe the odd absurdity
of watching landscapes through a Wagoneer window. Noontime. Small two
story red house on a steep hillside. Hundred year old bottles, packed
into the hillside would keep that red dirt hillside up. Hackett greets
us in his oversize Levis never washed so they had that crisp new 501
Levi look but covered in oil paint and dirt. The back porch and part
of the living room a smell I'll never forget of permeated oil paint
and linseed. Whiskey mid day, cigarettes, he'd always had stories for
Mom and I, and photographs. Here was San Francisco during the thirties.
Chestnut Street. A brochure of the Art Institute from the thirties.
Dick and Bev, living in Sausalito. Sunday picnics. Stealing fruit from
the fruit markets at what is now Jackson Square, Depression times.
The parades down Market Street in Rube Goldberg type contraptions,
drinking and drinking and carrying these huge floats. Figure drawing
took place in the upstairs windows of the Institute seen from Chestnut.
He'd describe this model who would take breaks out on the little Italianate
balcony with not much on. She knew she was something to look at and
she'd take these long breaks. One day they locked her out, fog rolling
in. Har, har. And what about the manican they'd place next to a tool
kit with high heels and stockings on? In those days if you lost your
bearings in low gear going up Chestnut Street you'd be rolling back
down hill, steering backwards and and trying to break. Har, har.
The last time I visited Hackett when he was in good health was
back in the eighties when I was photographing his paintings
We'd go to his "office" afterwards, a bar on Broad Street,
Nevada City. He introduced me to Dan O'Neill creator of 'Odd Bodkins'
there. We whiled away the afternoon.