Author Archives: Shamrock McShane

About Shamrock McShane

Shamrock McShane, writer, actor, and teacher, taught in Florida public schools for more than 30 years. A Shakespearean-trained actor as well as a prize-winning playwright, his roles include Mercutio, Macbeth, Prospero, and most recently Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. As a screenwriter collaborating with his son, the director Mike McShane, his films include The Votive Pit, You Are Not Frank Sinatra, and It's All Good.

How to Learn Your Lines

You want to know about a safe?


What you do, a safe . . . you find the combination.

Where he wrote it down.


What if he didn’t write it down?

He wrote it down. He’s gotta write it down. What happens he forgets it?

What happens he doesn’t forget it?

He’s gotta forget it, Don. Human nature. The point being even if he doesn’t forget it, why does he not forget it?


‘Cause he’s got it wrote down. (Pause.) That’s why he writes it down.

American Buffalo by David Mamet

You don’t memorize your lines; you learn them.

How do you learn them?

You write them down.

You write them.

I am in favor of writing. I am a writer. It means you live your life by writing.

First, write them down. In long hand.

The act of composition is effected by the physical process, affected, yes, but more than that, effected, put into play.

Hemingway used to sharpen twenty pencils to get started each morning and then write in long hand in his blue notebook, but he said he liked to type dialogue because the way a typewriter works is closer to the way people talk. I think there’s something to that, and yet there’s something about putting the very letters through their movements and connecting them one to another to make words that makes long hand seem even closer to the act of creation.

You’ve got to get close to the act of creation if you’re going to learn your lines. There’s a fine line between learning your lines and creating them. Borges said when you read Shakespeare you are Shakespeare.

Some actors, the first thing they do is pick up a highlighter and highlight all their lines. So then their lines stand out. They’re in color. Big deal. Don’t do it. That won’t help you learn them. If that’s all it took, it’d be easy. It’s not easy.

Stop thinking about ways to make it easier. You don’t want it to be easy. You want it to be fast and thorough. If you wanted it to be easy, you’d slow down, you’d take your time. If you wanted it to be easy, you’d learn it the way you know every line of your favorite movie. It was easy, you just watched it a hundred times and loved every minute of it.

But you only want to learn your lines, right?


Well, you’ve got to know the cues.

True. You’ve got to know the cues too. What you really want to know is the whole play. But you can’t always get what you want. Mick Jagger said that. Sometimes you will know the whole play, you will know everybody else’s lines, because the lines will all be in your favorite movie, or something like it. When I played Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross I knew everybody else’s lines before they did. They were great lines and I played the whole play over and over in my head all the time. That’s how you want to know your lines, so that they are like a movie playing and you can walk into the theater at any time and know exactly what just happened and what’s going to happen next.

When you write your lines, you write them a beat at a time.

What’s a beat? David Mamet says he’s heard of twenty-seven different definitions for the theatrical term “beat”. Stanislavsky referred to the Units of Dramatic Action. That’s what Old Stan meant by a beat.

What’s dramatic action? In a word, dramatic action is choice. Whenever a character makes some choice or decision, the events of the play move forward.

You will notice in most playscripts that the dialogue is un-paragraphed. It’s the actor’s job to find the paragraphs. For me, the paragraphs are the beats, the units of dramatic action.

Now you are confronted with the same dilemma every writer is confronted with: how do you decide where one paragraph ends, and another begins? You do it for the reader. (And you are about to become the reader.) You, as the writer, may not need the idea of paragraphing at all. You may write it all in one spiraling column on a continuous roll of toilet paper as Jean Genet is said to have written in prison. Paragraphs are not for the writer; they’re for the reader. Paragraphs show the reader that your thinking is in steps. The paragraphs allow the reader to follow your thinking step by step. If you can picture some steps that are very steep – few steps and far apart, then you know that the more steps there are and the closer they are together, the easier they are to climb. So, the general answer to any specific question as to whether you should paragraph is yes.

This certainly holds true for the writing of your lines for the purpose of learning them. The more paragraphs, the more beats, the better.

What you come up with, your handwritten version of your lines will look more like poetry than prose. And that’s good. Poems are easier to learn than prose. Not only did Shakespeare know this, Homer did.

And then you’ve got this thing you carry around with you, this folded sheaf of loose-leaf. It’s yours. It’s in your hand.  It takes on your identity. You start to see it in your mind’s eye like your car keys, your wallet. And you can study it anywhere, with no one giving you a second glance.

Writing the lines on loose-leaf paper will force you into a kind of versification. You break the lines down as a poet would, a phrase at a time, between subject and predicate, between sentences, sometimes just a word – a one-word paragraph, a one-word beat. Why not? It’s dramatic action, it’s choice, it can happen in an instant.

All the while you are putting your pen through the same motions as the playwright. You are learning your lines, learning about your lines. You must analyze them word by word as you decide word by word whether a new paragraph has just been formed. You begin to see that each line of the play has been plotted.

Plot. That’s what it’s all about. The arrangement of events. What you really learn is the plot. Because that’s exactly what the playwright learned in writing the play: the plot. That’s why he or she wrote the play, to discover the plot.

Sometimes there are no words at all in a beat. A playwright like Pinter or Beckett or Mamet will tell you that. Shakespeare won’t.

In a Mamet play, if it says pause, that’s where you pause and nowhere else. Or else.

You see, as you’re writing your lines, there are very few pauses to learn. Why? Because it’s all in the words.

