I don’t recall ever swearing loudly at a large group of people. I’ve sworn loudly around a large group of people, usually in traffic, but never when they can actually hear me. I’m not the type of person who can swagger into a room and shout, “What’s up, mugglefuggles!” And if I were that type of person, I would hate myself, so it’s all for the best.
But last weekend I had the experience – dare I say pleasure – of dropping the F-bomb in front of a couple hundred people, and yes, I am the type of person who says “F-bomb,” because there is no polite alternative to the real word that doesn’t make you sound like your mother. It gets worse; in a couple of paragraphs, I’m going to refer to it as “salty language.”
I’m in a comedy at the Haskell Opera House, Rumors by Neil Simon, and if curses were food, the play would offer a well-balanced diet. Nothing gluttonous; merely a sampling of the four major swear groups.
This is a QNEK production, which is not known for doing blue. In fact, the posters for Rumors go out of their way to warn about the salty language (there it is!). There’s a notice at the box office repeating the warning. And just to be safe, the house manager announces before the show that there is “SC” – some cussin’. It’s considerate, but I wonder whether Shakespeare cautioned his audience that they’d be hearing “odsbodkins”?
Still, it’s all for laughs, and the audiences so far have taken up the challenge with gusto and guffaws. No one has stormed out, no audible gasps, no rotten tomatoes, no swearing back at us. Nothing they haven’t heard before; this is Stanstead, after all. And, again, let’s be clear: there’s some cussin’, not Scorsese-level cussin’.
I, for example, toss off only two words, one scatological and the other a variation on the fornicalogical, a word I have just made up and intend to use with regularity. The only person to mention my swearing so far is daughter Abby who wondered if it felt weird saying those words in front of everybody.
Well, no, because it wasn’t me losing my cool in front of that audience, it was Ernie Cusack, Manhattan analyst. As far as I’m concerned, my not-swearing-in-front-of-strangers record remains intact.
This is the beauty of acting: getting to be someone else. This is my third play with QNEK, and so far I’ve been a psycho killer, a comedic psycho killer and a psychoanalyst. I’m sensing a trend. I’ve tied people up, gone after them with knives, lied to the police and looked dashing in a tuxedo – which sounds very much like your typical prom night, but in my case are just the perks of pretending.
If I do it right, I actually forget myself. In fact, the worst thing I can do on stage is remember it’s me. “Hey. Wait a sec: I’m acting. I’m speaking words. Now someone is speaking words back at me. This is weird. My hands are gigantic. What am I supposed to do with these gigantic hands? Stop thinking about your hands. Hands! Hands! Hands!”
I’ve heard people refer to acting as a drug, which makes sense, and not just because of its addictive qualities or the pre-occupation with your hands. Drugs and alcohol are ways to escape yourself, to change personalities, to leave everything behind for a while. I don’t do drugs or alcohol anymore, so I’m stuck with me all the time. What a nightmare. Now I know how my wife feels.
What a psychic cleanse it is, then, to be able to hang myself up on a dressing room hook for a couple of hours and forget work, money, home repairs, haircuts, snoring cats, Donald Trump, people talking about Donald Trump and all the messiness that involves being me. I’m not home right now, I’m acting. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!
And this escape is passed on to the audience, who set aside their own lives to be entertained, giving the stressed out parts of their brains a rest while exercising the part that loves storytelling and feeds on the primal joy of laughing together. There’s nothing quite so communal as live performing arts, for both the giver and the receiver.
So if you want to witness me and my fellow actors pretend to lose our minds while entertaining yours, come see Rumors at the Haskell Opera House this Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 or Sunday at 2:00. You’ll like it; I swear.