Edgar Allan Poe in St. Louis, Eric Roberts on Broadway
Just a couple of days before Christmas, I did one day on the St. Louis-shot movie, EDGAR ALLAN POE’S LIGEIA. I was cast as a “Goth” minister, who was to marry Ligeia (played by Ukranian ballerina Sofya Skya in her film debut) and Wes Bentley (who you’ll remember from AMERICAN BEAUTY and the St. Louis soccer movie.)
It was a fun experience, if ultimately cold and wet. Of course, this “Goth” ceremony was performed outside, in a graveyard (Bellfontaine), and though St. Louis had unseasonable 50-degree weather most of that day, it was starting to sprinkle and the temperature was dropping rapidly by 4 in the afternoon, when I reported for acting duty. By the time we were shooting (7sh), we had a couple hours grace from the rain, but by 9 (when additional shots commenced, with me and extras in deep background) we were in a howling and frozen storm.
Despite that, it was cool to be taken care of on set, with my own small trailer room, getting makeup and hair next to the beautiful Sofya and the cordial Bentley, with a huge (and thankfully warm) “Goth” robe as a costume. And, of course, it was cool to watch the process, even for one short scene.
The film is produced by Jeff Most (who produced THE CROW and its film and tv sequels, as well as recent St. Louis-shot films, KINGSHIGHWAY and GHOST IMAGE), directed by Michael Staininger, and in addition to Wes Bentley, the cast is top-lined by Michael Madsen (the ear cutter from RESERVOIR DOGS and many other films) and Eric Roberts (brilliant in the Playboy bunny murder film, STAR 80, as well as many more film/tv appearances.)
This was the last day of shooting (as all hoped – this graveyard wedding scene was cancelled a week earlier by the mid-December snowstorm), and I suspect Madsen and Roberts were wrapped.
But, personally, it was very cool to be in the same cast, so to speak, as Eric Roberts.
In 1989, I was producing a commercial in New York City, and the production company offered to snare me some Broadway tickets. I’d heard a little about BURN THIS by Lanford Wilson, primarily about the scenery-chewing-and-swallowing by John Malkovich. I attended, to find out Malkovich had just left the role, and Roberts was taking it over in his Broadway debut.
And I was blown away by the evening. Simply, one of those times when a play talks right at you, one of the thrilling and memorable theatre experiences of my life. And though I think it was primarily the timeliness and relevance of the Wilson’s script that carried the evening, Roberts and the rest of the small cast sparkled, told the story, and brought it to palpable life. (Roberts won a Theatre World award for that performance.)
I loved the show so much I went to a bookshop in the theatre district the next day, bought the script and a CD including original music that had been written for the show by Peter Kater.
And I loved the show so much, that back in St. Louis I pursued it as an acting vehicle (desperately wanting a shot at the Pale role, played by Malkovich and Roberts, or just a shot at walking around in his shoes.)
Soon after the Broadway production, Theatre Project, on its last gasp as a Company presented it. I auditioned but wasn’t cast.
So a few years later, as Associate Artistic Director with Orthwein, I suggested it for production and myself in the role of Pale.
We went ahead towards a very successful production, and actually extended the near sold-out run. The late Dick Colloton directed with consummate care, and the female lead was played by Jennifer Loui.
And, of course, I had a blast playing Pale.
In retrospect I realize that BURN THIS, despite my passion, is not a great play. But at that time, and time of life, it soared. The immediacy of its impact, from viewing it on Broadway to performing it at Orthwein, are theatre memories I’ll treasure.
So allow me to throw a “Great Show!” to fellow LIGEIA cast-member Eric Roberts!