Monday, September 23, 2013

I Joined The Cast Of The Foreigner

For the past few weeks, I've been working on my portrayal of Froggy Leseur for a local production of "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue. It has been difficult, primarily because I haven't done a play in nearly a year and I'm finding it hard to nail the nonsensical dialogue that permeates the script. While the overall script is incredibly funny, it suffers from having characters getting caught up in eddies of nonsensical dialogue. For example:

BETTY. (Having noticed something in the woodbin.) Well, would you look at this.
BETTY. Two of 'em, this time. That boy.
BETTY. It's that dumb little Ellard Simms, looky here. He takes one o' my apples, bites out of it, then decides he don't want it, and dumps it in here.
FROGGY. Oh, yes.
I would guess that Shue wrote the dialogue this way in order to better emulate real conversation which is often peppered with overlapping interjections. As an actor, trying to memorize these interjections is difficult because they cannot be properly queued off of. This results in a tendency to jump lines and miss entire passages of actual conversation.

My own personal solution to this is to memorize my lines in blocks and to end each block at points where Froggy Leseur is supposed to fumble with interjections. Also, I've noticed that Shue tends to write his interjections in threes, which makes them a little easier to memorize.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ancient Greeks Thought Redheads Turned Into Vampires When They Died

There's a new meme gumming up my Facebook news feed this week. It boasts the extraordinary claim that ancient Greeks thought redheads turned into vampires when they died. Of course, the originators of the meme never point to a source that can document this supposed fact. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus, while describing the Budini people as predominantly redheads, never mentions the belief that they turned into vampires. No we're just supposed to take the meme at face value, tag our redheaded Facebook friends and have a laugh over it. The thing is, the claim that ancient Greeks thought turned into vampires when they died is absolutely not true.

Contrary to popular belief, redheads weren't exactly uncommon in ancient Greece. It would seem that the ancient Greeks associated those with red hair as being Thracians, who lived to the North of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks did indeed regard Thracians as barbarians and were considered by Plato to be high spirited and war-like. It's not hard to believe that ancient Greek citizens may have made up a number of legends regarding these redheaded barbarians, whom many regarded as bloodthirsty to begin with.

While the notion of vampirism has been around since at least the rise of Mesopotamia, the modern-day concept of vampires are firmly rooted in medieval legends. Still, the ancient Greeks did have a belief in creatures that could be thought of as less sophisticated vampires. Specifically, ancient Greek myths referred to the Empusae, Lamia, and Striges. Over time the first two terms became general words to describe witches and demons respectively. Empusa, the daughter of the goddess Hecate was a demonic, bronze-footed creature who feasted on blood by transforming into a young woman and seducing men as they slept before drinking their blood. The Lamia preyed on young children by sucking their blood in their beds as they slept at night. Striges feasted both on children and young men and were later regarded as spirits who were too evil to enter the afterlife.

So, where did this claim that the ancient Greeks thought redheads turned into vampires when they died come from? It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that the originator of the meme probably confused ancient anti-Thracian propaganda with ancient legends of the Stirges. And a healthy amount of misunderstanding and/or poetic license and you've got a recipe for numerous postings on Facebook.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fred Delicious And The Hospital Health Car

There’s a car that haunts my dreams. Well, it’s a car in the strictest technical sense, anyway, being that it has four wheels, an engine and has some means of being controlled by a driver. I don’t know that you could really call it a car, though. It’s as if a Toyota Camry and a Plymouth Voyager had a child car together and the Camry thought that the offspring looked an awful lot like that PT Cruiser that’s always parked down the street. And when that baby car grew up, instead of becoming something respectable like a family sedan or an airport shuttle or even a taxi, it decided to disgrace its parents and become a theme car for this car looked up to the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile growing up.

My local hospital recognized the car’s talent for showmanship and gave it a job driving around to schools in the area to lecture students about good nutrition. To aid the car in its job, they embellished it with decorations and prosthetics until it looked like that evil clown who scared the literal piss out of me when I was 5 and I got lost at that sketchy circus. But, unlike the memory of that gin-soaked clown, I cannot suppress the memory of the Hospital Health Car.

The vehicle haunts my darkest nightmares. I dream that it is chasing me through the streets of my neighborhood with a three headed, six horned, sweaty toothed doctor behind the wheel. And, just when it is about to capture me, put me in a specimen jar, and return me to the hospital to perform avant-garde experiments on my spleen, I dispatch it with a golden apple whom I've named "Fred Delicious".

It always starts the same way. I’m driving down that lonely, dimly lit stretch of highway in my Mustang with the top down. There’s always a lady sitting in the passenger seat. Usually, it’s Reese Witherspoon. Sometimes it’s Christie Brinkley. Once it was my mother, but I don’t want to talk about that. As I drive past the hospital, the Hospital Health Car hangs a tight left at the intersection and begins its pursuit. The doctor’s evil laugh cackles out of the windows as it gains on me. I drop my foot on the gas as if my shoe had been crafted from cloth woven from a neutron star. All of the little horses in my engine take off running. Reese Witherspoon or Christie Brinkley is thrown back so hard that I fear she may have gotten whiplash and will sue me.

