Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bye Bye Bernice

On the heels of the sad death of Merv Griffin and Charles Nelson Reilly, about which I have already written, comes more crummy news; we have lost another quirky character star, Alice Ghostly.

My first memory of Ghostly must have been her hilarious guest starring role on an episode of "Get Smart," in which she played Max's new neighbor ("Call me Naomi!") who constantly sparred with her lazy husband (a pre-"Happy Days" Tom Bosley) and was incidentally a Kaos agent. Her hysterical attempts to poison The Chief at 99's first dinner party were a scream. I later realized that she was in the midst of a long and varied career, including prestige films such as "The Graduate" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," in which she played Scout's snippy neighbor. She was an accomplished stage actress, gracing the Broadway boards many times. One such appearance, in one of the "New Faces" revues, paired her with another of my favorite comics from that period, a man to whom she was often compared, Paul Lynde. They both had a nasal speech quality and eccentric facial expressions, and were in fact sometimes thought to be brother and sister (they were not).

Ghostly's later stage appearances included replacing Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan in the original "Annie," as well as several Tony nominations and one win, in 1965 for "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window." Still, she achieved her most lasting fame on television. Back when live TV was the norm, she appeared in the now iconic original production of "Cinderella," starring Julie Andrews. With Kaye Ballard at her side, she introduced the world to the Rogers and Hammerstein novelty song, "Stepsisters' Lament."

In the late 60s, she joined the long-running sitcom "Bewitched," and remained with the show during its waning years. A decade later, she delighted old fans and made new ones as half-baked Bernice Clifton (with an "arterial flow problem") on "Designing Women," for which she received an Emmy nomination.

I have a lot of respect for the actors who spend their careers "in support," as Ghostly did. I hope she had a happy life (her marriage to actor Felice Orlandi lasted 50 years) and enjoyed the fact that she gave the public so much pleasure.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Steinbeck Surrenders

...or at least, he ought to, considering the massacre I am making of his words.

Of Mice and Men, the classic American tale of horse shoe games and whorehouses, is written in a structure difficult for my modern mouth to wrap itself around.

(Yes, I know the masterpiece is about a bit more than horse shoe games and whorehouses, but these are the major components of my role in the play, so naturally, they remain very important to me.)

I am having no trouble whatsoever with the accent, related to an Oklahoma dialect with hard-hitting "r" sounds, and a tight-lipped delivery. I am, however, having trouble with the odd sentence structure Steinbeck uses. I freely confess that I am more comfortable in a tux, holding a martini glass, and tossing off bon mots.

But I shall soldier on. Lengthy tech this weekend (three days' worth) will be followed by a day off, then we open cold, and fairly unexpectedly, for a house of over 300 9th graders (how old are 9th graders these days anyway? 14 or so?) at the ungodly hour of 10:15 AM. Adding the time required to prep for the curtain, and the hour or so commute from my front door to Olney, and we are talking about a very early and very long day...

Wanna make an actor complain? Give him a job.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Of Mice and Music

The Opus remount is well underway, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it, if only for a short time. The Washington Stage Guild remained upbeat and positive regarding my "desertion" to the previous commitment at Olney Theatre. The show will continue for another several weeks with our esteemed director playing the role I so enjoyed. I look forward to returning to see how the Lazara Quartet changes with its newest member (at right).

I have to confess to a bit of an ego boost when this little item was circulated to the press, as if my leaving the show was really all that newsworthy.

I can't help feeling a depression about leaving a role I love before the show closes. Couldn't be helped, really, and I have high hopes that I will be returning to the esteemed Stage Guild soon and often.

For now, though, attention must be turned to "Of Mice and Men" at Olney. A full week of rehearsal has passed, and truth be told, I already feel quite behind. The other cast members have clearly been hard at work in their off hours, and I, to put it bluntly, have not. So, many scenes find actors coming off the page for large sections of the text, while my dialogue remains firmly in my handheld script. I don't have all that much dialogue to begin with, so the fact that I don't know a single word of it is a bit embarrassing.

Time to hit the books for real. Steinbeck, ready or not, here I come.