Monday, March 15, 2010

"I am I, Don Peyote. The Man of La Munchies."


Green Room Stories #01

Late 1972. I am doing a version of The Man Of La Mancha for the Alhecama Players in Santa Barbara. This is my second performance on the stage of the historic Lobero Theatre. Pope Freeman is again directing, having previously done Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme or The Would-Be Gentleman. Not a big part, I am playing the Captain of the Inquisition. I am going through my David Hemmings meets Peter Cushing phase. I think I have the brooding looks of Mr. Hemmings in "Charge Of The Light Brigade," with the semi-evil of Mr. Cushing from any number of Hammer or independent British horror films. No big deal. I'm young and delusional. That's me in the photo, standing 4th from the left, brandishing some tool of the Inquisitional trade towards the revealing midriff of dancer Carol Brownson. Oh the perks.

It wasn't a bad production. Not my favourite play I ever did. I never really enjoyed being in musicals anyway. But the Lobero stage was always magical to appear on and the set was pretty impressive. A giant staircase came down from the balcony, suggesting a dungeon full of prisoners below. Nearsighted me, without glasses, descending the precarious steps, I'm really surprised I didn't kill myself on it. The stage designer was a psychopath. I wore my glasses through rehearsal and he yelled at me "When are you going to take your glasses off?" And I shouted, "When you build a safe set!" Oh how we laughed. Needless to say, my descent was slow and dramatic. And the actors on the stage laughed when I played with my fake, pencilled in moustache. They all thought I was smelling my fingers. Oh how we laughed. But I digress.

One day after rehearsal, after getting all our notes from the director, the dark haired Lupe Velez belly dancer of the cast wanted to make an announcement. She said, to words in effect, "My old man and I are doing a radio show on KCSB called 'Rainbow Cafe.' You should tune in and listen. My name is Tiny Ossman."

Tiny Ossman? Her old man? Radio show? Would that be David Ossman of the Firesign Theatre? Oh my god, what a small world. I loved listening to the Firesign Theatre. When I lived in Southern California in that mystical community called Diamond Bar, I'd listen to the Firesign Theatre on KPFK Los Angeles, KPPC Pasadena and KMET Los Angeles. Stoney, creative radio--sort of the next generation of England's The Goon Show with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. Too cool. So when David Ossman came to the theatre to pick up Tiny, I had to pay my respects. They invited me to come to the broadcasts of "Rainbow Cafe" at UCSB and we became good friends from that time on. That's Tiny Ossman in the photo, reclining on the floor, 2nd from the right.

Back to the photo again, I'd like to point out a few of the other people who were in the cast and crew. Many went on to quite successful careers. Standing in the middle wearing the suit is Pope Freeman, the director. I would do three plays with him, plus we would work together on my TV show, "Crackers At Eight." He would act in the soap opera "Santa Barbara" and I believe I saw him the other day in an infomercial for a breathing apparatus. To the right of him is Howard McGillin. I had the pleasure to do a couple of plays with him and watch him go off to Hollywood where they put him through the Universal TV training school, appearing opposite Peter Falk in an episode of "Columbo," and our favourite, Raymond Burr, in the new episodes of "Perry Mason." Because of his commanding height and singing voice, Howard found greater success on Broadway. Twice nominated for Tony awards and appearing in musicals like The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, Into The Woods and doing the Phantom Of The Opera. A real success story. Others in the picture, above Howard to the right, next to Pope's wife, is actor Rick Mokler, who would later take over Pope's position as head of drama at Santa Barbara City College. On the stage are many actors with whom I worked with in various productions. Sitting on the floor below Pope and Howard are both Tom Zeiher and his wife Barbara, who starred in "Dracula, A Musical Comedy." I had the tremendous pleasure of playing Renfield (or as he was called in the show, Igor), opposite Tom's vampiric count. One of the better shows I was in. As a theatrical aside, my favourite plays that I was in were directed by Max Whittaker. I'll have more to say on this remarkable man in upcoming entries.

As for Man Of La Mancha, the following year I directed my second comedy (that I had also written) called Nothing Is Sacred. It was a parody of things centered in Santa Barbara and I couldn't resist including a sequence from the Alekazama Players production of Man Of La Munchies. Actor R. Leo Schreiber portraying the drug-fueled Don Peyote, delivers his stunning aria on the thrust stage, only to collapse straight through the floor. This was an ill-fated production directed by Dr. Rabbi Bondage, performed at the famed Linguini Lombardo Theatre. Oh well, we should have known. Quixote is cursed you know. Just ask Orson Welles or Terry Gilliam.