Monthly Archives: April 2009

Undressed Rehearsal: Probing Deeply into a Character


I’m eating with all my Friday night pals at George’s Giant Hamburgers in downtown Walnut Creek. They want to know: Isn’t my son Andy’s play The Devils and his nude scenes in his lead role as a libertine 17th century French priest— coming up this week at UCLA’s Theater School?

 Shirley, the owner of George’s Giant Hamburgers, leans over the counter by the cash register and flashes a grin: “When are you going to bring back photographs of Andy in the play?”

 Shirley’s faithfully asked me this for the past three months, knowing I can’t (and wouldn’t) shoot photos during the play, especially when Andy’s unclothed.  Even if I covertly took a photo of full frontal Andy, where would Shirley even post it in her restaurant? Alongside the photos of her grandkids and customers’ dogs? Next to the framed Diablo Magazine Award for Best Burger?

 There’s a lot of pressure on me to maintain dignity here. I’ve already learned my post-play Mother Lines—“Yes, Andy’s performance was amazing!” “Yes, I was so proud of Andy,” “Yes, he did look good.”  But I’m still deflecting questions and remarks from friends who wish they were in Westwood at UCLA next weekend to see Andy perform, since they’ve watched him grow up. Or at least grow taller.

  “How can he do that love scene naked?” my female friends ask over dinner.

  “How can you watch him naked?”

  “What’s he going to do for an encore?”

  And from their spouses at the segregated “guys” end of the table:

“Wouldn’t he be cold up there?”

           “Suppose he’ll wear some sort of body suit?”

           “What if he took Viagra and had a four-hour erection? They’d have to call a doctor while he’s performing.” (Murmurs of agreement. Wistful looks.)

 Andy did phone this week, sounding frantic. He complained his voice was on the fritz.  From reading The Devils, I wasn’t surprised. There’s a lot of screaming in the play and not just in the love scenes. Toward the end, for example, Andy (as the lead character “Grandier”) is tortured by being put in a box with insects, deprived of sleep for 4 days, kept in a pretzel position, and worst of all, not allowed to call his mother. The play directions call for him to scream each time he’s hit on the legs with a mallet after he denies to his interrogators that he demonized several nuns and made a poor quality béarnaise sauce.

 After rehearsing for weeks, Andy is experiencing throat rebellion. I reminded him to take tea with honey and avoid screaming for the remainder of rehearsals. Fortunately, he said he has an appointment to see an ENT this week before his first performance.

That’s an unbelievable feat.

Normally it’s not easy for students to be seen by physicians at UCLA. However, when Andy was a freshman, he lived, by virtue of his physical complaints, at the UCLA Medical Center rather than his dorm, and divided his housing between the Emergency Room and the Arthur Ashe Student Health Center. His tenure at the Medical Center is the reason for the “Andy Ryan Gardner Wing” at the new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. The ARG Wing includes the department that specializes in gastro-intestinal disorders.

There’s a history why Andy’s name is carried on the GI Disorders Department, rather than other departments that have treated Andy Disorders, such as the Department of Orthopedics, Department of Podiatry, and Department of Ringworm. When Andy was a freshman, he was hospitalized for abdominal pain for 48 hours in ER because the staff couldn’t find a bed for him. He was placed in a small dark room lined with medical bottles marked “Windex with Vinegar” and “Tilex.” For a day and a half, he was forced to lie on a cot from a correctional institute and forbidden to eat food. Eventually he was given an IV containing the hospital cafeteria’s daily special.

While Andy awaited a regular bed, he was consistently visited by rotating groups of residents and interns making rounds, who, for the sake of his undiagnosed condition, conducted repeated anal probes on him. After a while, whenever anyone with a white coat appeared, Andy resignedly turned over automatically for his probe. Fortunately, an enlightened physician—or possibly a custodian—who entered Andy’s small room and observed interns conducting another anal probe, ordered the exams to cease.

Andy admitted later he was more relieved to be released from the hospital than finding out he didn’t have appendicitis. Ever the optimist, he decided his hospital experiences would be useful when, as an actor, he needed to summon up memories of pain, humiliation, and nudity.

And then in his senior years, The Devils appeared. You just can’t make these things up.


Making A Name For Himself (Part 2)

With three weeks till Andy’s nude scene in The Devils at UCLA’s Freud Theater, I bought a copy of the play so I’ll be familiar with the story.

            I read a little bit every night and stopped on page 41.

            “Andy,” I said in our last phone conversation, “I came across this scene when I was reading the play: ‘Phillipe, naked, is seen making love with Grandier.’”

