And I ain’t asking nobody for nothing if I can’t get it on my own

Living as I am in the shadow of Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time in the company of television stars and writers and producers and their outsized egos. And it’s quite the habit for people out here to tell you who you are and where you came from. When everyone lives to be on camera and on stage, everyone is no better than who they seem to be.

Let me tell you who I am.  I grew up in a small town called Sissonville, West Virginia. For years I slept on a bunk bed, suspended from the ceiling, that my stepfather constructed from a sheet of plywood and a few two-by-fours. There was a junkyard behind the house. I used to go out there with a slingshot and shoot at the tentworms that spun sticky webs. The roads were poor. I remember that a big truck came through and paved the broken streets one day. Within a week the pavement flaked and chunked apart into pieces, making the roads mostly undriveable. We were poor.

I made do, with my imagination and with my brothers and sister. I invented and recorded radio shows with my tape recorder. I made up sketches and stories and little plays. I watched reruns of old comedies on one of the three television channels that we received. Eventually I got a cheap computer, a Vic-20. It plugged into the television. I learned how to make games on it.

I remember my father and my mother fighting, before they were divorced. Once she slapped him and I remember Dad on top of her, holding her down.

I remember learning to play baseball. My stepfather taught me. I remember learning to walk in the back woods, and how to avoid sliding down the mountains and hills. I know how to skip rocks and shoot guns and how to blow things up with bottle rockets and bang caps.

I remember my first fight. I wrestled the kid down but didn’t punch him. He left me alone after that. Come to think of it, all the kids who ever threatened me, left me alone after I went after them.

I know how to chop and carry wood, and how to sharpen a pocket knife. I know how to hoe corn and carry tomatoes and dig septic tanks. I know how to catch crawdads by hand without getting pinched. I remember the wooden toys that my grandfather carved for my father to play with.

I have walked in the woods and heard nothing and heard it loudly.

I suppose it struck me today, as I was being lectured about what I was and what I wasn’t, that perhaps I forgot that I am somebody, that I have a colorful and unlikely past.

I know who I have been. And I know where I came from.

And as I am starting to learn, precious few people in this traffic-jam town remember who they have been, or where they came from.

I’m only watching the game, controlling it

I know I do I, this is forever

The Doll, by Miro Galvan, has started rehearsals.  This is a little two-person show happening next month at the Little Fish Theater in San Pedro.  My character, Marko, is a forty year-old lonely man who has decided to acquire a live-in love doll as his primary companion.  The show is being directed by the able James Rice and it stars the lovely and talented Analeis Lorig.

Currently I’m wrestling with where my character is coming from.  Based on my first read of the show, nearly everything the character has to say is cynical, self-interested or abusive.  The show seemed quite dark to me.  And this show is apparently supposed to be a comedy.  So if I abused this poor sweet doll on stage the way that Marko sounds in my head, everyone would want to lynch me by the end of the show.  I needed help.

“Take out the cynicism,” Jim informed me.  And so I hit upon the idea of playing every line that Marko says, exactly the opposite from my interpretation of the text.  If the text is bitter, he’s feeling loving; if the text is flighty, he’s calm, and so forth.  Playing Marko this way, is, to say the least, a fun challenge, in the sense of an acting exercise.

Analeis is immensely talented.  It feels good to be challenged to turn in higher quality work.  I can’t merely phone it in, as I have done in lesser shows.  And since this is a little teeny two-person show, the eyes are on me and her the entire time — no down time.

She’s good.  And that is refreshing.  Actors who are good totally raise the level of everyone else.  It is refreshing to be challenged; it is refreshing to be able to use my own ideas.  I feel now that I can’t come in and just wing it — I had better come in with strong opinions and creativity about how to make Marko work.