"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Saturday, December 16, 2006

ACT TWO: No Business Like Show Business!

I. Loved. Theater. I REALLY LOVED THEATER! I loved the idea of theater~from the masks and robes of the ancient Greeks to the early Medieval and Renaissance Mystery and Morality plays and pageants, I loved Commedia Dell'Arte and Shakespeare. I loved Antigone andMother Courage. I loved Sarah Bernhardt and Maude Adams, Helen Hayes and Ellen Terry. I loved theater for eternally examining the questions of human existense, for letting us see ourselves as we were, and are.

There were plays other than these, whose titles I've forgotten, and no pictures were taken to remember them by.

Teahouse of the August Moon featured Clark Howat as the young soldier, Lisa Liu as his Japanese sweetheart, and Jerry Oddo as Sakini, the narrator. I played one of the Japanese children. I wore latex eyelids, and dyed my hair black and went barefoot. The play ran for eight or nine weeks, and when it was over, the black hair-dye wouldn't wash out, and turned my blonde hair green.

Aria Da Capo, by Edna St. Vincent Millay: A lovely play with an anti-war sentiment. One of the lines I remember: "Columbine, your mind is like an escallop of oysters--first a layer of oysters, then a layer of crumbs...." I was Columbine. Still am.

I played the Prioress in Gregorio and Maria Martinez Sierra's The Cradle Song, a "perfect gem of a play," a "wonderfully touching piece of theater" in which an unwanted infant girl is left on the doorstep of a convent and is raised by Dominican nuns. We actually went to a convent, where the sisters taught us how to move, what to do with our hands, the melodies of their chants, the beads of the Rosary...they let us wear their clothes. This is a beautifully-written, delicate play I did twice, playing different roles: at the University of Utah a few years later I played Joanna of the Cross.

Easter Song was the West Coast Premiere. I was Sarah Brute, a sort of Medieval witch who believed that sacrificing little girls would insure good crops. My roomate Janet was in this one with me, playing Kie, the wife of Soren. (She later named her first little girl, Kie--pronounded key-a). Johnny Mercer's daughter Mandy played one of the children. Her big line was, "I hate oak bark soup!" And her famous dad came all the way from Hollywood to hear her say it! During one performance, the back set wall began to fall down, and I was so "into it" I never noticed. Janet thought it was a lot funnier than it did. I hope that was not the night Johnny Mercer was in the audience.

Idiot's Delight was set in a lavish hotel in Switzerland just before the onset of WWII. Harry Van, a two-bit American entertainer is stranded there with his travelling all-girl troup, Les Blondes. I chewed a huge wad of gum and carried a stuffed dog. One performance, one of Les Blondes zipper snapped while we were dancing our stuff, and she did all the bumps and grinds with one hand behind her back, holding her costume together. But she was a real dancer, and knew what she was doing.... The play was filmed in 1939, with Clark Gable doing Harry and Norma Shearer doing Irene (E-rain-a). It ended with the bombing of the hotel, and my friend Edmund Guerrero played Wagner's Flight of the Valkuries on the piano while the bombs exploded all around us. Off the set, he taught me how to play it, but it never sounded as good. My favorite line, said by Irene: "O-ma-ha? Vere dat? Persia?"

Oedipus Rex: I am lamenting, "Where did you get the courage to put out your eyes?" Backstage, we ripped off our chitons and changed costumes without dressing rooms. Nobody seemed to notice that we were all half-naked back there.... I changed with Paul Price, who later earned some fame as one of The Village People, and on Sesame Street.

Summer and Smoke was written by Tennessee Williams. I played Nellie. In Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, I played Dolly Levi. The Purification was a dark play written in poetry by John Steinbeck. Three Men on a Horse was a comedy, in which I was Mable, a sort of Gun-Moll, here with Gary Necessary (who I had a crush on). I used to see Gary's name on television credits once in a while. He worked on one of the Olympics. Paul Price is shown here with Edith somebody, who lived next door in the dorm. One night I accidently locked myself in the bathroom. I could hear her singing away next door, our windows were practically on top of each other. I yelled for help for the better part of an hour--she never heard me--so I wrote poetry on the toilet paper until midnight, when Janet finally came home. She saved the toilet paper, saying, "Someday you'll be famous, and I'll have an original!" Poor Edith. She once had to cry on stage and carried an onion wrapped in a handkerchief to help her out. Everyone kept saying, "What's that smell?"

Roses for Johnny Johnson was an allegorical anti-war play. Johnny was Everyman.

And, there's Janet, doing Italian Straw Hat. I can hear her yet, wailing "But Papa, I don't want to get married!" And beautiful Myrna Fahey, who I dressed, in Holiday for Lovers. Myrna was a graduate of the Playhouse, and was in several movies and television shows. SHe did The Fall of the House of Usher with Vincent Price, the TV series Father of the Bride and in TV's Batman, she was False-Face's assistent, Blaze, among many other roles. SHe died of cancer, at 40.

There are other plays, for which I have no pictures: Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, The Sandbox, The Cherry Orchard, Bus Stop, Of Mice and Men, Glass Menagerie, Look Homeward Angel.

I loved the amber magic of the lights, the make-up, the costumes...and the applause. And if I live to be a hundred I will never fill that void.



slickdpdx said...

Really interesting material!

Loralee Choate said...

Thanks for coming by my blog, fellow Utahn!I love the theater. I have done more productions than I can count although my real talent is vocal. I would type more but I cracked my tooth in half and need to go to bed.

About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.