Monday, May 30, 2016
"Man is a strange fish, Who dares cross the seas, The penitent sea captain, Could use Noah's knees."
In my own paltry experience as a stage actor, I have never had the lead to the best of my knowledge or description. My meager successes have been in the Supporting Role or as an Ensemble Member. When I wrote CASANOVA'S LIPS, I made sure that there was one part, if ever the show toured professionally or had turned into a film, was made for me. This role was Quasi Modo, the Hunchback accomplice to cat burglar Le Chat.
Quasi was an extension of the characters I had played before. He was Renfield, renamed Igor in DRACULA, A MUSICAL COMEDY. He was also Dirk Sneath, henchman to lead villain Simon Darkway in LOVE RIDES THE RAILS. I knew how he sounded, how he looked and how he moved. But in the production I was supposedly teaching/directing at Santa Barbara City College, I had no intention of acting in any way in the show. I would do voices in audio (taking advantage of my radio job and studio facilities at KTYD AM & FM), but that's it. Well, that changed a bit, but I'm getting ahead of the story. Back to Quasi.
A shortish blonde curly haired young man showed up at auditions named Steve Moris. To the best of my knowledge, he had done little if any acting, and never comedy. Or so he told me. A Boho type, he may have played acoustic guitar and dabbled in art. Dark chalks. He did a portrait of Peter Sellers for me as a production gift; an image of him during THE LAST GOON SHOW OF ALL in 1972 (what happened to this picture is a minor story in psychotic obsession and deception, best saved for a later date or never). Steve seemed physically suited for the part and he had an enthusiasm for play and experiment. Perfect. He would be clay for my Raving Rodin or Crazy Camille Claudel.
Quasi was given a lion's share of the visual jokes and verbal puns in the play. His break in into the Louvre on Swinging Bell Rope, like Topkapi on TCP or The Pink Panther on psilocybin, was a sound and visual highlight of the play. And lines like: Le Chat: "Any ideas, Quasi? Quasi: "I have a hunch." Le Chat: "I know you do, Quasi. No need to be so self-conscious about it." Plus he walked around the stage like a bouncing crab on crack. Most of the actors, including the framed Gaudy American Tourist Couple, didn't even see him. If he wasn't tall enough to shake your hand, he shook your knee.
My respect for designer Charles Thomson Garey and his team extends beyond his magnificent set; almost like Chinese Screens that folded from Madame Blavatsky's parlour into the museum walls of the Louvre. One set piece I madly envisioned was the machine that manufactured Casanova's Wax Lips. A conveyor belt affair, rolling out oversized sculpted red lips (with the occasional 'defective' black pair), the machine was topped with a genuine operational Jacob's Ladder. This with Quasi's hunching form added a Frankenstein's laboratory feel to the set. Magickal!
Other great support from the actors included my old friend Paul Bergevin playing a number of roles, including the worldly Playboy late night Museum Guard (with girlfriend troubled second Museum Guard, Mickey Aguilera). He topped that moment, as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, summoned accidentally in a Blavatsky séance instead of Casanova himself. Detecting a budding romance across the Ether with Blavatsky, Paul's Mozart delivers my favourite inlines of the play: "Now I am happy. I have nothing to worry about. Except Ken Russell. I'm terrified that he might do my life story. Boy, are my mates pissed. For his sake, I hope he lives forever."
I've recently had the pleasure of communicating with Lisi Tribble Russell, the wife of the late great director, and I am pleased to say she understands my humorous salute to the man who influenced much of my later work.
My friend Joe Maxwell assumed the role of the Clouseau like police inspector, Auguste Bedpan (a pun on the Edgar Allan Poe detective). I gave him some of my other funny lines: "We have arrested a man for sexually assaulting the Venus de Milo!" "What are you charging him with?" "Statue-tory rape!" And when the hapless gumshoe finds the planted Hawaiian shirt that belonged to the framed Gaudy American Tourist, he shouts in victory "Ah ha! The New Zealand National Flag!" *giggles* Joe Maxwell would work with me again in my comedy video show CRACKERS AT EIGHT. His younger brother, Steve Maxwell, wonderfully played the youthful Pablo Picasso, scribbling on the Louvre Museum wall. Pablo's embarrassed Mother was portrayed by Ann Soderquist.
I had a terrific supporting cast. Art Hayes played the Museum Guide, crucial to the set up for the crime. Kathy Conklin was Nous Alons, the servant to Madame Blavatsky. She delivers the visual punch line to another one of my favourite sight gags. Le Chat, after indulging in two cups of Lipton's Belladonna Tea. In the teabag. ("This Belladonna tea is Bela Lugosi!") After finishing his two cups of tea, Blavatsky hits one of those little hotel desk bells. "Oui, Madamme?" asks Nous Alons. "Take his bags." Well, you had to be there. *giggles*
Barbara Barnes and Bob Goranson were quite delightful as the Gaudy American Tourist Couple, Lee Harriet & Ozzie Waldman. Barbara had a wonderful Estelle Parsons or Shirley Booth quality to her Lee Harriet. And Bob was a perfect Mid-Western all around good guy simpleton. A smart William Bendix type or a sports-minded, thinner John Goodman. I hoped the audience would pick up on the Triple Entendre in their names, a play on both Ozzie & Harriet, but combined, Lee Harriet Ozzie Waldman, a symbolic pun for Lee Harvey Oswald.
Bill Slater was my solid, old school hero type: smart, but ultimately ineffectual. A true work of art, literally and figuratively, was Diane Clarke as Desda-Mona Lisa. Sitting, framed behind the Louvre museum wall, she was a visual gem, as well as a silent accomplice and girlfriend of Quasi Modo.
And so 40 years after the event, where has everyone gone? Down other paths, it would seem. Paul Bergevin is still a friend, banking institution and SPACE PIRATE RADIO music and art lover & collector extraordinaire. And artist friend David Fontana is still a Brother in Alms to the Muses. I read that Le Chat, John Casken entered the field of medicine: dentistry, I believe, and is living in Hawaii.
The play did seem to have a life changing effect on Steve Moris, my comic surrogate Quasi. Years back, he wrote me telling that the comedy bug from the show had stayed with him. He entered the field of Stand Up Comedy and made a successful career of it. He toured with Louis Anderson and has a ton of credits behind him now. Well, how do you like that? I guess he did steal the show!
Thank you, everyone...