Let's start now - we are one week away from tech, and 23 days from Press Opening for the 2019 revival of Hell in a Handbag's Poseidon! Rehearsals have been awesome and fun. This cast is insanely talented and funny funny FUNNY. Without a single exception, every actor is making hysterical choices and cracking each other up near constantly. I've had the pleasure of working with a bunch of these people before, but there's possibly more though that I've admired in other shows or worked with in other non-acting capacities that I'm so jazzed to share the stage with for the first time. Then you've got our wonderful director, Derek Van Barham, who always has specific notes that encourage us to be even more goofy and yet more grounded in reality. Our choreographer Breon Arzell makes such creative choices that vacillate from classical musical theater to drag fabulousness to cartoonish ridiculousness. And then David Cerda's familiar yet updated script, with new songs, that ape the original Poseidon Adventure with love and heart.
This is my second time on the SS Poseidon. In 2009, I got my first major Chicago theatre gig thanks to the brilliant Matthew Gunnels - I outlined some of this when I worked on Bewildered two years ago. I started out in the role of Otis / Crewmember #1, then I played Nonnie's brother Teddy, and finally for one magical night I played that catatonic lounge singer herself. And this time, I get to play Mr. James Martin, played in the film version by Red Buttons. Without revealing too much, Mr. Martin's arc has been quite beefed up in this update, and I'm so excited to share the character's journey with audiences. As well as two awesome new Cerda/Lamberty songs!!
The 2009 production of Poseidon was a life-defining event for me, informing the art that I would create for the next decade, introducing me to the artists that would become my friends and collaborators, and forming the base for my career. I am forever indebted to David Cerda, Matthew Gunnels, Brigitte Ditmars, Steve Kimbrough, Jason Grimm, Trista Smith, and so many others for making me feel at home as an artist in this city - not to mention my fellow 2009 Poseidonites Michael Miller, Elizabeth Lesinski, and even David Lipschutz, who I'm so glad to be joining on this new voyage.
I never imagined myself in this role - it may only be that I'd considered myself disqualified based on my height, which is significantly taller than Red Buttons, who visibly is much shorter than his TPA co-stars. And I'm not a ginger. BUT I can play the "lovable loser" type preeeettty well, and as soon as I started playing with the cadences and vocal qualities of Red Buttons, I was having a lot of fun - which especially in Handbag shows, means you're doing something right. I was so pleasantly surprised at our first read-through, as it was clear that David had spent a lot of time crafting a fuller arc for Mr. Martin. And when I first heard the new songs and lyrics, I was balled over with excitement, and the teensiest bit of fear, that I got to play this pivotal role in the show. I only hope to do it justice.
Curiously, I'm finding a lot of my inspiration for this character (outside of the movie and Red Buttons' work) from Anton Chekhov. In Junior year of college at ISU (2005), I was in a Realism acting class, where we studied Chekhov's Three Sisters. It immediately became one of my favorite plays, and I was cast in one of my favorite roles, Kulygin, the older husband of Masha. Our teacher, the late Patrick O'Gara, encouraged us to live in these characters, even when, like in Act 3, our characters are outside of the action, obscured from the other characters. Kulygin is a beautifully tragic character, who thinks that his life is a comedy - despite the fact that nobody ever laughs at his jokes, if they are even listening to him in the first place. His failure to connect with other humans just reinforces his coping mechanisms, leading to a character who is just desperate to be acknowledged. Admirably, he never stops trying to connect, even when it's clear that his wife wants nothing to do with him, and that he doesn't really fit into this family.
As someone who has been dealing with depression and anxiety for my whole life, I find these characters, Kulygin and Mr. Martin, to be so inspiring. No matter how bad things look for them, they always try to find hope, and share that with those around them. It's a struggle to do that, and it's often a losing battle. But to admit defeat would mean death (symbolically for Kulygin, and quite literally for Mr. Martin), so they keep going. They Keep On Climbin', as we sing in the show's finale. It's an essential life lesson, one that's worth remembering every single day.
So this one is for the passengers in my life who didn't make it to the end, but who enabled me and so many others to survive: Patrick, who encouraged me to dig into those uncomfortable parts of my psyche and share them with the audience; for Matt, who allowed me to be goofy and claim moments in the spotlight, even as a chorus member; and, as always, for Mom (Queen Mary?), who told me to "play it to the hilt", and who I always see in the audience when I'm performing.
This is going to be a very special show - I hope you can see it! Tickets are now on sale!