Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Suddenly, This Summer

It began with a frog and ended with a deer.

Such was the summer of 2014, definitely one for the archives. Book-ended by two separate Cherney Journeys, the months between May and September became one extended round trip, one I'd gladly sign up for again.

In May, THE PERILS OF FRANCOIS, the first play I'd written in almost 2 1/2 decades, began its run in Nashville, TN courtesy of the Mel O'Drama Theater for my new friend, producer Mel Roady. This was one mind-boggling experience that prepped for the rest of the season.

This was immediately followed by a return visit to Denver (relayed in the blog: THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE RED) to visit my beautiful Coloradan family who resides there with a grand birthday celebration for my three year old granddaughter Aefa.

In June, SONG OF THE CANYON KID (re-titled from SONG OF THE LONE PRAIRIE to coincide with the book of the same name that no one seems to want to read but if you did you would laugh your spurs off if that's your idea of a good time) premiered at the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in Oceano, CA for a summer-long run.

At the same time, the Footlight Theatre Company in Northern California's Jamestown planned to produce SONG OF THE LONE PRAIRIE under its original title at the end of August. Both shows had the same identical closing dates.

Visited in Oregon by more family members from down Santa Barbara way-my step-daughter Tracey and now sweet sixteen granddaughter Kardena-was a sweet week-long visit that had been a long-time coming but so very nourishing for the heart and soul. Just before their stay with us, they had traveled to Oceano to see THE CANYON KID, something else to boost me into the stratosphere. Kardena's favorite gag in the show was one I didn't write, a Harry Potter reference. Oh well.

Many had suggested that I find some way to see the show myself, either in Oceano or Jamestown. I actually didn't think it possible. Somehow that desire had been sent out to the universe because a trip indeed was in my immediate future.

I've known Ed Thorpe for most of my born days. We met in 6th grade at Grover Cleveland Elementary in Stockton and have been not just best friends, but the brothers we never had...and we both had brothers. We've shared laughs, tears, anger, up, down, overs and outs...including a woman. I devoted an entire chapter of my first book IN THE DARK to Ed who I call Max and who calls me Max because we're Maxes to the Max. He's also the one responsible for my foray into melodrama in the first place. He brought me out to Pollardville where we were both gunslingers, asked me to co-write our first melo LA RUE'S RETURN and arranged for me to attend the grand finale reunion when the Ville closed once and for all back in 2007.

Max felt I should see my show and made it a point to fly me down there in order to do that very thing. It is one of the finest gifts I could ever imagine. I don't know how I warrant all this love and generosity from people. It's not false modesty and me playing Harry Humble. I am honestly baffled. Grateful, but confused.
It was Max's intention that we head to Oceano which involved me flying into San Francisco and the two of us driving down in our own version of an Alexander Payne road movie.

At the same time, my wife had decided that this would be a good time to visit her mom and sister in the Bay Area, so we made arrangements to depart PDX within minutes of each other-she on Southwest landing in Oakland, me on Alaska to SFO. And we made it just in the nick of freaking time. Nothing like an ass full of stress to start the weekend right.

So Max greeted me at SFO once I landed and down Hwy 101 we drove, yapping up a storm the entire way and not shutting up until he dropped me back the airport Sunday night. We relived the past, even those things of which we dared not speak.We mulled over the present. We outlined the future. Most importantly, we repaved our common ground which over time was well-worn, full of potholes and needing some necessary repair. I got my brother back and Max got his.

Once we hit Pismo Beach, our base of operations,the world pulled back into focus. it wasn't the town, per se, it was the beach...the California coast that I longed to be near again. The sound of the waves breaking is my mantra, my safe place when life begins to go south. The Oregon coast, beautiful as it is, can't hold a hourglass of sand next to the state of my birth.


The Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in the main attraction of Oceano, maybe running a close second to the Dunes, the only state park in California where vehicles can be driven on the beach, bu tit certainly is the most popular business known all over the Central Coast. When we arrived Saturday night, it was an event that had to be documented, so I posed wherever I could. Standing before the window display of my show) featuring a stuffed version of The Canyon Kid's horse Thunder), Nova Cunningham, the artistic director of the Great American who chose my script, approached  and greeted me with open arms. She brought me into the theater before the show where the cast was warming up with vocal exercises and introduced themselves one by one. What a good looking group this was and surrounding me around the swell set of the THE CANYON KID. This was the set I didn't have when my show premiered back in '87, that's for sure. No wonder I looked like a proud papa in those shots.

