The reviews have started coming in for Far East, the show I just opened with last weekend. They have been uniformly tepid, which is fine; I long ago stopped being bothered by reviews. The ones that mention me kind of crack me up: one reviewer commented, “Skot Kurruk is fine as Bob.” Fine! Yeah! I’m passable! But even better was another, who wrote the immortal (to me) line, “Skot Kurruk was born to play the traitorous homo–in a good way.” I can’t wait until the fiancee reads this. “What . . . what does he mean?” she’ll stammer. And I’ll reply, “Honey, he read my soul. I am, in fact, a traitorous homo. I’ve already cleaned out the savings account, and have you met Clive?”
In truth, these reviewers did not catch the best show. In fact, the show they saw was a dizzying hellpit filled with enraged alligators, from my perspective. Here’s basically what happened.
We started off Act I pretty swimmingly; things were humming along with only a few hiccups: one guy dropped a couple lines, another fucked her blocking all up and ended up across the stage from a particular hat right in time for her line, “Here’s your hat.” But everyone covered fine, nothing was happening that was perceptible to the audience. At intermission, a few of us smoked confidently and chatted, while I inwardly reflected about how I was truly born to play this particular traitorous homo.
And Act II started fine, pretty much; although an actor mispronounced “Captain Stark” as “Captain Sharks,” but hey, it got a laugh. The usual opening jitters. And then there came my scene.
The scene is between my character Bob and his lawyer Hank. Don’t worry about why this is, but the staging convention had me on a stool, center stage, facing straight out to the audience, and the actor playing Hank was elsewhere on stage also facing full out to the audience (like I said, don’t worry about it, it was just some stylized staging). We started the scene, and “Hank” offered me a seat, and I said, “Thanks,” and sat down, and then “Hank” went up. “Went up” is theater-speak for “blanked the line.” I waited on the stool for “Hank” to say his next line, and all I heard was the actor’s limbic system going into freakout mode and the extraordinary sound of audible sweating. “Hank” remained silent, while I pondered the full ramifications of existential despair as I sat, stage center, in dead silence. Suddenly, “Hank” erupted into a ghastly froglike series of croaks that I eventually recognized as lines from the show, only these lines were half a page later. I mentally pictured the skipped-over lines dying like slugs on a salt lick, and they screamed, “Why didn’t yooou saaaaay uuuuusss? Weee are goooood lines! AAAAAaaaaaahh–!” Oh well, so we skipped ahead, at least the actor hadn’t totally vaporlocked. I said the appropriate line.
And the actor totally vaporlocked. I heard awful things from the other actor. First, furious swallowing and coughing. Then: “Well . . . uh . . . I need to think about this, Bob. Uh . . . I’m thinking, Bob . . . ” Trying desperately to stay in character while us, the audience, and probably passersby for a several block radius realized that the entire scene had fallen out of the actor’s head and was lying in a mess on the ground. It was hopeless. I paraphrased the actor’s line and threw it out there as a life preserver: “I turned myself in. Doesn’t that count for anything?” The actor pounced on it like a cougar on an abandoned baby. “Yes, you did, Bob. That was very brave. I’ll emphasize that.” Hey, we’re back on track! “Okay,” I said, and eagerly waited for the next line, which of course was not forthcoming, because the other actor was still trapped on Neptune, looking around thinking, “Boy, I don’t recognize this place, but it’s cold.” This was death. I fed the actor another line and got total radio silence. The actor kept making ghoulish throat-noises, and the vicious tang of flop-sweat was everywhere.
I really am not sure how we got through the rest of that scene without a big hook coming in from the wings to haul us off, but we did. I kept furiously making up leading questions, and the actor finally glommed on to one that led back to the scene proper and its by-now very clammy end, but it seemed to take eons. I felt like Voyager One, trawling the endless black nothing, occasionally letting out a plangent bleat, and hearing only a vast, cosmic “fuck you” of silence.
We finished the rest of the play without incident. And to be honest, the reviewers were mostly pretty kind about ignoring the obvious disaster; only one mentioned it at all, stating the perfectly obvious in case the rest of us had all gone crazy: “[The actor] does need to learn the lines.” What would we do without these helpful people? Anyway, so that was over. We had survived, if not prettily. Until the next night.
When it happened again.