Monday, March 23, 2015

My Life in the Theater, Part 2: Far West of the West End

I realized that many of the songs I’d composed over the years would work splendidly in a revue in which songs and sketches alternated. I needed more people for such an undertaking, and put together the first five-headed Spandex Amazons, featuring the best actor I’ve ever worked with, Ms. Wendy Lucas, about whom I’ve written much here in the past. I was madly in love with her talent, and embarrassed myself. Playing transportation monitor, I would assign the other three to travel in a separate car while I, wanting to bask in her aura, escorted La Lucas personally. I think I frightened her, and she quit. Her leaving hurt nearly as much as a lover leaving, though I don’t think we’d so much as shaken hands.

The Spandex Amazons, 1991 (menionted in the previous MI)
Bloodied, and plenty bowed, I put together another fivesome, the most talented member of which turned out to be an insufferable diva. Arriving at rehearsal the afternoon I’d managed to get a little article about us onto the third page of the San Francisco Chronicle’s arts supplement, I found her not elated, but pouting because of how her double chins looked in the photo they’d used. We broke up, with maximum acrimony a few nights after the San Jose Mercury News pronounced us glorious and our little theatre (zanily named Teatro v. Wade, by me) began filling up with theater lovers who’d driven up all the way from the South Bay.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again, recruiting three new people, including a woman high school drama teacher who sang exactly like Carly Simon and a big fat guy who reinforced the stereotype of big fat guys being inherently hilarious. I'd written a new sketch about a nice white middle class family moving into the ghetto to take advantage of low housing prices. Its 10-year-old son, played by Big Fat Guy, appeals to his mother to get him an AK-47 like all the other local kids’. I never got through a rehearsal of this sketch without bursting into laughter. That I stayed in character in front of audiences was vivid testament to my growing skills as an actor.

I adapted my (unpublished) novel about my experiences as an employee of Larry Flynt Publications, Three Months Before the Masturbators, into a one-man show, Wm. Floggin’ Buckley. There is no panic like that of being two-thirds of the way through a 7,000-word script and suddenly realizing you have no idea what to say next. I had my daughter to sit in the first row and read along with what I was saying. “A well-controlled stream of narration and acted-out characters. It’s fluent, and fast, and Mendelssohn throws himself into all [his] characters…It never lacks crazed energy or color,” said The City’s second biggest free newspaper, SF Weekly. “Not very interested,” said audiences with their non-attendance. I’d had no advertising budget, and the Chronicle wasn’t pleased with me for having suggested a year before that their employing Steven Winn as its drama critic was an act of significant charity, as the guy was unmistakably a cretin.

I and the San Francisco Zoo keeper I loved bought a house together up in the wine country, with its very shallow talent pool. The very ill-fated Sonoma County Hysterical Society performed exactly once, to an audience of two, and then split up, with maximum acrimony. 

I moved to England and, after a couple of false starts, found the right place in which to advertise for actors. And was deluged. London’s crawling with bright, palpably desperate young things newly released from drama colleges, most of them young women with posh names like Tamsyn, Nicola, and Gemma, lots of expensive training, and no discernible talent. (As in Los Angeles, the young men seemed to get cast in something immediately, and so never go to auditions like mine.) There wasn’t room to turn around in my living room in Teddington.

Teresa, an Irish nurse who lived in a houseboat on the Thames, was brilliant, and I asked her to join on the spot. Two other women were less brilliant, but still excellent, and I recruited them too. Teresa told me she knew a guy who might be interested — of the three young men who’d auditioned, none had been any good at all. After our first rehearsal, one of the not-as-brilliant women dropped out for reasons not specified, and I replaced her with the vivacious blonde daughter of a guy who’d once produced Status Quo. The guy Teresa knew wasn’t sensational, and disputed every syllable out of my — the director’s! — mouth. I grinned and bore it. On the darkest day of 2002 — in the UK, there’s a day every year around the second week of November that’s so dismal as to make you feel the world has ended — I traipsed between Twickenham and Richmond dropping off with publicans letters urging them to present my show. One of them went for it.

The audience at the Sponge and Catheter, or whatever it was called, was unenchanted. One of the remaining semi-brilliant women in the troupe left in a huff after she and her boyfriend came over for dinner and learned of my twisted eroticism. Peter, the truculent Other Guy, couldn’t sing a lick, and I was sick to death of arguing with him. The show was far less than I’d dared dream it would be when those countless dozens had crowded the living room, yearning palpably for inclusion.

I was going to have to get some new talent. 

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