This is not true in the movies. It’s not all in the words. It’s still all in the plot, but it’s no longer all in the words. It’s in the pictures as much as the words or more. That’s why a lot of movie stars aren’t good actors. They figure since it’s no longer all in the words that the words are no longer important. So they don’t bother to learn them. They figure they can get by on their acting. And maybe they can. But it’s selfish and their art is thereby diminished.

Of course a playwright doesn’t always or even mostly write sentences. But the building blocks are the same – words. Just as scientists can split the atom and are always looking for the smallest particle, the irreducible basic unit, so the actor splits his atom – the beat. If you were to keep this up you’d eventually wind up with a long single column scroll of sounds or maybe icons, a ribbon of meaning, like a DNA chain, coded messages that mean life. Because that’s what this ritual has been about from the beginning – bringing something to life, something like our awe, our grief, our loneliness, our foolishness, our guilt, maybe even our forgiveness.

For people to be walking around the stage holding their scripts and reading them aloud is ridiculous.

How else would they learn the blocking?

Learn the lines before you do anything else.

You can’t ask people to do that. They just got the script, they just got cast, they just auditioned. They’re just starting to learn their lines.


Practically every actor I’ve ever worked with begins learning the lines, which they unfortunately call memorizing them, by highlighting them with a colored marker. This succeeds in rendering the lines a different color, but it adds zero to your knowledge of the lines, which is what you’re after, not memorization.

Writing the lines down is too labor-intensive, takes too much time, it’s too much trouble. But apparently it wasn’t too much trouble for the playwright. The playwright took the trouble to write down all the lines, but you can’t be bothered to write down the ones the playwright wrote for you?

Why write them?

So that you can consider them one word at a time, one letter at a time, consider each punctuation mark. You think you are playing a character onstage, but really you are playing words.

Anything you memorize can be forgotten. Here’s a list of phone numbers. Memorize them. Now go perform them onstage. Good luck with that. Things that you learn, you know. You don’t forget things you know. ‘Oh, that’s right, I know how to speak Spanish, I forgot.’

You learn your lines because the lines are equations, the lines are puzzle pieces that fit together, the lines are syllogisms with premises and conclusions, the lines are a map through time and space, and you’re going to need a pen and paper, like a writer, to figure them out, just like the . playwright did. The playwright chose each word for a reason and each word has its particular use, so you set them down on paper, and you see how they are put together. You will see things that you never thought of while reading the script. What you write down becomes yours in a way, and you want these words to be yours.

You will see that the lines come apart in natural divisions,

which is the way

you will look at them.

It will look

something like this.

Sometimes a line is a breath.

You write the lines down to take ownership of them.

You can memorize a grocery list, but you can still forget things, that quart of milk. You don’t memorize how to ride a bike, and you don’t forget it either.

Some actors highlight their scripts in two colors, one for the cue line and another for their lines. I guess that way you can look down, while another actor is talking and, well, they haven’t said that yet, or, yup, they just that, so, my turn.

I write down a bit of the cue line, the beginning and the end, sometimes just the end, to keep it as short as possible. Truth be told, I’m not listening for the cue. I’m listening for the right time to say my line. My lines form a narrative, what I say is what is absolutely required by the narrative, the plot; otherwise it doesn’t make sense. The question is, if you are listening for the cue, and the cue doesn’t come, what do you do?

Say, the cue line is not coming, may never come, but time is passing onstage and every second is an eternity, and so, finally the time comes to act, to say what you have to say, do what must be done. If you know your lines well enough, you will find a way to say them.

I write down the cue line too, and I listen for it, but it doesn’t always come. And you can’t really learn the cue lines anyway, because they don’t make sense the way your lines do, like an equation. They are not a narrative.

Actors who run lines with each other are not exactly wasting their time, but what they’re doing may be more harmful than beneficial, and they could be damaging their performance. Even worse is the speed-through. Yes, I can say my lines very fast. In fact, I can say all of my lines very fast in a steady stream from beginning to end without anyone feeding me cues, but who wants to listen to everyone saying their lines very fast, in the dressing room, while they put on costumes and make-up?

Would a group of musicians practice a piece of music this way? Let’s see how fucking fast we can play it?

You don’t need other people to learn your lines. How many people did it take to write the play? That’s all you need to learn your lines. Once you’ve learned them, we can rehearse. I’ll gladly run the lines with you, I’ll never turn you down, anything to help you learn your lines, if you think that helps, but it aint doin nothin for me except putting a dull edge on what you say, tentatively, unsure of yourself, your memory searching for that quart of milk you were supposed to pick up, fighting off the urge to glance down at the highlighted portion of your script. This might be a better way to learn the other actor’s lines than your own.

My process is this: I write my lines down, with the cue lines kept to a minimum, and then I read them from beginning to end. That is the process in its entirety.

I always read the whole thing. You’ve got to remember that it’s a whole thing. And it’s round. A play is something round. It’s in a loop. What comes after the end is the beginning. One line leads to the next and it goes round and round.

As you read, the study comes naturally. You start noticing things. You start looking carefully at the words you have written and you notice everything you wouldn’t notice at first glance, or even fiftieth glance –  how many times a syllable is repeated, how a sequence is alphabetical, or in reverse order, how many question marks there are. While you absorb every minute detail, the larger issues come into clearer and clearer focus – God, he really loves her! or, This must be crushing his dreams!

It’s a story and it’s a poem and it’s a prayer, and so you learn it, and then you say it. Alone. You are by yourself. Why? Because you and the play must be one. You must stand outside the world.

And you say the whole thing from beginning to end. You start by learning a page or two a day, beginning each day with what you’ve already learned and then adding to it. Most of my sides are between 20 and 30 pages long, which means I could learn them in a couple of weeks, working steadily. If I can get hold of a script, I’ll learn the lines before rehearsals start.


