William Butler Yeats famously wrote that "the center cannot hold". In looking back on my time at URI I realize now that the ooze had begun even if I wasn't perceiving it at the moment.
When I arrived at URI the talent level was astronomical. Many of the actors there continued acting professionally. They continued dedicating their lives and talent to the pursuit of creativity.
By the time 1990 rolled around this was not the case. Oh, the actors would have SAID that they would never stop acting but within a few years most of them would have given up the ghost for good. So you had people there for the wrong reasons, or for reasons that were unclear even to them.
My sister had moved on. Jackie had moved on. Brooke had moved on. Julia had moved on. Nancy had moved on. Anthony had moved on. Bill L. had moved on.
Talented people had arrived as well but from my perspective it was as if a Golden Era had just turned. It was the day before the stock market crashed. It was the first day of the season AFTER you won the championship. There was no center. Everything was fringe and slipping further out daily.
"Camelot" was to be the winter musical. I assumed that I would play King Arthur. Cocky bastard that I was I didn't work hard on my singing audition. The part is mostly talk singing to begin with and I just figured I would breeze in there and get the part.
I was outraged for about five minutes when I found out that I'd been cast as King Pellinore, the senile knight errant in pursuit of the Questing Beast. The character was supposed to be OLD, what could Judith have been thinking??? Also they cast an older non-student as Arthur for pete's sake...
I talked of a bitter senior complaining at the casting notices of my first show "Hay Fever" and here I was three and a half years later bitching and moaning myself. But deep in my heart I knew I hadn't given them reason enough to cast me as Arthur. I was mad, sure, but mostly mad at myself for half-assing my audition for a part that I might have gotten if I'd put my whole self into it.
Because of this laziness and ego I never got to SING a song as a character while at URI. I sang in the chorus but never as a character who gets a song of their own. Boo hoo!!!
Judith's rationale behind casting me as a wrinkled old knight was sound...the play takes place in a world where magic is commonplace. Why wouldn't this character age backwards like Merlin does?
Speaking of Merlin, Judith cast Mitchell as the Wizard, and this worked like a charm. Mitchell is a dancer, Mitchell is one of the most physically gifted actors I've ever seen. When you hear "Merlin" you immediately think of Ian McKellan as Gandalf or Peter O'Toole or some such. Making Merlin young and spry and full of motion only furthered the notion that he was closer to the END of his backwards time journey than he was to the beginning.
One of our fondest shared memories occurred in this play...there was a slow-motion battle sequence which was MURDER to choreograph. At one point I was spotlighted stage right swinging a broad sword in an endless crawl and screaming, "MEEERRRRLLLLIIINNNNNN!!!!!!" Try yelling slow and see how it feels. We laugh about this moment to this day, Mitchell somewhere else on stage moving in molasses but also highly urgently hearing me yell to him as slow as can be.
For the first time ever I was to share the stage with an animal. Pellinore is hunting the Questing Beast with his trusty dog. A trained Cocker Spaniel was hired to play this part. I barge into Camelot during a May Day Feast with the dog on a leash. Everyone on stage had at least one dog biscuit hidden in their clothing so that the dog would be surrounded by temptation. He would want to sniff every single person out there.
He strained at the leash, pulling me along. I had let my hair grow and also sported a full beard. To highlight my having been on a quest in the woods they wove flowers in my hair which gave me a vague hippie vibe. I stumble on stage to find lords and ladies draped over one another in almost-coital embraces. I beg for their help in finding the Questing Beast.
Most of the monologue is about my dog. One matinee the dog owner never showed up. So I had to improvise an entire monologue about MISSING my dog, having LOST my dog while on my quest. My entrance came about forty minutes into the play so no one on stage knew the dog was a no-show.
So they are all lounging over one another and out I come holding just a leash and a dog biscuit. Crying. Crying because I'd been in hot pursuit of the Questing Beast and my dog had run off after him and I couldn't find either of them. I remember the whole cast looking at me like I was insane which only added to the hilarity.
At the end of the show came the appearance of the second animal in the cast. The final battle has been fought and a horse rides on stage bearing the flag of Camelot. It was awesome! The horse waited outside the theater until it was time for his cue. Then an actor with horse experience dressed in chain-mail hopped on, grabbed the staff and flag and clip-clopped out and across the battle scarred scene.
Now, was this show up there with "Drood" or "Anne" or "Hay Fever" or "Biloxi Blues"? No, certainly not. But that perception is mostly due to the connection I had built up with the PEOPLE in those shows, not to the shows themselves. I'm sure if some audience member had seen all of them they might have liked "Camelot" best.
In my own life the "center" wasn't holding either. I was deep into a classic college relationship founded on little more than convenience and lust. I was preparing to leave the country for at least a year.
I was staring adulthood in the face, desperately trying to stretch each blink into denial.