My primary extracurricular activity in junior high and high school was theater. I’m talking about officially sanctioned stuff, of course … my real primary activities were music, drugs, and chasing girls. I played a lot of parts over those six years … the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, a faux-William Jennings Bryan in Inherit the Wind, a faux-Boris Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace, a faux-Harpo Marx in The Man Who Came to Dinner. In between all of these classics, I managed to meet my future wife … she was, in fact, my makeup girl for one play, and we ended up making out at the cast party, leading to the fine fellow you see before you today.
The last play I was in was also the only time I was the lead, expected to carry much of the show. It was a version of 1984, with me as Winston Smith. Others will have to say if I’m right about this, but I suspect there was a bit of typecasting involved, as if I was already a faux-Winston Smith before I put on my makeup (or, as the photo shows, before someone else put on my makeup, in this case, not my future wife, although this person is still a friend): a rebellious sort who got squashed by The Man (no matter that I squashed myself far more than any Man ever did). I don’t know if I was any good, since I obviously never watched myself. I know that it was the only part I ever played where I was an inward sort of character, faceless, morose. I can remember one scene where my interrogator, O’Brien, is standing behind me and he smacks me on the ear … I was too lame to get the timing down right, I kept flinching before the hand got close to me, so I just said fuck it and took a big swat on the face each night, since I couldn’t figure out how to fake it realistically.
The other thing I remember was the end. The director, also the head of the drama department and a man who passed away not that long ago, decided on something different for the big penultimate scene where Smith, threatened with his greatest fear (rats), betrays his lover, shouting out “Do it to Julia!” Our director decided an implosion would be more effective … the play was in the round, the audience was close. So I started out screaming in fright, but when the moment of betrayal came, I went limp, barely muttered “Do it to Julia,” and crawled inside myself.
I suppose it worked. But it played havoc with my insides. Each night, I’d work myself up to a frenzy, and then, before I could release the tension, I’d shut down. Where, if memory serves (and it rarely does), I’d stay for hours afterwards.
It’s only a coincidence that my own attempt at something resembling “method acting” was also the last time I appeared on a stage. I was about to graduate from high school, I wasn’t going to be continuing in the theater in college (in fact, I wasn’t going to college), and, let’s face it, I was high pretty much every day of those last few months of high school, and wasn’t much good for anything else. But the feeling of being full of emotions that had nowhere to go? I can still remember that now, February 14 2010, which happens to be the 40th anniversary of my final performance as Winston Smith.