Monday, May 13, 2013

I Came As Fast As I Could

I Came As Fast As I Could 
by Danny McCoy - 2013


Near the end of my Senior year at Eastern Hills High School I had already dropped out of Chemistry and substituted another Speech/Drama class so that I could at least have enough High School credits to make the entry threshold for college. At some point I was going to be a TV weatherman, but it became obvious that I would not be able to pass the core courses for a meteorologist.  I had some exposure to the green screen and knew that I would be able to fill some air time about the different shape of clouds, but they too were hard to pronounce.

So I had to persuade the drama teacher, Miss Alzora Jeffords, to take me in and let me transfer into her class although it was almost three weeks into the spring semester. She agreed, but only if I would commit to play a part in the Senior Play.  I of course graciously accepted.  All through high school I had always played the part of the Teacher’s Pet very well, except when I entered John Ross’ Chemistry Class – I was suddenly out of my elements.

The play that Miss Jeffords  selected was The Mouse That Roared.  I could not believe my luck. A few years earlier I had seen the movie version where the great comedian Peter Sellers had played the lead role, Prime Minister Count Mountjoy, and even some smaller roles at the same time. Sellers was always at his best in the Pink Panther series. I felt that I too could mug a lot and easily adlib my way through an amateur stage play.

Least your forget because you may have been distracted by my stellar performance, the plot summary was as follows:  A very small country, Grand Fenwick, decides that the only way to get out or their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid. They send an invasion force with Robin Hood type foot soldiers with bows & arrows and a questionable Q Bomb, a football size weapon with the destructive capacity of a hundred atomic bombs.  Of course the United States surrenders; no aid is received; the scientist daughter gets married; America discovers that there were no weapons of mass destruction, but they have a taste for Grand Fenwick’s wine and their wine exports saves the county.

Early into rehearsals it became obvious to my fellow cast members that McCoy was not always prepared. If he was going to carry the play, he probably should remember his stage directions and memorize his lines. So at one point the Director cast Dennis Smith into the lead role. She placated me by allowing me to be the Understudy and I would have a secure position as 3rd Soldier.  You may not know this -  all actors when they get a script count the number of lines that they will be reciting.  Dennis had 672 lines (I still do not know how he remembered all of them).  My count was a bit easy. I had to flip through the script twice and both times my count came to 3 lines. After all these years, I still maintain the skill set to remember them:  (1)Yes Sir ; (2) They went this way and (3) I came as fast as I could.

Recently, I located Dennis Smith. Currently, he is Pastor Father Dennis Smith at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish at 2016 Willis Lane, Keller, Texas near North Tarrant Parkway and Denton Highway. I plan to visit him. At EHHS Dennis had bright red hair; would often wear a bowtie, sometimes carried a brief case; could also carry a tune and had a great personality. But because he was very smart, I often sat next to him in various classes. He would never let me cheat off of him, but he would frown when I would show him one of my test answers.  If he continued to be annoyed, I would change my answer from True to False.

On the night of the play, all of the scenery was in place and I became accustomed to wearing the  green tights. As it turned out the Director had to make a last minute change.  There was a set change problem. So we all had to improvise. During the 2nd Act after Scene 3, Scene  4 was going to have to be performed on the stage apron right next to the flood lights with the curtain closed behind us.  The Director told us to don’t rush our lines. The stage hands needed the time to set Scene 5.

So Count Mountjoy (Dennis Smith ) entered from stage right with the 1st & 2nd soldiers. They had a conversation about the impending invasion and then Count Mountjoy said my cue: Captain, come here I need you!  He repeated it two more times. As I came bolting out from stage left Count Mountjoy said: Where have you been? It was at that point I gave my final line: I came as fast as I could!  As I remembered it, the audience howled. It may have been the biggest laugh of the play or at least in Scene 4.  To enhance my role, I had taken a roll of toilet paper, stuffed the end in my green tights and allowed it to unroll and flutter behind me like a white contrail as I delivered my line: I came as fast as I could.

As I reflect I would like to thank my fellow classmates for their contributions in ministry, in the medical field, in legal services, as teachers and as professionals in their communities. We all made a difference. It was that night that I learned there are no small roles just small actors.

We all contribute in small ways.

(Gus note:  Danny's humor was well ahead of his time.  After EHHS, he got a gig on the "Phil Donohue Show" and I'm sure continued to amuse himself and others with his witty take on daily life.  This piece very well describes a bit that Buford T. Justice immortalized in "Smoky and the Bandit."... nearly 15-years after Danny's performance !


Kim said...

Danny is one of the funniest people I have ever met. My favorite memory is from some long-forgotten 8th grade class at Meadowbrook. Each of us wrote a small acting assignment for a classmate to then act out. Most were fairly banal. I think mine was "search for a lost contact."

Danny's was in a league of its own of course. It was "be an egg which is being scrambled." The teacher mercifully assigned this to Danny himself.

It was wonderful. He first threw himself supine on the stage. Then his ribcage seemed to rise up on its own (as the egg hit the pan). He then convulsed to show the grease spreading throughout the egg. Then the glorious finale -- the scramble. He twisted his arms and legs in a way that looked absolutely excruciating.

I cannot believe that anyone who saw this performance forgot it. I laughed until my stomach hurt.


Gus said...

When Danny was on, which was most of the time, he was as good as Robin Williams was, when he was high. But, Danny didn't need the help!