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.