By JEFF PICKELL
My best friend, Dolley, won’t shut up about all the play productions he’s involved in.
“Dolley!” I shout over the phone. “I’m lonely! I’m morose! Come visit me! Bring girls!”
“I can’t do it,” he says. “I just can’t do it.”
When he says he “can’t do it,” what he means is he can’t wake up at 9:30 a.m. and drive back to Kalamazoo to make it to play rehearsal at noon. Let us all come together and chide Dolley for being a girly man. Let us also chide him for being involved in plays, which, with the exception of dancing, is the girliest thing in all of history and the imagination.
That is, until two Saturdays ago, when Pat Grover called and asked me to take a role in “Camping with Henry and Tom,” which is coming to the Fayette Opera House this weekend. I sighed.
“I really don’t think I can do it,” I told Pat. I was cleaning my rifles at the time. “You see, I’m very busy. I lift weights three or four times a day. I spend a lot of time souping up old Mustangs. I’m scheduled to kill a moose with my bare hands this coming Tuesday.”
“Please!” she pleaded. “Please!”
“Well,” I said. “Let me check my agenda for today. From noon to dusk I’m occupied. I have to chop down an entire forest. Normally, this would only take me an hour or so, but with gas prices so high, I want to stay economical. So I’m going to use a butter knife.
“I promised a horse farmer I’d help him take some spit and vinegar out of his stallions, so I’m probably going to spend six or seven hours tonight body slamming yearlings. But I’m free between seven and nine. Will that be enough time for me to learn my part?”
“It depends,” she said. “How smart are you?”
“Well, let’s just say this,” I replied. “My biceps are so big that I just split the sleeves on my t-shirt. For the third time today.”
“Ooooh. That is smart,” she said. “So, will you take the part?”
“I guess,” I said. Then I hung up the phone. After about four seconds my internal smoke alarms started going off and I realized what I had just done. I dialed Dolley. “Dolley” I said. “You have to help me. I’m in a play!”
“Stop calling me a girl,” he said.
“I’m not! I’m in a play! You have to help me!”
“For the last time, Jeff, I’m not a girl!” he said.
“Dolley! Listen to me! I. Am. In. A. Play.”
“Are you serious? You’re in a play?” I replied that I was. “You are such a girl!” he said.
After trading salvoes of “No, you’re the girls” for the next 15 minutes, he finally agreed to help me learn how to act. After all, he was the last person I actually appeared on stage with. I remember it like it was five years ago. He was Captain America. I was Captain Pajamas. We went from room to room in my high school. I would burst in the door, screaming, “Forsooth! Is this the end of Captain Pajamas?” Then Dolley would kick me in the back. “Take that, Captain Pajamas!” he’d cry. We’d trade blows for 10 or 15 seconds, then tumble out the door again. On to the next room. Senior pranks are the greatest.
But what’s not the greatest is being in an actual production and not being able to act. Thankfully, it’s my character’s job to suck. More specifically, Henry Ford orders my character to suck fuel from a crashed car.
Ford then offers me carrot mush, president Warren G. Harding berates me, Thomas Edison calls me a nincompoop, and I shoot a deer in the head.
“Getting yelled at and called a nincompoop? I should be able to pull this off well enough,” I thought aloud after reading the script. “Right?”
Wrong. We did our first run through last Thursday for the 10th graders at Delta High School, and I must say it was a sad day for acting. My screw-ups ran the gamut—I forgot parts of my costume, I forgot my lines, I flubbed my lines, I came in before my cue, I ran into props, I broke character, I even messed up shooting the deer. Let’s just say we’re lucky no students were injured during the course of my buffoonery.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “If I wanted to see Jeff mess up, I’d just pick up a copy of the Observer.”
However, I assure you that I won’t mess up come Saturday, which is why you should attend the show. That, and the other actors are all good enough to offset the badness that tends to follow me wherever I go.
Yep. That’s right. They’re that good.– May 3, 2006