Midnight Dreams

All too soon we head into our last week of performances of Michael Presley Bobbitt’s Sunset Village at the Gainesville Community Playhouse. It has been a dream come true, but a week from now we will all be waking up and leaving behind those souls we’ve inhabited and whose stories we’ve told.

It’s a little like dying and going to heaven. Life is over, but there’s the reward of having lived it. I was Mr. Midnight and I fell in love with Edna Wilson and try as I might I couldn’t fuck it up, because she loved me.

You could tell just by watching Anna Marie Kirkpatrick’s performance. I could tell by being on stage with her. When you play a scene with Anna you can see each of your lines land on her face. You can feel her heartbeat, because that’s the pulse of the scene you’re in.

I walked on stage and Edna was there waiting for me, and then this story happened to us. There were these three old friends, old in both senses, they’d been friends for a while, and they were old, senior citizens, retirees, living in that new habitat for old folks, the pre-funerial village.

None of it was real of course. Michael Presley Bobbitt made it all up. He’s good at that. He makes plays all the time. He’s about to make plays for a living. For now he’s content to make plays that live. He does it by geography. He does it by discovering places, and then it turns out that he knows the people who live there.

In Sunset Village he knows Louise, and she’s not the cynic she pretends to be, nor is Mikayla any more Ethel Smith, nor Norma anywhere near a heedless hedonist. But that’s just what you see on stage. As with the best of plays and their direction, the note is simple and hard: I don’t want to see it, but I want to know it’s there.

The venue was the venerable Gainesville Community Playhouse, in the new home it’s lived in for more than a decade, while the theatre itself is one of the oldest and most respected in the country. I’ve been acting in plays in Gainesville for 30 years, but this is the first time I ever trod the boards of the GCP, and I must declare it a joy and a privilege.

We were most fortunate to have Anne Rupp Polo, running the show as stage manager and as Bobbitt’s co-director. In rehearsal Anne was pivotal with her acting and character notes, helping to shape each performance, and as the reality of opening night approached, her hands-on knowledge of just about everything you could put your hands on at GCP was in invaluable.

GCP’s new sound system is the envy of theatre managers of big houses throughout the southeast, crisp, clear, subtle, especially as expertly tweaked by GCP sound maestro David Twombley.

Bobbitt designed his own set, a large-scale send-up of Disneyfied architecture, but he relied on the assistance of GCP’s tech director Dan Christophy and his carpentry skills to mount it.

Our running crew of Pam Worsham, Lily Crummer, and Caleb Taylor changed the scene over a dozen times with the fluidity of a cinematic dissolve.

The only place you can find truth on stage is in the other actors. If you don’t connect with them the instant you join them, all is lost. So, someone like Lisa Varvel is your best friend, because she’ll look you right in the eye, totally in character, energized, flamboyant, and it’s easy, go with it. Lisa played Mikayla Fox. Lisa played the Hell out of Mikayla Fox.

On stage Julia Lunardo presented her character Norma as a wise and empathetic friend. Off stage she is similarly wise and empathetic, but she and Norma are different people, it’s just that one of them is living truly under imaginary circumstances – and that’s called acting.

Joshua Evangelista, who played the village factotum Tommy, is a wunderkind, song and dance man as well as an actor. We shared a dressing room down Actors’ Alley in the sumptuous digs of the GCP, and Josh assumed a monastic approach to each night’s preparation and execution, with an emphasis on being flawless, hitting each mark, timing each laugh line to perfection.

Many Fugate and I are charter members of Bobbitt’s acting company, having worked together on Bobbitt’s Trailer Park Elegy and Cedar Key. Mandy also did a bang-up job of playing Jesus in my play Holy Shit. Suffice it to say, she’s one of my favorite actors. Mandy got the most laughs. The three friends operate like a comic Greek chorus, and since their commentary takes place while Mr. Midnight is offstage, I got to hear and watch them from the wings and see Mandy go to work, like a great hitter in baseball who just goes up there and meets the ball, whack, and you can hear it, solid, true, and then another and another and another.

In the play Mr. Midnight engages in a covert action in a misguided attempt to divine his true feels for Edna. It’s a bust. And the message was driven home each night, from Russia with love, in the irresistible performance of Olga Petrovic as the realtor who sells Edna her place and fools around with Mr. Midnight just to pass the time.

Gay Hale knew every line in the play, constructed back stories for each of the characters, assisted in the set and costume changes, and stopped the show every night with her Granny routine. She teetered, she tottered, she shimmied, she yearned and burned, wielding a wicked cane, and playing it all absolutely straight.

We were all very lucky – Bobbitt and Anna and I especially – that circumstances, fate, destiny, hazard, whatever brought us into perfect alignment so that we could show the world a little love before the sun sets. I loved every minute of being onstage with all of them. I didn’t love being on stage in my underwear and having to put my pants on in front of everybody, but I did it, because I am Mr. Midnight. I’ll always be Mr. Midnight. I have a feeling Sunset Village is going to be a recurring dream of mine. I believe I’ll take it with me into the twilight.

Fundamentals of Acting

When I was in pre-school at Carroll Playground I played the Groundhog in our Groundhog Day play. I don’t remember anything about it except the feeling of being in the shelter house in front of a bunch of people who were watching me pretend. I remember that and my mom shaking her head in wonderment that I could remember all those lines. I hadn’t even thought about that, I hadn’t even thought of them as lines, just things that happened in a story, and I didn’t think about any of it again until I was in college and I thought being in a play might be a good way to meet girls. (I was right.)

