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A Selection of Performances

as Yank Smith in Eugene O'Neil's THE HAIRY APE

Yank works in the stoke hole of a cruise/passenger ship where the wealthy sit in pleasure (sounds like the Hamptons) and he's in hell. He has a sense of dignity, but is lacking the education to know how to maintain it. I worked with physical forms of apes, weight training, size, and a mental perception of the macho male in the early 1900's, to create this character. I did a lot of work on this part - and of course had no idea how to approach a role. I was hoping to meet a chick, get laid and get through my 2nd year of college. I was on scholarship so I had to do this role. I'm glad I did - it won the eastern division of the American College Theatre Festival. We did the play in an old warehouse type space, where the audience felt like it was sitting in the bow of a huge boat. The director Ned Bobkoff (a talented 1960's NYC avant-garde director) opened my eyes to many things at that time. One was myself.

(backstage gossip)


I was 19 when I performed this role and won the eastern division in the American College Theatre Festival for Best Actor and competed for the nationals at Temple University - but didn't win. I deserved not to win. I remember touching on some darkly macho feelings because the director kept pushing me in that direction, doing animal (ape) exercises... it was fun being macho for once - I was large, but sensitive - so everyone cast me in these kinds of roles... It worked - I think I was good in the role but had no idea what acting was, what art was, what I was doing... I just did what I could and relied on more instinct than craft or performance skill. I just thought I was going to be a star and did it for that reason, my ego was being stroked by the department because they had no department and I was getting attention...  I was on a role from age 17 until 20 as an actor getting all kinds of local recognition - and I didn't really like acting that much. From High School  we got standing ovations for a musical where I played Pooch Kearney in GOOD TIMES, made myself fat, put on a beard and wig and did an Irish accent and called it a day - created some cool stick comedy with Barry Frankel who was the High School acting star. I remember keeping the audience laughing so hard for 10 minutes we had to keep stopping the scene. Then I did Lenny in Of Mice and Men - played a retarded man which was easy for me to do in High School :)... Got a scholarship to Dowling College (where many years later I had the opportunity to become an "artist in residence" which meant get beat up by a bunch of bureaucrats), then did this role, got attention in the American College Theatre Festival (sounded important at the time), then got into NYU Tisch which I heard was a good school and only a small # of students world wide got in - so I had to go! I mean I was selected!!! Truth is, I went on the audition because this girl was going so I tagged along to see what it was all about. Signed up for the AUDITION...  I did the Yank Smith monologue in the closet in the room and got in. Tells you where NYU's staff was mentally - those were the days of the avant-garde being big in NYC so I guess they thought I had some special gift to do this O'Neil monologue in a closet banging and screaming like some lunatic- I was just scared of them so I hid in the closet. Actually I thought it was the hall and when Omar Shapli said "HI, what are you going to do for us" and there were all these smug arrogant uptight snotty burn-out teachers sitting there pretending to be artists (kidding they were), I split and ran into the closet... Well truth is I opened one of two dingy doors to leave when I was supposed to start acting and got stuck in this closet. Omar said "start anytime" so I just yelled the monologue, banged on the door and exited.

Anyway, Yank Smith was another one of those early treasures when I felt my talents emerging, felt my presence on stage working, and did expand as O'Neil's words are great, the characters are powerful and it brought me into the realm of serious drama. Just what I wanted to do in college! Truth is backstage me and the guys would watch the scenes in between our cues and talk about the girls in pornographic terms. Then, run on stage act serious and do the play, run off and talk dirty, and so on. My friend Julian, had to be hit in one scene by me. Julian and I practiced stage fighting all over campus. IN elevators we'd freak out anyone in it and ride up and down then when the doors shut I'd start picking on him and we'd beat one another up - we did that all day sometimes. One night in performance, I hit Julian and actually nipped him. I'm doing this long monologue and I see him laying against the wall, he's acting like he's dizzy which he is not supposed to be, and he has blood coming out of his ear. I'm freaking out - finally, backstage I said "are you OK" and he cracks up and pulls out his stage blood! ART? I don't think so. But it was fun. We were very horny and art was just not as important I suppose at 19. I can't say I went into theatre originally for the girls. The truth is, my best friend had drowned when I was 17, I was supposed to graduate a year early and stayed in for my real final year in High School as I was lost and confused, angry at God whoever he or she was, the identifying elements of good suburban life had broken too quickly, I was smart, and energetic, and full of life - and confused beyond words - there were no real rites of passage happening in the right places for me, and I was dragged into a musical because all I did was mope. I guess that sounds like someone who would gravitate to the theatre. I wanted to be a musician and painter, but everyone told me I'd starve. So, people liked my acting - I had no idea what I was doing other than trying to get through the next day growing into a man, and, fell in love with a 15 year old (I was 17) for 3 weeks who told me "I don't love you anymore John"... and crushed me further. 

But there was pasta and mom and dad, and spots - to go home to. And working at Jack in the Box, landscaping, and hoping one day I'd be ... something else. :)

That's how I started my acting career.