Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blog #63: Co-Writing I Wouldn’t Open This Can of Worms If I Were You You’ll Only Be Disappointed with Ron Megason for the United Solo Festival.

Caroline Thomas, Ron Megason and Nick Brigadier at work on I Wouldn't Open That Can of  Worms If I Were You You'll Only Be Disappointed

I’ve been away from this blog for the last few months. Such a lot going on! Getting two stories edited for publication on a CD, produced by the Hamm and Clov Stage Company, and now on the shelves of the Yonkers Public Library. I was one of the authors invited by the Artistic Director of Hamm and Clov, Holly Villaire, to participate in a public reading at the library prior to their inclusion in the collection. This involved many hours of preparation, as I'm not familiar with reading non-dramatic material into a microphone. My degree of difficulty with this technique surprised me! Then again, I’m usually a slow learner- no doubt this contributes to my patience as an acting teacher … Speaking of teaching, I’m very pleased to relate that my current group of students is auditioning a lot and frequently booking jobs. Please take a look at my website for more information on this happy subject.             
            The main thrust of this blog, however, is my participation with a former student, Ron Megason – we go back thirty years – in preparing his autobiographical play, I Wouldn't Open That Can of Worms If I Were You You'll Only Be Disappointed, for The United Solo Festival. A brief history of that project: last Fall, Ron and I went to see Juno and the Paycock- a beautiful production of this fabulous play by Sean O'Casey at the Irish Rep- and afterwards Ron took me out to dinner. I was soon in stitches listening to his inexhaustible supply of cruel mishaps and horrifying tragedies that have threaded an unusually eccentric pattern through his years on this planet . Ron is brilliant at spinning misery into delectable entertainment. He can sit across from you, dissolved in tears, while you laugh your head off- and you don’t feel guilty because you know his greatest pleasure in life is exercising his gift as a raconteur.
            Our conversation that night centered on a theme from his life with which I was intimately familiar. As far back as the mid-eighties when I first knew him, Ron had longed to go to Greece and find his birth mother. But he could never quite get up the nerve- or find the resources to make the journey. After his adoptive mother died and left him a bit of money, he was determined to follow through. But even then there were delays, due to the illness and imminent demise of Ron’s landlady of twenty-eight years, with whom he bickered endlessly, but to whom he was deeply attached- along with her adorable poodle, Mootsie, over whom Ron fretted day and night when the poor thing’s owner was bed-ridden and barely able to breathe, let alone take care of a dog. But finally he did succeed in making the journey- and it was quite an adventure!
            I know a thing or two about Greece, since at one time I’d been married to a Greek- and Ron and I had often talked of my strong attraction to its beauty and rich history. I had stayed in touch with a brilliant Greek theatre director, Nikaiti Kontouri- also a former student (as I write this, her current production of Aeschylus’ The Persians is being performed at Epidaurus) and had given Ron her name as a contact. She gave him encouragement in his two-week, whirlwind, barely believable miraculous achievement of reaching his family and finding his birth mother, after all these years.
            Our conversation that evening differed considerably from others of the same sort we’d had over many decades. Due to an improvisation class for gay people, Ron was now able to wear – no, not wear, shall we say instead ‘flaunt’ - self-doubt on his sleeve for all to examine. As he recounted all the deaths, setbacks and insults he had endured recently, I saw that a real actor had emerged from the lovely boy who had wandered into my acting class so many decades ago. The same warmth and concern for others was still present, but now he was a velvet hand ensconced in a glove of comic steel. Ron would no doubt describe it as ‘Bold and Salty Truth’ with a molten chocolate center. It occurred to me immediately that his was a story ready-made for theatre. I had suggested that he should create a one-man show for himself.
            And now a few months later, Ron told me that he had been accepted into the United Solo Festival.  He had borrowed the fee from a friend; of course, the restaurant where he had been earning a tolerable salary chose that exact moment to close down. Simultaneously, the relatives of his deceased landlady were peppering him with outrageously illegal tactics, trying to strip him of his rights as a rent-controlled tenant. When Ron told me of his acceptance into the Festival, he requested that I take on the role of script consultant. I enthusiastically accepted- the director he had chosen was already ‘in the bag.’ Only, of course, with Ron’s luck, he got out of the bag as soon as the booking was definite. And this is how the script consultant became the director- as well as co-writer. Ron’s notes from improv class were absolutely brilliant- however a script they did not make. So here I am, co-writer and director – and loving every minute of it. I’m doubly- maybe triply- happy because my husband, Robert Benes, and daughter, Elissa J. Benes, are the lighting and sound designers, as well as creating three ‘structures’ which represent Ron’s three ‘mothers’, and serve as chairs, tables, etc. And last, but very much not least, we have the incomparable Nick Brigadier- whom Ron ‘discovered’ at the Apple Store – who is indispensable as Assistant Director and Stage Manager.
            Come one, come all! If we fill the house on Wednesday, September 24th, 3:30 PM, we get another show, so please reserve your ticket…
            In my next entry, I’ll go into our writing process- and the thrill of working with someone who has Ron Megason's originality, veracity, courage and sheer energy!