All that time between I wrestled with the choice between being an intellectual or a jock, which was answered for me definitively when I tried to walk-on to the Northern Illinois University cross-country team and the best I could do was be the second worst runner on the team. The worst runner stuck it out for the next four years and made a man of himself, but I just went and hid in the English department, where I could read, and write stories no one ever read, but at least I didn’t publicly humiliate myself. That being my chief aversion, trying out for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was an unlikely choice, but I really did want to meet some girls.

I auditioned with the scene where Brick, the self-tortured hero who has freshly broken his leg, has to admit his dependence on his crutches and confront Big Daddy.

I didn’t get the part, but a girl named Stephanie told me that I was really good with my eyes and that I acted like I was in a movie, and she took me home.

I couldn’t wait to audition for another play, so when the chance came along to try out for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I jumped at it. It was student-directed production, not on the main stage, but, rather, to be staged in a temporarily vacant space on the top floor of Altgeld Hall, and it wasn’t even really a play, it was a movie made from a novel and it was being adapted for the stage by its avant-garde young director named Nilo Manfredini, who had actually secured the rights.

Horses was the story of a dance marathon held at the height of the Depression, and the characters were the marathoners and the staff that ran the contest, led by the announcer who made the dancers’ desperation and exhaustion exciting. I didn’t get one of the main roles, but I did get cast as one of the dancers who would gradually be eliminated as fatigue overcame them.

Nilo Manfredini, looking a bit like Salvador Dali, with something of the same surrealist and anarchist instincts, envisioned a play that was both scripted and improvised. The marathoners would provide the improv. There were all these dance couples that would be eliminated from the contest when one or the other or both could not dance on.

Guida Guildenstren and I were Couple Number Eight. That’s all we were given to start with, that and when in the plot we would be eliminated. We were one of the first couples to go, as I recall.

Nilo encouraged us to invent out own back stories, to make up names for our characters and create the situation that would lead to our exit. I called myself Bobby Dupesto, merging the names of the two characters played by Jack Nicholson and Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces. Without knowing what we were doing, Guida and I immersed ourselves in our naive idea of the Stanislavsky system, trying as much as we could imagine to be the characters of our own fiction. By thetime the show opened we had created a tragic tale that culminated in a furious attack where I beat the hell out of Guida for falling down and getting us eliminated. Nilo loved it, and he loved me as an actor, one he had not only discovered, but trained.

Horses was Nilo’s senior project, and when he graduated he made the bold move of transporting both his ideas and his company to Chicago to start a theatre – Horses, Incorporated. He found a space to rent above the Am-Vets on Halsted Street.

We lay on our backs in the studio and Nilo told us to close our eyes. Stephanie lay next to me. This was new to me, but not to her. I followed her lead. This, presumably, was how you learned acting. The studio was the same space where I had auditioned for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as well as Horses and where I would later be instructed in acting by Dr. Willard Welsh.

Then Nilo put on some music. I had found my way to classical music by way of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie, and often read books to the accompaniment of classical music, but now my eyes were closed and a pretty girl lay beside me, and Nilo was imploring us to relax. So this is theatre, I thought, and then Ravel’s La Mer played and I was in love, not with Stephanie but with the theatre and I disappeared, I melted into the floor and I was gone.

In a hypnotic voice, Nilo accompanied Ravel with a running commentary on his own sensations and emotions and they gradually became ours as well.

The ensemble idolized Nilo. I know I did. He was the maestro. He was tall, thin, black-haired, with a boyish thin black mustache, and he was gay. For some reason that did not bother me in the least. If it had bothered me there would have been a clear  reason for it. That’s why it is called homophobia, befitting a psychological disorder. We don’t say that “for some reason” so-and-so is bi-polar or psychotic or neurotic or even asthmatic; it is not “for some reason”, it is for a very particular reason and no other. To not be homophobic is actually normal, no matter how much the homophobic culture may insist otherwise. I knew that instinctively even then. As Marvin would tell me in exasperation after another failed attempt to make a play for me, “You are disgustingly healthy.” But the fact that I was quite at ease with everyone in the theatre behaving as they chose and loving whom they would and finding whatever happiness and solace they could in each other’s embrace, that was all cool with me. I had gone to Catholic schools my whole life till I got to college, and I hung out with the jocks. Nothing prepared me for this, but immediately I felt like I belonged.

Everybody felt like they belonged because the whole theatre department was a club for misfits.

The Horses ensemble really bonded when Nilo decided early on in rehearsals to stage his own dance marathon with the cast. In the lobby of the theatre building we started dancing Friday evening and somehow kept going till Sunday morning, a pale comparison to what those Depression-era people struggled through, but it was plenty enough to give us a feeling of exhaustion and the emotions it can let loose. When it was over I went back to the dorm, got undressed, turned the water on full blast and sat down in the shower for I don’t know how long. When I dried myself off, I was an actor.

To my grave disappointment, when Nilo set up shop on Halsted Street he decided to abandon plays altogether and devote Horses, Inc. to what was called performance art. I was still in Dekalb, heading into my senior year, but Nilo assured me there would be a spot for me in the company when I graduated. In the meantime I auditioned for NIU Professor J. Dennis Rich and got cast in Arthur Kopit’s Indians as the reporter Ned Buntline by doing a riff on Ratso Rizzo. For They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I played off Jack Nicholson, for Indians it was Dustin Hoffman. That was my trick. I’d seen a lot of movies and I had internalized them, made them part of my psyche, personas I could adopt at the drop of a hat. I had also been assiduously practicing raising my right eyebrow, after the fashion of Sean Connery as James Bond.

