Last night I saw a 12-minute short film by an old friend, Michael Babbitt, playing at his local church. Years back, Michael was foolhardy enough to let me be an extra in some of the plays put on by the Open Door Theatre company, which he co-founded, and in which he acted and directed. Seeing him again really threw my mind back to the turn of the century.
My first stage appearance was as the Majordomo (butler) in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the original play by Christopher Hampton on which the movie Dangerous Liaisons was based. As a side note, when I was in my early 20s, I bore a remarkable resemblance to a young John Malkovitch (who starred in said movie)… I say remarkable, because people remarked on it all the time, once even in a small cafe in southern France when I was hitchhiking around Europe. The production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses was directed by Rob Kramer. I supplied my own costume, since for some reason I have a tux with tails. We ran for 3 weekends in September 2001 at the Carrboro ArtsCenter… attendance was down because of the September 11 terrorism, and everyone was numb.
My next and last role was was Curio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (or What You Will), in which I had a staggering 4 lines (I spoke a few sentence in the previous play as well). We opened January 2nd, 2002 and ran for 3 weeks (including on Twelfth Night itself, the fifth or sixth of January (there is apparently some confusion, but we played both nights). I recall having to practice on New Year’s Eve, then rushing down to the coast to celebrate with my girlfriend and some mutual friends at a beach house. Michael directed this one, and it was set in a sort of dystopian future. I supplied my costume for this one as well, a white bunnysuit I’d picked up from when I worked as a greenhouse grower, where we used them when spraying fungicides.
Before and after my brief stint on the boards, I helped the troupe out in various ways, selling tickets and concessions in the lobby for performances, and doing other odd jobs. My connection was Michael, who I’d met a few years before at a used bookstore, and who I played RPGs with. Oddly enough, Michael and I had both lived in Columbia, Missouri at the same time years before, and had several mutual friends, but never met until we both moved to Chapel Hill. Michael gave me my first lesson in coding HTML, back in the last decade of the last century, but he’s since moved on to physical therapy. Probably a healthier choice…
So, it was interesting seeing Michael transition from acting and directing plays to producing and directing short films. At the premiere, I saw a few other theater folks I’d met through Open Door, and had not seen for many years, which was a real pleasure. Dante Walker, a monstrous hulk with a wicked scar on his face, whose appearance is belied by his humble and gentle character (he should be on TV, he’s a good actor). Caroline, the stage manager. Krista, Michael’s wife and rock. Melissa Lozoff, an actress with a magician husband, who starred in the short film. But when I looked around for our friend Anthony, the theater company’s dramaturg and another gaming buddy, I didn’t see him; Michael announced that he was in the hospital, having just been diagnosed with cancer. That was a bitter moment. Anthony is a clever guy and a good person, and I’ll have to go see him in the hospital.
So strange how we lose touch with friends, how we all follow our separate paths, and how things all get tangled up in our lives and in our minds. How do years go by, and things change so much, in what seems so short a time?