The road narrows as my Mustang screeches through the streets of my neighborhood. Behind me, the maniacal doctor drives the Hospital Health Car furiously, his hands clamped to the steering column, the wheels tearing up the asphalt as that villainous vehicle thunders after me. I take a right and blaze down my block towards my house. I’ve misjudged the ludicrous speed of my Mustang and I crash it into my garage, exploding my hot water heater and blowing up my home. Christie Brinkley or Reese Witherspoon is nowhere to be found in the debris. Hollywood is going to be really angry and really happy with me. The doctor catches me from behind and tosses me like a rag doll onto the ground. “Show me your spleen!” he crows at me. He pins my knees with his boots and retrieves a rusty scalpel from his coat pocket. “You’ll feel a little pinch!” he says. I’m certain that the procedure won’t be covered by my HMO and I’ll have to pay out of pocket. Again.

And that’s when I remember him. Fred Delicious. My apple. My friend. Dad always said “Quit naming and personifying your food, Thomas, it’s embarrassing”, but he also always said “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. So, from my pocket I pull out the apple, show him to the doctor and exclaim “Say hello to my little Fred!” as I shove the apple down the doctor’s throat by taking the long way. The doctor keels over and disappears in a puff of purple smoke that smells like the cologne my grandfather used to wear when he’d go to a funeral for one of his military buddies.

And I wake up, safe in my bed, covered in sweat but glad that I had gone to the grocery store the night before and had bought some chili, soda, milk, crackers, macaroni noodles, sour cream, shredded cheese and an apple named Fred.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's Jason's Birthday

Let's face it, when people think of September 11, Jason's Birthday isn't the first thing on their minds. It seems to me that another history-making event is primarily on their minds. It has to suck be to have your birthday on 9/11 and be so overwhelmingly overshadowed, so, in order to lift my buddy's spirits, I decided to put together a little tribute video for him.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Highland Lawn Cemetery

I spend my part of my Labor Day weekend in Terre Haute, IN. After wandering around for some time, I passed by the Highland Lawn Cemetery and decided to go in and have a look around. The grounds of the cemetery are vast and gorgeous, featuring a number of ornate headstones and mausoleums. Immediately after entering Highland Lawn Cemetery, one is greeted by a headstone belonging to someone with the ominously appropriate name of H.C. Dies. There's also a large statue of an elk not too far away. The rest of Highland Lawn Cemetery seems to be an exercise in hosting a "who can build the biggest funerary obelisk" contest. Aside from that, there are number of famous burials, such as poet Max Ehrmann (writer of "Desiderata") and silent film star Valeska Suratt.

The Legend Of Stiffy Green

Local folklore has it that Highland Lawn Cemetery is haunted by a dog nicknamed Stiffy Green. According to legend, when John G. Heinhl died in 1921, his loyal pet bulldog refused to leave his side, even after Heinhl was placed in the family mausoleum. The dog growled at anyone who approached, and stood guard by the burial site until his death. The bulldog was then stuffed and had green glass eyes added (real eyes dry out) and placed inside the mausoleum so that he visible through the entrance grate. When curious visitors shined flashlights through the door, the dog's fake green eyes would light up. This earned the dog the nickname of "Stiffy Green". Stories also abound of people who have heard a dog barking in the distance when they approach the Heinhl mausoleum. A little research indicates that the Stiffy Green legend is just that. The truth is that the dog in the mausoleum had merely been a concrete statue that belonged to Mr. Heinhl and had stood on the front porch of his home. Don't bother looking for old Stiffy Green if you happen to visit Highland Lawn Cemetery. He's not there anymore. He was moved to a replica of the Heinhl mausoleum at the County Historical Museum in Terre Haute after teenagers shot bullets into the actual mausoleum in the 1980s and shot out one of the statue's green eyes. Still, if you want to have a look at the Heinhl mausoleum, it's picture #5 in the set below.

Martin Sheets And His Taphophobia

Before he died in 1910, Martin Sheets, a Terre Haute businessman, had a phobia of being buried alive. Thanks to the invention of the telephone, Sheets was able to somewhat alleviate this fear by arranging to have a phone with an active line placed with his mausoleum once he passed away and made arrangements in his will to pay for the line for many years after his death. His tomb was also constructed in such a way that that he could open it from inside if he needed to. The phone was also set up that a light would turn on in the Highland Lawn Cemetery office when the mausoleum phone was lifted, even if no words were spoken. Of course, the light never came on and the direct line to the cemetery office was eventually removed. However, the actual phone line remained live as long as the money from Sheets' will paid the bill. Legend has it that several years later, Sheets' widow was found dead laying on her bed with a telephone receiver clutched in her hand and a look of terror frozen on her face. She was placed in the mausoleum next to her husband and, when the cemetery workers entered the tomb, they noticed that Martin's phone was off the hook. You'll see a picture of the Sheets mausoleum in picture #4 in the set below.

Highland Lawn Cemetery, a set on Flickr.