I also took an acting class that year, my one and only, with Dr. Willard Welsh, the chairman of the department, a man for whom performance art was anathema.

Looking back, I’m convinced that one acting class , if it’s a good one, is all you’ll ever need. Dr. Welsh took a personal interest in me. First he directed me and a young actress in the closing scene of Tea and Sympathy. The scene turned on an older woman’s intent to prove to a self-tortured young man that his fear of being homosexual was unfounded, proving it by taking him to bed. “When you think about this in years ahead,” she said, or something like it, “be kind.”

Dr. Welsh guided us through the scene and through its rehearsal process by the book, and the book was called Acting is Believing. I still have it. Maybe I’ll finish reading it someday. Dr. Welsh was pleased, he praised us both, but the performance wasn’t really satisfying because in the back of my mind it seemed I should evince some clue that there was really no reason to suspect this young man was gay to begin with. That’s bad acting, but Dr. Welsh saw enough in me to take a gamble on me, what I thought was a big one. Just for the purpose of the class he cast me as Jerry in Edward Albee’s Zoo Story, a two-hander in which Jerry’s got by far the lion’s share of the lines, including a massive monologue called The Story of Jerry and the Dog. Instead of just doing a scene, we would perform the entire play. At the end of the term we would perform it before all the acting students in the department gathered along three walls of the studio. This was an unheard of honor for someone not even a member of the department – I was an English major. I didn’t know anything. It was all new to me.

Dr. Welsh worked with me and my partner, but mostly me, in an exacting, meticulous manner, beat by beat – and it was there that I learned the amorphous meaning of a beat, a breath, a step, a paragraph of intention,longing, desire, an answer to the constant never-ending question: What do you want? Dr. Welsh blocked the play by the beats. Blocking was inherent in the lines of the play. What you said and where you went went hand in hand. You said something for a reason and you went somewhere for a reason and they were the same reason.

There was no hanky-panky with Willard Welsh. He was all business, show business, old school, limelight. He was gay. Everyone in the theatre was gay or bi. There were no homophobes, no jocks. I was the only one who even seemed to know of their existence.

Beat by beat Zoo Story came together, came into being, the beats attaching themselves to each other, like a charm, a DNA chain of the life of the play. I got it. It made complete sense to me. It followed in necessary and inevitable consequence from beginning to middle to end. You said those exact words in that exact order because there was absolutely nothing else to say.

We performed Zoo Story in front of everybody. They packed the studio, and as soon as I began I recognized the sensation that covered me like a blanket. It was Groundhog Day, the play, and I was Groundhog, and as soon as I felt the blanket wrapped around me I knew it was perfectly safe for me to be Jerry, to follow beat by beat from beginning to middle to home. The whole play was my home, and I had my first inkling that for an actor, playing a role, a play is a circular thing, and that what comes after the end is the beginning.

See what I mean? One class is all you need.

Next stop, Chicago.


In Black & White & Color, Chapter 6

B&W 6

The sixties. This was the height of American prosperity. The family would get in the car and go for a drive.

In 1965 Buckley was running for Mayor of NYC. It began as something of a joke. He was running for mayor sarcastically. He knew he wasn’t going to win, just like he knew Goldwater wasn’t going to win.

It wasn’t about winning.

How could it be about anything else?

It was about ideas.

In Chicago it was preposterous to think that someone like Buckley could run for mayor. There was Demare, who was as much king as mayor. New York was different, but Chicago was a city too, just as much a city as New York.

Second City, my ass.

The Chicago Bulls. In the early years they were coached by Johnny Red Kerr, then Dick Motta, and the players, Chet Walker with his up-fakes, Bob Butterbean Love with his silky moves. Sloan and Van Lier, tough as nail guards, big Tom Boerwinkle battling Wilt with his bulk and his savvy.

That was what Dan was following, reading the sports section, watching on TV, listening on the radio, that and watching movies and listening to the Top 40 and buying records, 45s and 33s.

Barbara Sanduski wearing a black bikini, lying on a towel on the grass in her backyard, directly below the upstairs window in his grandmother’s room..

Truman Capote was hosting a party that he called the Black & White Ball.

In 1969 Norman Mailer was running for Mayor of NYC.

Sixties. Catcher in the Rye.

Scenes: running a race against John Reynolds, making an error in the Little League championship game, the pass over his head while playing defensive back, quitting in the North Section meet. The scenes mounted to a full-length movie about a loser. But who cares? They were the facts, the chronological blocks of the story, from 1951 to 1969. The fifties and sixties, In Black and White and Color.

The first few years are about mom and dad and family, about Riverside and then the move to south Oak Park, to Clinton Avenue.

Danny doesn’t come out to play until he’s 5 in 1956.

Howdy-Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Two-Ton Baker. Life at Carroll Playground. Lake, Lamar, Mercury, Ritz movie theaters. The 50s happened on Clinton Avenue.

In the early 60s the family moved to Euclid Avenue and the scene changed to color. Kennedy was elected.

Kennedy was killed.

The story of Demare and Chicago and the the Congress Expressway.

Ascension and the nuns..

Pop. The pool table in the basement. Danny bet on Pop when his grandfather would play against his dad.


Ascension church and Mass, during the week, and on Sunday. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

At Fenwick life changed from color to black and white.

That crippled lady, her name was Mary, who used to drag her wretched body with the aid of her walker past their house every single day, no matter the weather, to go to Mass.

The boxing matches, first against Tom Keating, in 1959 in just second grade, at 62 pounds, then against Larry Sullivan a year later.

Quitting the football team and joining cross-country.

