Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Actors - Part I

I should have saved one of the playbills from the shows in 1976 and ’79, but even if I had it would likely have been lost in one of my many moves from place to place. I have some vivid memories of the actors I knew at Dirty Jack’s Theater back then, but I have forgotten most of their names.

Two that I remember clearly are Randy and Bob Houghtaling, a sister and brother pair of actors. Randy was beautiful: Slender and elegant. She was also quite aloof. Some of the band members were convinced she was lesbian, or at least bi, but that was probably just the snubbed testosterone talking.

In any situation involving prolonged close contact of young adults there will be some sex goin’ on, and we were no different. The actors mostly lived all together in a converted motel, for gawd sakes. This was the pre-AIDS era. Copulation was inevitable, if not procreation.

Anyway… Randy was the object of desire for many of the young men in the cast and orchestra, but I never heard anything that convinced me that she had succumbed to the grubby charms of any of my buddies. She was cool and brassy. She could slay you with a wisecrack and drink you under the table. One night her lung collapsed during her sleep and she missed a few shows. Randy was mysterious and dangerous. If you stared at her too long you could burn your eyes. Or grow hair on your palms. Or something. I’ll bet she changed her name to something exotic and is now doing performance art in Greenwich Village.

Bob was also quite tall and slender, and he was one of the best actors I ever saw. The band members (who had the best seats in the house) were all big fans of Bob, and we watched him closely every night.

Now, Bob did not have a big part in the show: In fact, he was only in the chorus. But Bob put everything into every gesture to stay in character and entertain. His antics were often small but hysterical. He had this one thing he could do that was kind of gross, but it amused the shit out of the guys in the band:

Part of any old western show is whiskey. The “whiskey” in the bottles was really instant iced tea (not cold). The actors would swig that stuff all through the show to simulate drunkenness, and there is a lot of drinking in Paint Your Wagon. Bob would spit that tea everywhere, and he could even drool it out of his mouth and down off his chin, and then suck it all back up again. It was disgusting, but the band was impressed.

Just drinking that stuff out of those bottles was a profile in courage. The tea mixture was of uncertain provenance (I don’t know who mixed it) and as far as I know the bottles were never washed. I saw them laying around half-empty after every show, and filled again at curtain time the next night. They looked kind of crusty and infested. I visualized a science project’s worth of bacteria whenever an actor took a swig.

In 1979 I returned to Dirty Jacks and in addition to playing in the band I had a small part on stage as the bad guy who wore a tin nose. It was a scene from some western, and the show that year was a revue.

I got shot every night in a shootout wearing this tin thing over my nose, with two leather strings tied around the back of my head. It smelled nasty and was uncomfortable, but this was Show Business, right? I was a good trooper, so I wore the smelly prosthetic nose and got killed by the good guy every night. I was so evil the audience often applauded when I was shot.

One day I complained to Jon Stainbrook about the tin nose, and he laughed in my face. He said, “Do you know who wore that nose last year? Bob! If I were you I’d go boil that thing out or something.” Big yucks all around, while I imagined I had contracted some latent flesh-eating organism.

For better or worse my nose survived. But after that the tin nose smelled like bleach, which watered my eyes as I lay dying each night.