Sunday, April 29, 2012

Waiver Games, Part V: Shakespeare-Adjacent

...the fifth installment in a series of blogs recounting my experiences working in various Waiver theatres in Los Angeles.  Go here to read earlier entries...
My  penultimate appearance in a Waiver Theatre production signalled a move away from the comfort zone of working with friends, which was probably a good thing. 
Other than my first foray into Waiver theatre, at least a decade earlier, this was the first time I landed a Waiver gig on the strength of an audition.  And it may have been my most prestigious appearance during my Waiver career.  The show was the American premiere of a 400-year old chestnut with questionable pedigree.  But lots of moxie.

The household help of The Puritan Widow. I'm on the left.
Annie Potts appeared at the Globe,
years before becoming a
Designing Woman.
The Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood, CA, (not to be confused with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA) was a scaled-down replica of Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre.  A gent named R. Thad Taylor built the place, and spent several decades producing every single play by the Bard, in order.  His was the first professional theatre company to do so. 
Waiver Impresario R. Thad Taylor, with the mock-up of his Globe Playhouse, which produced important classical works during Waiver's heyday.
Shakespeare's contemporaries like Jonson and Marlowe were also produced at The Globe, as well as all the plays in the Shakespearean Apocrypha. 
John Ritter stretched his classical muscles
at The Globe
before joining the land of sitcom.

These are plays which are UNcertainly connected to Shakespeare, that is, texts in which the Bard may have had a hand, but did not create entirely on his own.  Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen are the best known of these apocryphal plays (and are now routinely included in Shakespeare's Complete Works), but there are many more plays in which Shakespeare's involvement is still being debated.

This title page caused the play
to be associated with Shakespeare.
The jury has come in, fairly conclusively, on The Puritan (sometimes called The Puritan Widowe), and scholars are now pretty certain that the play was written by Thomas Middleton.  The title page of the first printed script cites "W.S" as the playwright, which is why The Puritan shows up in the Shakespearean Apocrypha in the first place.  Middleton is now believed to have aided our Will on the script for All's Well That Ends Well, so perhaps the Bard returned the favor.  Regardless of who wrote it, The Puritan's first professional production on this side of the Atlantic happened at the Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood, CA, over 400 years after its first performance in London, and I was in it.
The actors' view of the audience at the Globe Playhouse.
I was personally pleased that I had won a role with a cold audition. Most of my other Waiver appearances were the result of my having been recommended, so no audition was required.
One of several comedic fights in
The Puritan.

My audition skills, then and now, are pretty damn poor, and I auditioned for dozens of Waiver shows without getting so much as a callback. So snagging a role at The Globe was a proud moment in my young career. The role was a small one, but it had a bit of importance in the theme of the piece, which illustrated the hypocrisy of the puritan movement during the Jacobean period. My role, provocatively named Simon St. Mary Ovaries, was a servant to the title character, and I showed up occasionally to spout puritan nonsense while everyone else did the opposite.
I don't remember why I disapproved of the marriage of The Puritan's daughter. I never went anywhere without my prayer book.
The show sounds pretty dry, but the director did a great job jazzing things up, and his casting of the play couldn't be beat.  As with most other Waiver shows, our cast was full of actors looking for that big break on screen, but luckily, they had substantial stage chops as well. 
This cast partied well. I enjoyed their company,
but can't remember a single name.

I was pleased to make the acquaintance of these folks, who really knew how to party, and it was an unusual change for me to be performing with a group of strangers.  I knew only one other actor going into the production, the lovely and talented Kurt Hansen;  Kurt and I were both alumni of Cal State University, Northridge, though we had attended the school several years apart. 
Kurt Hansen was the only actor I knew before beginning the project. He played a suitor to one of The Puritan's daughters (I think). I was later to play Prince John opposite Kurt's Robin Hood in dinner theatre.  He was a talented actor and singer, and looked great in tights.
I was to get to know Kurt much better in a few years, when we appeared together in an original musical at the Granada Theatre, but that was not a Waiver production, so that story is not part of this series. 

The lobby of the Globe Playhouse
As for The Puritan, well, it was by far the smallest role I had in any Waiver production, but the fact that it was an American premiere of a text which was so old, and which had ties to Shakespeare, means it remains on my classical resume.  I don't regret doing the show for a minute.
The Globe Playhouse has changed names several times since its success as a classical house.  Currently, it's home to a lesbian theatre group and film festival.
During the run of The Puritan, a casting call went out for the show which would turn out to be my final appearance under the Waiver code, and my most disastrous. 
Our program claimed the production
was a World Premiere. It wasn't,
but it was surely the American one.

Several of my castmates from The Puritan attended that audition, we all felt very confident that the producers would be thrilled to cast us all, since we were all working at such a prestigious theatre as The Globe Playhouse. 
The Globe's The Tempest.

But as it turned out, I was the only one of us to snag a role;  my Puritan cohorts dodged a bullet when they were not cast in Mandragola, while that bullet hit me squarely between the eyes.  Stay tuned for the sixth and final entry of My Waiver Games.