It seemed to be all about losing, and maybe it was, but it wasn’t really about Danny after all. It was about becoming. It was about the whole world changing from black and white to color to black and white again, and if focusing on the experience and inner life of one little loser paints a picture less than hopeful – that’s the point. It explodes into color again.

From Ascension to Fenwick, from Oak Park to Chicago. Gas-Man. The el, the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, the Zephyrs, the Bulls.

Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley were going to debate each other in Chicago at the Medinah Temple on the eve of the Patterson-Liston fight.

Stop the spread of communism.

Exactly how do you propose to do that?

By sending troops.

By force. And that’s going to what?

Communism was something you could fight. We had stopped the spread of fascism in just this way. All it took was World War Two.

So that was how and why his brother was going to wind up in Vietnam, flying a helicopter.

Better dead than Red.

You’re telling that to kids?

John Birch Society. Robert Welch. Gas-Man took Dan to a meeting of the John Birch Society. They were in eighth grade.

Abbie Hoffman was going to levitate the Pentagon.

Gay Talese on the Buckley-Mailer debate in Chicago in October 1962, on the eve of the Patterson-Liston fight.

Our Judeo-Christian tradition.

The transcript of the debate was published in Playboy.

1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

The Eisenhower interstate highway system, a linear graph of mostly straight lines criss-crossing the nation with four and six-lane roads, the goal being efficient and easy travel.

President Kennedy said we could get to the moon by the end of the decade.

On Firing Line Buckley argued with overwhelming evidence and eloquence, against man’s perfectibility, and then it was tuned around him by Bertrand Russell: Does that mean you’re not supposed to try?

The question is not whether human beings are perfectible, but whether you’re going to try.

You know what ended the Depression? World War Two.

In 1953 the President of General Motors, Erwin Wilson, was named Secretary of Defense. “What’s good for General Motors is what’s good for America.”

Gas-man’s record collection included Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby comedy sets, Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, and Oscar Petersen.

While he wasn’t busy being the head of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch was a Boston candy maker. He made Milk Duds, Sugar Daddies, and Junior Mints.

The mail. Something would come in the mail.

Maybe he would subscribe to National Review, that is, ask his mother if he could subscribe to National Review and she would write a check to William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review would arrive in the mail, something would come for him in the mail.

They all had to take the entrance exam, pass the entrance exam, to get into Fenwick. It was hard. There was math.


What if you failed? What if you didn’t get in?

You’d go to Oak Park High. You’d just go to public school.

Dan couldn’t even think about that, not because of his blind determination to succeed, but because of blind fear, it was too awful to contemplate.

Blindness and deafness and dumbness were the only explanation. There was no thought involved. There was only desire. He held none of it up to the light, not Fenwick, not the nuns and priests, wait, there was Gas-man, and Gas-man was going to Fenwick too, and he punctured a hole in everything.

Gas-man had his own terrible inconsistencies. He was skinny but he looked fat. His stomach wasn’t large, but the way he comported himself in a perpetual slouch advanced his belly before the rest of him, which proceeded in a duck-walk, with toes pointed out, combined with his general disdain for athletics and his pale body’s lack of tone and definition, made him seem fat and pudgy, which jibed with his abnormally large head, which jibed with his abnormally large brain, even though he wasn’t fat at all. Everything about Gas-man told you that he succeeded by means of intelligence alone. He was a non-athlete, but he made fun other people’s lack of coordination. He was in no way good-looking, but he made fun of other people’s looks. He made fun of everybody and everything. He made fun of strangers passing by on the sidewalk.

Nice face, he’d say under his breath, but audibly. Something insulting, sarcastic, and funny as shit, you’d have to laugh, so even if the stranger couldn’t exactly hear what was said, they knew they were being laughed at, knew they’d been humiliated, some poor old woman or a mother with a baby or, most often, somebody who looked like they deserved it, so you laughed in affirmation. But don’t get carried away, because Gas-man could just as easily turn the sarcasm on you.

The Sharon Statement of the Young Americans for Freedom: “In this time of moral and political crisis it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.”

Eternal truths? Responsibility of Youth? And Gas-man believed in this? Why was Gas-man going to Fenwick? To be like Buckley?

Gas-man could make fun of everybody because everybody was beneath him, but he didn’t make fun of Buckley and he didn’t make fun of Ingmar Bergman, because they were not beneath him, hell, they might even be above him, Bergman that is, not Buckley, they were even, with Gas-man slightly ahead, since Buckley was saddled with his mannerisms and affectations.

People who tried to make fun of that which was not beneath them, but, rather, of that which was above them, were stupid and essentially made fun of themselves.

How to belittle.

Your problems don’t interest me. Not surprisingly, my problems don’t interest me either.

That was the secret of Gas-man’s superiority: apathy. Very little rose to the level of his interest.

NBC ran Peter Pan with Mary Martin in 1955 and 1956 live!

Esquire hired Norman Mailer in 1962. He wrote about Marilyn Monroe and then Hemingway, who had died the previous year.

Somehow Gas-man had gotten himself into Fenwick and now he couldn’t get out. As Mark Twain said: “It’s easier to stay out than to get out.” If the lure had been to learn Latin like Buckley, the lure had lost its lustre. Latin was a dead language. Fuck that. Gas-man wanted to learn French so he wouldn’t need to read the subtitles in the new wave cinema of Godard and Trufaut, and he wanted to be at Oak Park High, not Fenwick, because at Oak Park there was a film study class, and there were girls.

Not that Gas-man had any respect for women, except when he did. For the most part he openly proclaimed that he operated under the Heidegger No-Brian Theory of Women.