As the show began, I noticed the changes they made right away. Additional songs were obvious as well as some altered lines (more than just Harry Potter references). This made my mind race back to a time at Pollardville when Tim Kelly, one of the most prolific melodrama playwrights in the the business, had been flown up to Stockton for the opening night of THE RATCATCHER'S DAUGHTER. it was one of those miracle opening nights when nothing worked all Hell Week long, but once we got in front an audience, the magic happened. When I met the author in question, I was so giddily excited that I grabbed my copy of the script to show him what we-actually mostly me-had done to it.

"Look! We cut this scene and that scene. We turned this character into a male. This character here we just cut completely out. Totally unnecessary!"

I asked him to sign it for me and handed it to him. Stone faced, he scribbled the name "Kelly" and thrust it back at me.

Oops.

Well, whatever goes around... Thirty years later, here I sat watching SONG OF THE CANYON KID minus a character, lines changed, songs added and I could not have been more delighted. Their adaptation was wonderful, doing justice to the material and giving life to a show that not seen the light of day in this century. Lee Anne Mathews' direction ran circles around mine. Her staging of certain scenes, particularly the attempted hypnosis of The Canyon Kid by Nastassia Kinky (Emily Smith) became a delirious tango in her hands and choreographed brilliantly. Some of the changes improved the show, while others, to be frank, did not. (My fight scene kicked major ass. Nyah!) But the cast was top notch all the way. Andy Pollock and Christine Arnold totally embodied The Canyon Kid and Darla Darling. There is an extension to their first scene together that was not in the original 1987 script. I added it later when I published it and has never been performed. I had to wipe a tear from my eye because in their hands, it was pretty damn touching if I do say so myself. But I have to say that the show was sent into the stratosphere by Katie Worley in the role of Charlene Atlas. She totally transformed this character, hysterically stealing each scene to the point that I couldn't wait for her next entrance to see what she do next. I would have to say Katie gave the best interpretation of anything I've ever written and one of the finest comic performance I've ever seen on the stage. And to top it all off, she'd only been with the show for a couple of weeks after her predecessor had to leave the cast unexpectedly and Katie, a veteran Great American performer, Amazing. When the curtain fell on SONG OF THE CANYON KID, I leapt to my feet and gave this fine cast a triumphant standing ovation I believed they deserved. I was probably clapping for myself as well My step-daughter Lindsay would call this "a victory lap".

It turns out that the cast have triple and sometimes quadruple duties at the theater outside of performing. They seat the audience, run the concession stand, then when everyone has cleared out, they clean the auditorium. There's no way in hell we would have done that back at the Palace Showboat. Maybe these guys are paid better, but I personally it to be a major pain in the ass to be the Major Domo before I stepped out on stage as MC. Sure, they are probably paid far and above whatever we were making, but still...

After being treated as King for a Day-or Night,rather- I gave my hail and farewell to these fine folk and hugged each and everyone of them  I even sought some of them out just say they too could have a genuine Scott Cherney embrace. They really were quite a special bunch. Damn kids anyway. The evening ended in true California style at the In-n-Out Burger drive-thru for a Double Double after show dinner.

The long drive back to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon culminated when Max and I wrapped up the weekend with a huge honking steak dinner before we made our goodbye. We went our separate ways, but forever entwined in true brotherly bond that was reinforced with cement by the incredible gift of his for which I am eternally grateful.

I returned to PDX with a smile on my face that some day may have to be surgically removed, Hopping on the Economy parking lot shuttle in front of the terminal, I, along with my fellow weary travelers, were welcomed back to Portland by our driver, Bob, whose voice sounded like an older version of Chris Farley's character Matt Foley character. It was apparent that he couldn't wait to back to his van down by the river. And for some reason, he decided to toss in a little shuttle driver humor along with the ride.

"What do you call a deer with no eyes? No eye deer."

While the other passengers chose to ignore this, but I just had to chuckle. Yep. I was back in Portland alright.

I drove home in my wife's VW Bug and was just around the corner from I where I live when something slammed up against the car on the driver's side. It was louder than it was forceful since I didn't lose any control at all of the steering. I didn't see a thing and thought I ran over something, but I checked the mirrors and saw a flash of brown fur galumphing away and disappearing into the night.

Apparently it was a no eye deer.

Fortunately, I was unharmed. Unfortunately, the car has a broken fender, a severely dented door and a broken headlight. Bambi? I haven't a clue. Couldn't find him, but somehow I think he was going to feel that bump the next day.

And just like that, summer ended and fall fell.

Curtain