Playing a One-Man Show Does Not Include a Cast Party
by Marvin Payne
Well, my first portrayal of J. Golden Kimball is now history. Performing a one-man show has its own built-in array of unique rewards. This array, unfortunately, does not include “cast party.” Perhaps recognizing this, my wife bought me, for a closing night gift, a big tray of fresh strawberries, and I came home and scrubbed off the pound of make-up (the make-up on me, not on the strawberries) and popped about a dozen of them, each festooned with a little party-hat swirl of old-fashioned peanut butter. (Hey, since I was the only one qualified to attend the party, I could eat whatever I wanted!) It was fun, both the run and the party. And the number of people who have consequently become better acquainted with this great-hearted character from our colorful past now numbers in the medium-high dozens.
Which number includes me, about which I am very glad. I love this guy. I felt that he had taken me over to the degree that I was quite comfortable appearing as J. Golden himself on a local radio show during the final week of performances. The hostess cautiously welcomed Brother Kimball, who responded with, “Well, Sister, I’m mighty glad to be here. I’ve been on the radio before–speaking in Conference, y’ know. Of course, on those occasions, I had twelve apostles and the Tabernacle Choir behind me. Got anything like that?
She was a little nervous from that point on. (It’s probably a good thing that this particular hostess wasn’t around a few years ago when I made an appearance on the same radio station as Boo Dog. On that occasion I came dangerously close to consuming a microphone, mistaking it for a bone.) But she did say she felt fortunate to have Brother Kimball there. “Fortunate? I don’t think ‘fortunate’ is anywhere near strong enough a word!”
“Now, Brother Kimball, there are a few words we can’t say on the radio…” (She was suddenly speaking rather quickly, breathing in short shallow gasps.)
He continued, “The word I’d use is ‘miraculous.’ I’ve been dead since 1938!”
“Oh, yes… (measurable relief) Well, can you tell us about your visit to the theatre at UVSC?”
“Sister, I suppose we’d like to have as many out to the program as can come, but even when it’s a full house I feel just a little lonely.”
“You do? Why?”
“Well, I’m still the only one there who’s deceased. They won’t let any deceased folks into the audience.”
“No. They won’t let anybody in who they can’t charge!”
Two observations I couldn’t make on the radio are that, in fact, there may have been any number of deceased people in the theatre with us, including prophets, missionaries, and mule skinners. It’s what you come to expect in the theatre, but acknowledging that expectation tends to frighten audiences.
The second observation would have been merely impolite: There were a few early performances when the actual visible audience might have been to some degree deceased, or at least behaved as though they were. This also we come to expect. But the living finally prevailed, and I joyfully include J. Golden among them. At least he’s very much alive for me, and I’m grateful for having been entrusted with the role, which I plan to revive frequently.
(What other use would I have for this old suit and wire-rimmed glasses, not to mention the battered pulpit?)
There is a journal-writing tie-in here. A few seconds of J.Golden’s actual voice is preserved on a recording made of his final conference address. I learned a lot from it. He said, “I’m thankful every minute… (here a pause for honest reflection which might easily have been mistaken for impeccable comic timing) …nearly every minute… to be alive, and better informed about life than death.”
When I heard those words “nearly every minute,” I was reminded of a dozen places in the script where he softens or ‘qualifies’ a statement that some other speaker might have let stand as sacred and unimpeachable. I became suddenly sensitive to what may have been chief among his virtues: a commitment to the truth that he hadn’t the power to resist. If the truth is that even the Lord’s anointed aren’t perfect, then so be it. If it’s likely that a stake’s spiritual laziness will send them to Hell, then so be it. If Heber J. Grant never quite rose to operatic or major-league excellence, then watch out for J. Golden! He’ll probably notice, and tell the truth about it. And even the risk of President Grant’s chastisements for swearing was, after all, pretty unscary compared with the threat of whippings, lynchings, and shootings that Brother Kimball endured on two missions to the Southern States, a region he thought might best be redeemed in those days by burning it up completely and then baptizing for the dead.
If my journal-writing were as honest as J. Golden’s public speaking, I would be more sensitive to when I’m slipping into cliche, or the ‘easy expression,’ into the ‘mostly true generalization,’ or into what I think my audience might want to read instead of what they should read. I would be more likely to heed that little alarm inside my spirit that intones, “What you’re expressing here sounds pious and orthodox and like the last forty testimony meetings you sat through, but is it precisely true? Is it precisely you? Is the Spirit more likely to make use of what you are pretending to know or what you really know? And maybe isn’t an honest hoping worth more than a less-than-honest knowing? Hmm, pretty verbose little alarm. Well, here endeth the lesson.
Another Acting Adventure
“J. Golden wasn’t my only acting adventure since last we visited here in this column. I also spent a week in Mesa, Arizona, making a film at the Family History Library across the street from the temple. A grandpa (me), who loves family history and fears computers, takes his grandson, who loves computers and isn’t particularly enthusiastic about family history, to the library for a day. A kindly good-witch-of-Oz librarian helps these two achieve a soul-saving cyber-synergy. It was fun, and led me deeper into rich mines of journals. (Hey Donna from Roy, Utah, your hesitant syllables would shine brightly among those jewels, even if recorded only once a year.)
The library was open, if disrupted, during our shooting. It was quite obvious that a number of the patrons that week were not typically LDS. You could tell from their dress–things like ministers’ collars, for example. On the last day, I pulled aside an elderly sister missionary and asked her what percentage of patrons were not LDS. Her answer was quick and confident.
“Eighty percent.” I was amazed! If the Spirit of Elijah is driving these folks to cherish family history, what are we waiting for?! Break out those pens and write something down! She said that a gaggle of good Catholic sisters comes in every Thursday and genealogizes like crazy all afternoon. Then, as a regular precaution before leaving with their research, they enter all their findings into the “Do Temple Work” file, “just in case you people are right.” This is righteousness on spec! Amazing!
My next acting gig begins in a couple of days. It’s a film that presents me with perhaps my greatest acting challenge yet, a character that’s galaxies removed from my own reality. Compared to this character, the murderous barber Sweeney Todd and the knife-waving drunken Pap Finn were pieces of cake. Lady Enid, the young and lovely (and bearded) wife of Lord Edgar (also bearded) was a walk in the park by comparison. Even Boo Dog, Theo Tortoise, and Marvin the Merciful Mosquito, all from other species entirely, will have proven easier to play. Have you ever read The Richest Man In Babylon?
This week we shoot a modern version of that story, and I’m playing…guess who. Well, when I asked you for help with J. Golden, a number of kind readers (two) generously offered their assistance. (Thanks particularly to Marlene, from Thatcher, Arizona.) So, now I need to feel what it’s like to be financially independent, so I can deliver an honest and authentic portrayal. The door is again open. I welcome any help.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.