True West puts it on the line(s)

by Dominick Cross

I don't have stage fright, so I figured why not. I mean, I've done performance-like stuff over the years. And that's what led me to Sam Shepard's True West, and a true picture of time, lines and acting.

It seems like it's been years since Christy Leichty, program director at Cité des Arts, suggested I come out for the role of Saul Kipper, make that Kimmer, in the play True West by Sam Shepard.

I don't have stage fright, so I figured why not. I mean, I've done some performance-like stuff over the years. I had a live music show on AOC called PF Live! I've introduced bands at Downtown Alive! I've also appeared on the local morning TV shows promoting DTA!

In 2004, I led an ensemble performance of my own politically-charged material with Amy Waguespack's Acting Up (in Acadiana). For that matter, I sang reconstituted Christmas carols of the same ilk at the Blue Moon's Christmas Hoot Nights until I moved to Mississippi a little over three years ago.

Come to think of it, while in Greenville, I had a couple of lines in the Delta Center Stage production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Upon my return to Lafayette, I told myself I wanted to get more involved in local theater. In fact, when I get my trumpet fixed and my lip back, as well as attaining accordion skills beyond a poor rendition of "Jambalaya," I also plan to dabble more in music. Don't blame me. There's something about Lafayette that does this to a person puts you in touch with the other you you've kept at bay all these years you know, makes you want to be all creative and stuff.

But let's take one nightmare scenario at a time.

Leichty told me that Saul Kimmer, a Hollywood producer, appears in just two scenes, so I figured I could handle the role. When I arrived at Cite on a Saturday for the interview and met brothers Brock and Blake Hoffpauir, who also play brothers Austin and Lee, these guys tell me I look like a Saul Kimmer.

I'm thinking cool, I can do this. I'm also thinking that apparently my genetics (I'm half-Italian and half-American) have combined to give me the appearance of a Hollywood producer. I've been asked over the years if I was Jewish or Italian. And after the first (and hopefully last) ordeal with Iran, people wondered if I was from somewhere in the Middle East. After 9/11, I understood why people gave me a second glance.

No matter the reasoning, I went for it. But musician Daniel Gayle got the part instead. However, Gayle's schedule, as dictated by his violin/fiddle talents, would not allow him to take the role. Only then did it fall to me.

Not a big deal. Lots of people were second string at first Bart Starr and Brett Favre and they rose to the occasion and garnered unequivocal success, and in the case of the latter, some shame, too. Besides, it's only two scenes and it's just local theater. I mean, it's not the Super Bowl, right?

Therein lies the rub.

People, I gotta tell ya, local theater ain't no walk in the park. There are a couple of issues at play here and standing up and talking in front of people is the least of them. That's the easy part. Time and lines are the major issues.

As I write this, I'm suddenly reminded of a disastrous outing I had in a dinner theater deal with Pat Cravins years ago. At the time, unbeknownst to me, I'd stumbled into a black hole. I thought I could just get up and recite my lines without too much effort. Not only did I drop my lines, but I tripped over and flat out forget them. I'm just glad she gave me a ride home afterward.

And that's where time comes in. You've got to put in the time.

Time, that commodity of volunteers that Festival International Director Dana Baker says is priceless, is just that. I mean, jeez Louisiana, it is amazing how valuable time becomes. When it goes by, it's like when a loved one passes. You can reach back all you want; you can demand, rant and beg but they, nor will time, return. Ever.

So along with rehearsal, you have to budget your time for things like laundry, cutting the grass, cleaning the house and taking out the trash. Even down to eating. Socializing is a luxury you hope to see in the future. Then there are work considerations. You know, the job. The bread-winning aspect of our lives, that for most of us is a necessity that needs no further commentary.

Then if you have children, I cannot imagine the pursuit of extracurricular activities even being possible. But people do it. They make the time for things like plays and music and I admire these people to no end.

And then there are the lines, the words you spout on stage. Remembering what you're supposed to say and when. And how, for that matter. There are no simple ways to memorize your lines unless you've got more of a scanner memory than photographic. My memory has never been the best. I can't even remember what's-his-name's name who'd I just met.

There are ways of remembering lines. Of course, there's rehearsal, but that, despite the repetition and time involved, is not enough, for me, anyway. So you read scenes aloud, including everyone's lines. Record the scenes, play it back and recite your lines aloud. Getting a friend to go over your scenes with you, having them use different inflections for the other characters is another way.

As Loren Farmer told me, read your lines aloud first thing in the morning and before you go to bed at night. I've done them all and will continue to do so through the next 10 days.

And another way to memorize your lines, as True West director Bruce Coen tells us, is to listen to what the characters are saying. He also told us that the key to acting is not to act, but to react. Took a while, but I finally got what he was saying.

Well, the lines are coming easier. Sometimes so that it's amazing how fast the time goes by rehearsing scenes. What used to be forever isn't any longer.  Seems to me that once you get your lines down, they seem to pop up in everyday conversation. It's incredible, Austin. Did I just type that? See what I mean? That's one of my lines. What I was going to write is that it's incredible how difficult this all seemed at one time. The intimidating mountain is now a doable hill. I can't wait for the descent.

We had dress rehearsal for True West last night and it went pretty well. The Brothers Hoffpauir who make acting look so easy, definitely got their lines down. Winnie Darphine-Bacque, in the role of their mother, who is rookie at this like me and just as nervous, did darn good, too. I think I remembered my lines for the most part.

We've got another dress rehearsal this evening. Opening night is tomorrow, Friday the 13th. If you've got the time this weekend or next, c'mon by. As a reminder, I'd drop you a line, but I'm trying my best not to do that anymore.

True West opens Friday at Cite, 109 Vine St., in downtown Lafayette, and runs this weekend and next. Curtain is 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sundays. True West is adult drama and is not for children.

The Saturday evening shows offer dinners by chef Betsy Mitchell of "Conscious Cuisine" local organic food. Tomorrow night she's serving Pasta Primavera made with whole grain Brown Rice Fettucine, lots of fresh and local vegetables. Choice of marinated shrimp or chicken skewers. Order food from the website, or by calling 291-1122 by 5 p.m. Friday evening. $7 each.

Tickets are $10. Go here for tickets and more information.