But then Pauline Kael and Penelope Gilliat had entered his life by way of the New Yorker, yes, the New Yorker, and as he devoured their prose style and assessed their analyses of film, he granted them intelligence and merged them with images of Liv Ulman and Bibi Andersson, like that moment in Persona before the film burns up, to raise the idea of woman to the sublime, if not quite to where Dante put Beatrice.

Gas-man was not happy, but he didn’t care about that either, and this lent him a brave cast of stoicism, because he just soldiered on alone. He wore rubbers. Not condoms, rubbers – that you wore over your shoes in the snow. Only old people wore rubbers.

They had a film study class at Oak Park High, so why the hell was he studying Religion at Fenwick?


Twelve years of Catholic education. All that Latin.

Greek to me.

The priests were right about Latin though. Our grammar plays out there, so that if you could diagram a sentence in English, you could master Latin grammar, and vice versa. Funny thing was Gas-man hadn’t been able to diagram a sentence either, back in Mrs. Cannon’s class in eighth grade at Ascension. He was a fabulous writer, with an immense vocabulary and an energetic style, but he couldn’t diagram a sentence to save his life, and Mrs. Cannon recognized the difference between the two friends and remarked that if they could combine their capabilities they could “go far”.

How were they supposed to do that? Collaborate? Gas-man was not a collaborator. You had to stretch your definition of friend to call him your friend. If somebody asked him if he had any friends, he’d say no, and he’d be telling the truth, but of course he did have friends. He just didn’t have a group of friends. He didn’t go parties or dances, that was unthinkable.

What have you got against dancing?

It’s stupid.

What’s stupid about it?

It looks stupid, It makes you look stupid.

It makes you look stupid. It doesn’t make Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly look stupid.

If you preferred Sinatra to the Beatles, you weren’t going to the sock-hop.

If you preferred peace to war, you wore your hair long.

At Fenwick, long hair was not allowed. At home long hair was also not allowed, and Dan didn’t want long hair anyway. The great runners didn’t have long hair. In his sophomore year in high school, Jim Ryun had a crew-cut.

Could you protest the war if your brother was fighting in it? Should you protest the war while your brother was fighting in it?

Anybody can protest the war. Everybody is going to protest the war. Nobody wants this war.


Stop the spread of Communism.


War-monger was one of the worst things you could call a war-monger because they didn’t like to admit they were repressed and love-starved and pitiful, and would prefer to be called warriors, but you could only be called a warrior when your foe was another warrior, not women and children and old men that you sprayed with bullets or gas.

Buckley supported the war and Gas-man did not. Buckley didn’t have to fight in it, but Gas-man might.

Goldwater lost in forty-four out of fifty states. He won Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia, the most racist states.

During the campaign it was fun to be for Goldwater because nobody else was. It made you stand out. You knew what AU/H2O stood for, just like UNCLE.

Mailer wrote The White Negro and and James Baldwin countered.

Mailer and his hipsters wanted to appropriate black experience, which they then mythologized and in no way apprehended.

How’d Gas-man get hold of those Playboys anyway? He kept them in the basement. His mother didn’t know about them. His mother never found out about him skipping school that day either. He probably just bought the Playboys at the drugstore, just because he had the balls to do it. He read the articles too. He read the New Yorker and National Review and Playboy.

In 1962 James Meredith went to college at Ole Miss.

February, 1965, James Baldwin hands Buckley his ass at Cambridge. Resolved: The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.

No shit.

Integration of public schools by way of Brown v Board of Education was by far the leading factor in the popularity of private schools, parochial schools, Catholic schools, which is to say, racism.

1957 National Review: Why the South Must Prevail “The claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.” Buckley wrote that.

“Your people, sir, are not ready to rule themselves.”

Baldwin wondered, “What happens to the poor white man’s, the poor white woman’s mind? Their moral lives have been destroyed by the plague called color.”

Dan knew, or could feel by instinct, that it wasn’t just the South. It was Oak Park.

In 1965 Civil Rights protesters planned to march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with the Sheriff to try to stop them.

Johnson went to Congress himself to pitch the Civil Rights Act, and he ended his speech by saying, “We shall overcome.”


Everybody rode bikes everywhere. All the guys had a bike. Dan’s was the beat-up old tank of a Schwinn that had been handed down by his big brother.

Looks like something out of World War Two.

When an errant shot would ricochet with an unexpected fortuitous result: A kick in the arse is better than no fight at all.

A hot day in August. Shocker, Rug Olsen, Dog Ryan.

Ride bikes to Lake Street. Go in Sears and run up the escalators the wrong way, run through the aisles.

Shocker was a liar, a thief, a cheater, and a bully, and that was what made him a leader. What did it take to win his admiration?

They rode single file alongside heavy traffic, then cut through the cemetery. Beyond the cemetery was the entrance to Miller Meadow and on the other side of that lay Brookfield Zoo. There was a long green corridor that led to the front gates. It had taken half the day to get there. When would they get home?

Shock said: Who cares?

In 1965 Dan was graduating from Ascension and Ciaran was flying helicopters in Vietnam.

No dissipation. Pass no remarks.

The Vietnamese might turn Communist.

So fucking what?

The domino theory. We’ve got to stop the spread of . . .

The French Government . . . of Vietnam (maybe that made sense in the fifties, or whenever imperialism made sense) was backed in America by the Friends of Vietnam, including John F. Kennedy and Cardinal Spellman. The Vietnamese should be Catholic, mais non?

But most of the Vietnamese were Buddhist.

In 1961 the USA sent 2,067 military advisers to Vietnam, and by 1963 there were 16,300 of them, and by ‘64 there were 23,000. In 1965, after a bullshit report of an attack on an American ship patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson sent in combat troops, and the war was full on, even though war had not been declared.

