Friday, March 20, 2015

My Life in the Theater: I Am Born

Who among us, given the chance to go back knowing all we’ve learned, wouldn’t do something very different in high school? One of the main things I’d do is try out for the annual school play, as I discovered later in life that acting’s big fun, and that I’m good at it. But it wasn’t until I was 35 that I realized how much fun acting is, and that I’m good at it.

Socks Without Mates. 1983
The woman who would become my first wife and I had just spent two months wandering back and forth across Italy. When we returned to Los Angeles, I had to face the music and admit that no one was very interested in my writing for them anymore, and that I needed to get a soul-killing ordinary job. I got one, typing address labels at UCLA Extension. The two perks of the job was that my coworker looked a lot like Beyonce would look decades later, but much prettier, and that I got to take an extension class free. On a whim, I chose Dialects for Actors, and just loved it. Simultaneously, I read the Playboy interview with Robin Williams in which he said that making a roomful of people laugh was better than sex. Sounded good to Johnny! I dashed off a few wordplay-heavy sketches, much influenced by Monty Python, and recruited two of my Dialects for Actors classmates to perform them with me as Socks Without Mates. We performed minutes after the doors were opened at a couple of Famous Comedy Venues, and at my and First Wife’s wedding. The audience seemed to like us very much more at the latter, presumably because they sensed it might seem churlish not to feign enormous amusement.

I began to relax a little bit. You can’t act if you’re afraid of appearing foolish. It dawned on me that if I were doing the job properly, it wasn’t I up on stage, but my character(s), which ranged from a Russian patriarch who’s just discovered that his prospective son-in-law — that is, the fiancé of his daughter Anesthesia — is a coke dealer (he loves the idea), and half of a Cute Young Couple whose cat is pretty goddamned sick of being addressed as Mr. Whiskers. When I came off stage at the Comedy Store one evening, my first wife marveled, “You were really good!” with genuine wonder in her eyes. It was one of the nicest things she (or anyone else) had ever said to me.

The original other guy in the trio had come to loathe me, so we replaced him with a small,  bearded opera lover who worked in a hardware store and loathed me slightly less, at least for a short while. I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience raise my daughter in the air pollution of Los Angeles, and moved with her and First Wife to the northern California wine country, where I didn’t venture onto a stage again until my marriage collapsed, I moved down to San Francisco, and recruited a waiter from the Fog City Diner and a young mother of three from the East Bay suburban wastelands to form an updated version of my LA trio. I called it the Spandex Amazons this time, prompting a phone message from a gay spandex fetishist who wondered if we should meet for coffee. Young Mom was ever so pretty, and I lusted after her in my heart, but the fact of Hubby being an SFPD Swat Team member helped me keep it in my trousers.

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