FINKS

Tonite I watched a preview performance of FINKS, opening this Saturday evening.  It’s sold out.  No doubt!  😉 This accomplished cast, headed by French Stewart, offers an evening of American Exceptionalism at its darkest.  The Black List is among our more embarrassing historical footnotes; post WW II, as American artists confronted American political bigotry.  FINKS will play in repertory with OPPENHEIMER, which engages the creation and deployment of nuclear power as a weapon against humanity.

I can’t imagine any contemporary actor being unmoved by FINKS.  It is riveting, a Sophie’s Choice: Either cooperate with HUAC…or no longer work.  Accomplished careers were shattered; lifelong friendships were betrayed and destroyed.  I suspect that many ‘civilians’ will find resonance with our reality right now.  The Confrontation of self-interest with principle:  “Which side are you on?”

I was engaged from the outset.  But I was stunned by French’s work late in the 2nd Act.  It was as tho his Truth had reached into my chest…and squeezed my heart. I hope you’ll choose to attend. This is memorable theater. This is a performance you’ll not want to miss.

As usual, a synchronicity further connects me to FINKS.  In the late 70’s I’d purchased a two bedroom co-op on Central Park West, leaving behind my beloved NYC loft existence; I wanted to OWN a home in NYC.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar occupied one of the penthouses, and Tony Brown, another.  12 B. 444 Central Park West.  My two bedroom overlooked Central Park, the East Side to the east and the TriBoro Bridge to the north. Tits!

This building enjoyed a history.  It had once been known as Little Moscow…because so many of its units were occupied by accomplished artists included in the Black Lists.  I only learned of that several years later, when filming a MOW for NBC in Atlanta, FOR LADIES ONLY.  I was portraying a male stripper…probably my zenith as a sexual object. 😉  One of our stars, Gregory Harrison was visited in Atlanta by his friend, Dinah Manoff. I learned that she had grown up in that same building.  She remembered my doorman, still on the job.  Dinah’s parents were Lee Grant and Arnold Manoff.  Both were referenced by name, tonite in FINKS.

Extend yourselves, LA theater goers.  ROGUE MACHINE THEATRE now exists in Venice.  Our brand still represents; much like KFC, we still do THEATRE right!  Book a reservation and see FINKS…and afterwards, knowing that you got lucky, return to see OPPENHEIMER.

Goddamn, I am so proud of our theater and the art we generate!

THE 4TH WALL

THE 4th WALL

It took me 48 hours to completely go thru one large cardboard box in my garage. Stuff from the 70’s; war photos, theater programs, critical reviews, scripts, love letters…and a packet of long forgotten fan letters, largely devoted to characters I’d played on How To Survive A Marriage and Search For Tomorrow. I realized I’d never read many of them and I considered how very much fandom and celebrity have changed, over the past 40 years.

Most just wanted to say hi and ask for a signed photo. I sent out a lot of photos in those days, long before networks or publicists handled such issues. Some requests were on 3 by 5 postcards, some handwritten, on lined notebook paper or elegant personal stationary. There were then fewer networks and fewer shows; fan attention was concentrated on a much smaller pool of actors. Some fans shared their own artistic aspirations and asked for my advice. Perhaps today, those truly talented fans might find their way to a Star Search or reality show or America’s Got Talent. But back then, such fame was just a pipe dream…

And the fans of soap operas cherished their “stories”; they were passionate and loyal. Sheldon sent me typed, double spaced, comparatively literate expressions of his admiration for my work. I suspect ol Sheldon had a few other hidden agenda’s tho… Nothing hidden about the more outgoing requests for details about my own personal life…and for sure, nothing hidden in the Polaroids of themselves, of EVERY orifice many female fans sent me! I have no idea how they composed some of those shots; all taken decades before the invention of “the selfie stick”.

Not every fan had a firm grasp on reality. Some clearly struggled to differentiate fiction from real life. Some would send me detailed descriptions of characters intending to “do me wrong”, they wanted to warn me of the dangers “Bobby Stuart” (my character on SFT) was facing! I’m sure they meant well, wanted to help…but clearly not all were wrapped real tight. I mean, I’d read those scripts, I knew what our writers were up to but they just wanted to give me a heads up. 

