16 Years ago I was in a play titled “Earl, Ollie, Austin and Ralph” at Theater Rhinoceros. It was one of my first plays produced at the rapidly fading Theater Rhinoceros. I played the titular Ralph. My character was an acerbic New Yorker who had a problem. He had a wonderful boyfriend that he really wasn’t in love with. Instead of recognizing it and ending it sensibly; he turned into a wretched hate-filled queen destined to destroy his relationship with a loving, listening, and caring and hunky man named Austin.
In the play the couple are on a 2 week vacation which becomes the lovable Austin’s inexplicable attempt to salvage the relationship. The car breaks down and they wind up conveniently at a coast side bed and breakfast owned and run by an engaging elderly gay couple named Earl and Ollie who have been together for decades.
You’ll have to forgive me since I am doing most of this by memory, and not much could be found on the internet about this particular production. I do know that this charming, albeit flawed comedy was a departure from Rhino’s standard “in-your-face” season. Rhino had (has?) a tendency to provoke audiences rather than simply entertain. Adele Prandini was Artistic Director at the time and while she appeared scrappy and intimidating she was actually a big sensitive marshmallow. I respected her-and do to this day. She was one of the 4 or 5 directors in my bazillion years of doing theater that actually got me to genuinely act on stage instead of trying to make an audience laugh. (I can do both when paired with a director who knows how to handle me, but thats a rarity.)
At the auditions I had no idea what I was in for. I had done very little acting in the city and had come dangerously close to giving it up entirely due to one very bad audition. It was for a musical so I chose the song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables “from Les Miserables. The phrase “at the lonely barricade at dawn” changed in my head to “at the lonely balustrade at dawn”. Somehow this struck me as enormously funny. Instead of focusing on the song I kept thinking, “what the hell is a balustrade?? I couldn’t finish the song and began dissolving into giggles and excusing myself while apologizing profusely for wasting all their time.
Apparently my charm won out my talent and while I didn’t get asked to do that particular show- it lead to three more auditions. One of those auditions garnered from that botched musical audition was for Glenn Rawls’ play “Earl, Ollie, Austin and Ralph”. My glossy 8 by 10 got shuffled in with 3 or 4 dozen other boys and we were all up on stage giving it our all two by two. The older couple seemed a sewn up deal because I saw only three other men who looked over 50 sitting watching the rest of us kids audition.
The material was a little out of my element. I hadn’t played a romantic lead since I portrayed Albert Peterson in “Bye Bye Birdie” in High School. (Seriously how romantic can Dick Van Dyke come across to most people?) My area of expertise became the second banana. I got a little nervous as I rehearsed the final break up scene with another hopeful. The actor I was reading opposite of wasn’t just pleasant to look at; he was fucking BEE-YOO-TEE-Full. He had a stunning smile, killer abs, and huge shiny dark chocolate brown eyes fringed with lush black eyelashes. Now remember that I am merely in my late 20s at this particular juncture and was desperate to have a boyfriend in the big city. I –like many other boys like me in San Francisco-fell in love every half hour. As I read the scene with this fella, I tumbled into that sweet torturous abyss.
The director had asked us to go run the scene in the hallway a couple of times and then come back and do it for him. Oh God! His name was Jack (not really... but for the sake of this blog it will be. According to Google he’s fallen off the planet but one can never be too careful.) He was a bit younger than me and as we traveled off to a remote corner of the hallway he enthusiastically chattered about how he thought the scene should play out.
“They are breaking up but the best way to do this would be to play the opposite -right? Like the audience doesn’t want them to break up because we can see in Ralph’s face that he might be making a mistake...I mean ...you know ...if it’s okay with you”
Normally I’d be annoyed that another actor was telling me how to interpret a script but I was blinded by his sexiness and my insistent urge to mate and nodded mutely and enthusiastically like a bobblehead.
He continued, “Like I’m thinking maybe they should touch each other at the end of the scene-ya know? Like hug? or I dunno almost get to a kiss and think better of it.” I could feel my pulse quicken maddeningly. It got to the point that I almost forgot I was auditioning. Color was rapidly rising to my cheeks. He smiled. “ You like that idea?”
“ Yes -uh Yes - I think...it would be different from uh what the other guys are doing.”
Cool Dude. I soo like your style”I kid you not, he chucked me under the chin.
I think I simpered. Thankfully he wasn’t disgusted by it and continued to stage our scene. We read it and somehow the rational actor in me could see that this wasn’t really going to serve the writing. I didn’t care. All I cared about was somehow making Jack fall in love with me. NOW !!!!! I believe my character was supposed to appear indifferent while his character was falling apart. Instead we re-interpreted to appear that HIS character was making one last attempt at seducing my character and almost -just barely-came very very close ...to succeeding.
He came up and stood very close to me glancing at the script and saying the line. He traced his finger across my cheek. I tried like hell to keep my knees from buckling. He eventually moved behind me with his large very strong looking hand on my shoulders and moving down to my chest. Firecrackers were going off behind my eyes and I thought I may lose consciousness as he pressed his very worked out body closely behind me. I could feel my hardening Mr. Happy trying like hell to unfurl in my bikini underwear and then the stage manager came through the double doors to the hallway and called out, “ P.A. and Jack?”
“ Yes Yes!! We are here!” I blurted suddenly and a little too loudly. Oh that sounded nice...P.A. and Jack. Oh let’s invite P.A. and Jack! P.A. and Jack are so in love. P.A. and Jack have such the perfect life -why can’t we be more like them??? They are so glamourous and successful! I swear you could see the hearts and doves circling my head as I entered the theater.
We got up on stage and played that scene for every tender moment we could wring out of it. Most of those tender moments were completely unnecessary. I looked longingly at him and he was beseechingly reaching out to me with every syllable. I could feel the electrical bolts flying between us and felt the back of my neck prickle. Wait.... was it great acting??? Um ....don’t think so. No. ...dammit ...not really. It was however magic of a sort and the director was moved. Before I knew it we were the last couple standing and it was announced that we were indeed in the cast.
He looked at me and grinned with those enormous and stunning white teeth and sparkly big brown eyes.
We walked out and he hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I was absolutely delirious and felt the heat of his lips on my cheek. How the hell would I stay cool during the rehearsal period??? To fulfill my fantasies he offered to give me a ride home on his MOTORCYCLE. Shit - might as well have been a white horse on the curb! He even had an extra helmet for me! I hopped on and wrapped my arms around him. I felt a little ticked off that I lived so close to the theater. He said, “ You can hold me tighter if you want.” Well of course.
Within minutes he brought me to the front my flat on Guerrero and I handed him back the helmet. “Well...... see you next week” I said, all agog and wondering if I should kiss him right now. He grinned, “ See you next week P.A. This is gonna be great. We’ll have to get together and work on some backstory stuff. “
“Oh definitely!!” said the bobblehead. “Anytime Jack!! My schedule is WIDE open!!”
“ I can’t wait to get home and tell my girlfriend I am doing a Gay Play. She is going to freak!!!!” and with that he motored off.
I think I stood there for a while and then said, “ Wait...what? “ to no one in particular.
(TO BE CONTINUED)