Impersonating Elvis, wearing panty hose, and other joys of live theater

By Mike Ferguson February 20, 2009 10:31 am

It’s every amateur actor’s nightmare.

You come on stage during opening night when you’re not scheduled to, spouting lines you’re not supposed to say until later in Act II.

And you’re not even wearing that sassy black dress that the nice wardrobe chief let out so it’ll fit your less-than-feminine physique.

That was the gist of my big gaffe last Friday, when Eastern Oregon Regional Theater’s “Any Body Home?” opened its two-weekend run at the Extension Building in Baker City.

In this farcical murder mystery, I play an unscrupulous real estate agent (no jokes, please, like “but I repeat myself”) named Warren Danforth, the arch enemy of the show’s hero, Susan Strathcona, who’s played winningly and convincingly by my friend Jennifer Button.

During all of Act 1, I disguise myself to thwart Strathcona’s attempt at landing the commission on the sale of a condominium  owned by a woman named Daphne Bloor, who we learn early on has, sadly, died and is lying in eternal repose on her couch.

Since it’s a farce, she doesn’t get to maintain her eternal repose for long.

In turn, I make appearances as a delivery boy from India, a very bad Elvis impersonator and a German goddess who calls herself Countess Von Spadina.

In the second act — even after an agent from Interpol has arrived to investigate a jewel heist — I remain in my dress, pumps, hose and wig.

I’m supposed to change after my fourth entrance in Act II into clothes more traditionally associated with male Realtors — slacks and a golf shirt.

Except last Friday, I panicked and instead changed after my third entrance, thus pretty much throwing the other four actors into a panic as they figured out how we’d get out of this theatrical cross-dressing mess I’d put them in.

Ah, live theater! The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.

After Friday’s fiasco, I managed to ditch the dress at the proper time on Saturday and Sunday, and things went much smoother for all of us.

So smooth, in fact, that I’m convinced something will go wildly wrong as the show resumes this evening. Or Saturday. Or, perish the thought, Sunday, the last time we’ll ever have the chance to get it right.

The way I figure it, each of my four stage colleagues — Button, Bob Whitnah, Jorja Culley and Betsy Ferns, lovely and talented people all — pretty much has both opportunity and motive to take the show sideways, just like I did a week ago.

Maybe Whitnah, who plays a male model named Brock Palmerston, could show up in a hideous mask. Or Culley, who plays Prudence, a lustful and worldly neighbor of Daphne’s, could play it straight — say, as a reference librarian, not the oversexed globetrottter that the playwrights intended.

I hope they won’t, of course. It’s terrifying enough putting on a play when everybody does things the way we practiced — lines are said, laughs are elicited, sound and light cues are delivered, well, right on cue.

But those things that can and do go wrong — in my case, very, very wrong — are what make live theater way more fun than watching a comedy on television or going out to a movie.

No two theatrical shows are ever the same. The four people I am privileged to appear with will sometimes vary how they deliver a funny line, which to me makes it even funnier.

But no laughing. Gotta stay in character and all that.

That may be my problem. I’m responsible for four different characters in this play, and I probably haven’t mastered any one of them, much less all four.

I guess all I can do tonight is keep my dress on until the time comes and trust that by the end of the play the cop finds the killer.

Because staying in panty hose that long is sure killing me. 


Mike Ferguson is a reporter for the Baker City Herald.