A lot of young women in college chose to write to me, many of them, women of color. Their letters were sincere and coy and intended to woo. At that time, there were comparatively few actors of color on network tv on a regular basis. They offered their astrological signs and their aspirations and their devotion to my character on SFT on NBC. I was the first actor of color ever to be offered a contract on that show, in 1978…and it had been on the air since 1951! P&G, who sponsored the program, along with others (hey, that’s why they were called “soaps” –the sponsors manufactured laundry detergents) insisted that I sign for two years. I agreed to sign for six months, asking that they create a story line for my character. I then had commercial go-to-hell money and I preferred theater, in any case. Six months came and went. SFT refused to create a story line for my character, fearing they’d lose some of their white audience base…even tho their ratings had steadily risen since my characters introduction.

And so I just walked away. P&G was beside itself (MF’ers got downright indignant!) but I was done. Shortly afterwards, over at ABC, their writers backed the storyline of Angie and Jessie on All My Children…and they then DOMINATED soap opera ratings for years! My people LOVE their stories! I only appreciated the impact of “Bobby” during my performances on stage in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus for the Public Theater. For six months I’d done both; shooting the soap in the morning, classes with Stella Adler in the afternoon and working on stage in the evening. And I appeared on stage as a minor character! (I was understudying Cassius and Tullus Aufidius) and flashbulbs would be going off in the house and whispers of “That’s Bobby! That’s BOBBY!” could be heard. THAT clarified for me the impact of television. I am a few feet away from them, performing in a Shakespearean drama…and a character they’d seen on their 21” TV screen back home was far more important to them.

Now for all those years and fan letters, I’d allowed an interaction with a young black woman from the south. Nothing inappropriate mind you, but she seemed authentic and sane and undemanding. Once she had my mailing address, she sent me cards on every conceivable Hallmark occasion; Christmas, Easter, Halloween, even fucking Flag Day! Seriously. Along with embroidered pillows and bears and… I finally stood up and put an end to that, telling her, “Please, no more gifts…but thanks.” Some years passed.

In 1986, in full PTSD thrall, I chanced to travel to Ft Bragg to film a few Army National Guard PSA’s. I awoke early that morning in my motel…and I had NO IDEA where I was or why. That confusion was memorable and surreal. I turned on my tv, to learn that Len Bias had just died of a cocaine overdose. I was a Terp…so was this absurdly physically gifted athlete…and suddenly, he was just gone. I had time before my pickup for the shoot and on a whim, remembering that I was near the home of this woman who’d written to me for so many years, I decided to call her and just say hello. Looked her up in the phone book, dialed the number and the phone was answered…by her parents. I explained who I was, that she’d often written to me and I just wanted to say hello to her while I was in town. They went to speak to her. They returned to tell me that she was unwilling to speak to me…and that my call was upsetting. I apologized, hung up, went on to film my work and flew home to NYC.

Only later did I come to appreciate the magnitude of my error. I had, in a sense “broken the fourth wall”. This young woman had created, over years, a fictional relationship. Not with me, but with a character I’d portrayed on a soap opera. And by calling, as myself, I had shattered all of her fantasies about Bobby…and she never contacted me again.

VETERANS IN AMERICA

This afternoon I will record the narration for ‘Veterans in America.’ The film is to be shown at the grand opening of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, OH at the end of this month. Also, the film will be used as a starting point for a longer, 4-part documentary miniseries for PBS on the veterans’ experience.

I’m very grateful to be involved in this tribute to America’s veteran community.

Today was exhausting…but for interesting reasons. I’ve done considerable narrative work over the years – over 1000 v/o, several audio books including my own, numerous other documentaries. The nuances of a narrator on this specific project placed my acting instincts, my v/o experience and my personal history in conflict.

Imagine the difference between a traditional news reporter and a news commentator. One strives for objectivity; the other embraces his personal points of view. This text resonated with the veteran and the actor in me. Surrendering to that inclination would be personally satisfying yet professionally off purpose, for this mission.

I am as old as I have ever been; I have less stamina, diminished ability to concentrate for hours on end. Fortunately I had a very savvy and supportive director in NYC on the phone patch. He valued my concerns and my grammatical instincts. I trusted him and together, we recorded a track that is respectful and effective – without Tucker’s own editorial passion for present veteran needs and past inequitable treatment in our society.