Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Visiting Actor

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Remember how back in the 19th century there used to be itinerant preachers who’d travel from town to town full of talk of hellfire, brimstone, and damnation? Well, we happen to be acquainted with an itinerant actor. Instead of traveling around on horseback, though, he drives around in a Plymouth Voyager minivan. And instead of limiting himself to, say, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, his circuit includes the whole of North America. Basically, any place that will book him to perform one of his several one-man shows. I cannot imagine living my life that way. Always on the road, living out of a minivan. And a Plymouth at that.

First of all, I’ve never been bitten by, as David Sedaris would call it, “the drama bug.” I just don’t get what makes a person want to get up in front of a bunch of strangers and perform. I’m just too chickenshit scared of making a fool of myself, I guess. Also, there’s a phenomenon my friend CS has identified that occurs when you are watching a bad actor perform. You start feeling really embarrassed on behalf of the actor. I have experienced this phenomenon more than once and, you guessed it, it always occurs while watching the itinerant actor. Oh. My. God. I wish I had a video clip I could insert here at least an audio clip. I will try to describe his "style" as best I can.

He was in a production of The Imaginary Invalid or some other Moliere play and he would say stuff like, “Let us go to the hotel, where there will be foooooood to eeeeeeeat [pantomimes taking a bite out of an apple and chewing] and wiiiiiiiiiine to dreeeeeeeeenk [pantomimes slurping from a goblet].” WTF? I mean maybe that exaggerated diction and excessive use of mime would be acceptable if the audience was made up entirely of non-English speakers, but it wasn’t. Everyone spoke English and everyone was over the age of 4. Two hours of that. Wince, wince, wince! The whole time I was thinking, “Shit, we’re going to have to see him after the play and what on earth will I say?”

I’m a terrible liar, so I can’t just fib and say, “You were great!” I spent most of the play pondering what I could say to him that would sound complimentary but would not be a lie. Here’s what I came up with: “You really put a lot of work into that,” said in the most enthusiastic voice I could muster. Sweat was just dripping off of him after the show (all that strenuous miming, don’t you know), so what I said was certainly true. I have had to use that line on other occasions (with other performers) and anyone reading this blog entry should feel free to use it should the need arise. No charge.

Anyway, so that’s the background on the Visiting Actor. Yesterday, his travels brought him to our neck of the woods and, because he’s always up for a chance to perform, we ended up at a local karaoke/tiki bar. He’s big into karaoke and pretty much wherever he’s performing, after the show he heads to a karaoke bar. Personally, I’d think that performing a one-man show would be enough attention for one night, but apparently not. Until last night I’d never been to a karaoke bar, so I even though I had no intention of singing because A) I can’t carry a tune and B) I don’t want to make a fool of myself (see above), I was eager to see the Visiting Actor perform his signature tune—a song I detest so much I cannot even bear to type out its name—just to see how this whole karaoke thing works. By the way, he has performed this tune in karaoke bars all across the continent and beyond to, according to him, wild applause.

Sure enough, he performed his signature tune first. Unlike the other karaoke singers, he did not turn his back on the audience (all six of us), because after years of performing the song, he really doesn’t need to see the words on the monitor. He has it memorized! Amazing! When the instrumental breaks came up, he did a little hand-jive thing (and that embarrassment-for-the-actor phenomenon kicked right in for me). I will say that his version was a pretty good imitation of the original, if that’s what the goal in singing karaoke is supposed to be. He can sing—I’ll give him that—and he was definitely the best singer there, but he didn’t have much competition. Only an old man who walked with an aluminum cane, chain-smoked mentholated Kents, chugged coffee, and sang nothing but Johnny Cash; a young man in a Kangol cap who tackled Eric Clapton’s oeuvre in a breathy and (thankfully) nearly inaudible voice; and his girlfriend who thrashed Gershwin’s “Anything Goes” to a bloody pulp. Why attempt to sing a song if you don’t know the melody? I love that song, so it made me sad to hear it so mangled. Of course, if I’d been up there attempting to sing, it would not have been pretty either, so I have no right to judge.

To cleanse my palate after the hated signature tune, I wheedled and pestered the Visiting Actor to sing some Led Zeppelin, for example, “The Immigrant Song” or some Van Halen, say, “Hot for Teacher.” I was quite curious to see how he’d do with some semiheavy metal. Did I want to see him embarrass himself? I confess—just a little bit. Turns out that Zep's “Black Dog” is actually in his repertoire. I was surprised. He didn’t quite pull that one off as well as the signature tune. He’s just not the golden falsetto god that Robert Plant is (was). Full marks to him for trying, though, and full marks to him for caving to my badgering and going up and singing “The Immigrant Song,” even though he has never attempted it before. It was fairly disastrous. He did a great job with the “Ahhhhhhhh, Ahhhhhhhs” at the beginning, but totally choked with his delivery of the key line: “Valhalla, I am coming!”

Gosh. I’m mean. Why should I be so mean to the poor unsuspecting Visiting Actor? Well, part of it is that I am just somewhat mean by nature. I know it’s not my most attractive trait, but rather than try to hide it (as I sometimes do), I am letting my mean flag fly tonight. I'm feeling a smidge cranky. In my defense, let me just say that self-absorbed people with outsized egos who talk endlessly about themselves push my buttons, and the Visiting Actor’s ego is at least 20 sizes too big for him. To wit: One of his mantras (yeah, he has mantras) is “I am a rock star.” I am not making that up! Also, I’ve known him for years and I’ve graciously endured several of his performances and the guy has never once asked me about myself nor can he be bothered to remember my name. I’m just B’s “wife” (which I'm not)--good ol' what’s-her- name. Not knowing my name, however, didn’t stop him last year from greeting me with a big sloppy kiss that I didn’t see coming until it was too late. Ew! Nor did it stop him last night from grappling me with his meathooks, drawing me closer to him because he (supposedly) couldn’t hear what I was saying. Creepy, OK?


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