            I cleared my throat. “Now I know you’re Grandier in the play, and that Phillipe…”

            “..yes, she’s one of my love affairs in the play,” Andy said.

            “But if she’s naked, what about you? Are you shadowed on stage?” I asked hopefully, wondering how to phrase the next sentence. “I thought your nude scene…uh… is at the end… when the authorities tear off your clothes before putting you to death.”

            “What makes you think,” Andy said with an evil grin in his voice, “that I have only one nude scene?”

            I’ve spaced my next reply. Truly.

            “Anyway,” Andy said, “doing that scene, it used to be a problem, but not any more.”

            I’m pleased Andy’s found his calling and that he’s comfortable with his physicality. I needn’t have worried that he sustained permanent damage at age four when the Walnut Creek Fire Department had to pry a plastic toy drill off his schlong.

            In addition to his work on The Devils, Andy’s preparing a scene from a soap opera to coincide with the visit of a Days of Our Lives director to one of his theater classes. No doubt Andy’s earthy experience in The Devils will provide a smooth transition to the soaps.

            I should have anticipated Andy’s enthusiasm for these sensual roles.

When Andy was in fifth grade, he often demanded to be picked up immediately after school rather than play in the after-school kids’ program. One day he called from school with a change in plans.

            “Mom, I don’t need to come home right after school,” he said. “I’m almost done with my homework. Also, we just had part of our sex education in class, so I’m not tired any more.”

            Andy is pretty modest about the current attention to his acting by Theater School classmates and other admirers. From the time he was young, he enjoyed audience enthusiasm for his magic performances, pantomimes, and celebrity imitations. Fortunately he wasn’t so publicity-conscious as his fellow theater student Chase. As a seven year old, Chase used to frequently report to K-mart managers that he was lost, just so he could hear his name paged repeatedly over the public address system.

            Andy’s still debating about a stage name. Judging by a quick search on Google, there are a lot of Andy Gardners out there, including among others a photographer, a musician, a researcher of social evolution theory, a film technician, and a bank vice president. Andy is leaning toward using his entire name, “Andy Ryan Gardner,” as a stage moniker since so far no other actor has nabbed it. It’s also trendy for actors to have a three-part name, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Earle Jones, and John Wilkes Booth.

Making A Name For Himself (Part 1)

Andy’s struggle for a stage name reminds me how significant one’s name can be. Take, for example, one of the big local stories here in the Bay Area. A former San Francisco Supervisor was sentenced for extorting $80,000 in cash from owners of tapioca-drink shops in exchange for promising to help the owners obtain city permits to operate legally. During a raid of the Supervisor’s property, agents found $10,000 of marked bills wrapped in foil and stored in the refrigerator.

The Supervisor’s name was Ed Jew. During the months preceding his sentencing, local media tripped delicately around his name to avoid reporting “Jew did this” and “Jew did that.” It led to the most repeated and awkward use of a first and last name—Ed Jew– since Bob Dole talked about Bob Dole. Undoubtedly “Jew,” sometimes spelled “Ju,” is a respectable Chinese name for this Asian-American man. But the Jewish Community cringed whenever it learned what this Jew had supposedly done.

The judge sentenced Ed Jew to more than five years for extortion and failure to change his name. Federal prosecutors had only asked for a 57-month sentence, but the U.S. District Judge added additional time for improper use of a refrigerator, and to make an example because the crime involved tapioca.

It’s possible Ed Jew, like Andy, considered going by a different name for professional reasons. The Chinese word “Ju” means chrysanthemum. Granted, “Ed Chrysanthemum” is a little flowery for a name, but a change to “Ed Chrystian” could have been politically more correct and more acceptable than “Ed Jew,” even if his identification with the Asian community was diminished.

By contrast, “Andy Ryan Gardner” is a professionally safe name that sounds soothing to the ear because of its trochaic meter. If you’ve forgotten your high school poetry, that’s when the first syllable of a two-syllable word is accented, as in “naked” and “handsome.”

Ed Jew’s name, other than being politically incorrect, is in spondee meter, where two consecutive syllables are both stressed, as in “big deal.” One can only wonder how much lesser Ed’s criminal sentence would’ve been had he changed his name to be, like Andy’s full name, in a pleasing trochaic meter. By merely adding two additional syllables, Ed could have been “Eddie Chrystian,” which sounds friendlier. (“How could Eddie Chrystian be guilty of taking money? Never!”) If Ed wanted to retain much of his original name, “Eddie Jewish” might work. For sure nobody would associate him with tapioca. And he’d do a hell of a business if he opened a Chinese restaurant.