You swept by the west side projects, gray, brown, broken and crumbling, but swarming with life, windows still being broken, rat-infested, from a distance it could be seen safely as a prison, except that there were no wardens or guards. They weren’t buildings, they were projects.

Vietnam was a murky mess being promoted as Good versus Evil. Somehow, we were Good.

The domino theory, in their minds the citizens of country after country, the big one being China in 1946, would turn Communist, until the plague arrives in North America and we are the only American country left in the world.

That’s what you’re afraid of?

Now it’s ninety miles away.


Cuban Revolution 1959.

It was Ike’s half-ass idea to split Vietnam in two and let Ho Chi Minh, who’d been elected by the whole country, have the north, while the new country of South Vietnam, ruled by one of the few Catholics to be found, a fellow named Diem, who was overthrown and killed in 1963, same year as Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, same year Kennedy would be shot, and Dan was in the sixth grade. His sister was not home for lunch. She was at Trinity. Ciaran was in college in Minnesota. His dad was at work. There was his mom and Gramma and his little brother, and Bozo’s Circus was interrupted.

Sgt. Pepper changed everything. It was nighttime in the summer at Fox Park and the girls were out looking for fun with the boys.    

What a change had come over the Beatles. They had gone from black and white to color too.

Firing Line went on the air in 1966.

Thomas Aquinas couldn’t apply Aristotle to Vietnam and come up with a reason for American kids to be getting their asses blown off there. Throwing bricks at Martin Luther King in Cicero made more sense to them. They weren’t smart. If they were smart they’d be getting a deferment.

In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize. He thought prizes were used to co-opt society’s rebels, and he wouldn’t play along.

Walter Cronkite said on the news: “It is more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in stalemate.”

Early in 1968, before Johnson dropped out, Gene McCarthy declared his candidacy for President, and all he wanted to do was stop the war. Then Bobby Kennedy jumped in too, and made civil rights part of it. Johnson’s grandfather had died at age 64, his father had died at 64, and Johnson himself would die when he was 64.

On March 31, 1968, Johnson went on TV and said, “There is division in the American house right now.” Then he quit. He wasn’t running for re-election. He was out. McCarthy and Bobby could fight it out.

Four days later Martin Luther King was shot to death. To Black people the message was: You tried non-violence and this is how it works.

In Chicago, Demare gave an order to shoot to kill.

The senior class showed its thinking with two subversive and subsequently banned t-shirts, one said Class of ‘69, and the other said Fenwick Beaver Patrol. That was the extent of the rebellion against authority.

Then, in June, Bobby Kennedy was killed. He wouldn’t even get to the convention in Chicago.

WFB didn’t like the Beatles. He said they were godawful. That was how fucked up he was.

In 1968 the Republicans convened in Miami Beach. ABC had already signed Buckley up to comment, but he had to have an opponent, so ABC asked him for suggestions, and then ABC asked Buckley whom did he not want to debate, and, stupidly, he replied. That he replied Gore Vidal doesn’t matter. He was stupid.

Gore Vidal, the author of Myra Breckenridge.

Otto Kerner, Demare’s Republican Governor, headed up a report on race riots that said: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.”

It was only Dan’s conceit that caused his shame and guilt and sadness.

How the hell did the Republicans come up with Nixon? Sure, Goldwater had been demolished, but Nixon?

Nixon had been lurking in the background the whole time, since 1952 when Ike chose him for his running mate.

Ten thousand protesters were coming to Chicago for the convention and they wanted to know where they were permitted to protest. Demare told them Nowhere.

Dan was trying to reconcile himself with this society and culture, using William F. Buckley, Gas-man, and Jim Ryun as his guides, each of them blazing a path he could neither follow nor comprehend.

Ryun was training for the 68 Olympics, or thought he was, but he was training for a race he had no chance of winning.

Nixon wasn’t a conservative. It was hard to say what he was.

“As long as I’m mayor of this city, there’s going to be law and order in this city,” says Demare.

The only problem with the protest was that there was no objective beyond just trying to fuck things up, and things were already fucked up. Kennedy and Johnson were half-ass liberals that seemed to have backed into a war that was stupid, evil, and un-winnable, and now they didn’t know how to get out.

Once the gas spread over the park the kids grabbed at anything they could get their hands on to throw at the cops, stones, bottles, concrete from the potholes in the street.

The fucking Quakers led a march that was stopped at 39th Street and Halsted.

You have no idea how much shit is going to go down right here right now.

The Yippies fanned out in all directions, spreading the cops’ forces thinner.

Wednesday night was the Massacre on Michigan Avenue, and it was on TV. It started in Grant Park. The only way out was on to Michigan Avenue.

The whole fucking world is watching.

Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut was saying: “The turmoil and violence is competing with this great convention for the attention of the American people,” and then he said something about the cops using Gestapo tactics, and Demare’s face turned purple and he blew up.

“Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home!”

The “lousy” was particularly apt somehow.

Dump the Hump.

Dick Nixon before Nixon Dicks you!

And now Buckley had lost a fight. He would never be the same. He would never recover.

“A revolutionary with a taste in wine has already come half the distance from Marx to Burke.” – Mailer

1969 would be Nixon’s first year as President. He’d been hanging around for nearly  20 years and now he was in charge. Some men left the earth entirely and went to the moon. Kennedy had sent them there.

News broke about the My Lai massacre, and there were our boys in uniform killing around five hundred women and children and old people.

If you don’t like Studs Terkel, there’s something wrong with you.

Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

In the late 60s Naked Lunch went on trial – and won.

In Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer made a distinction between the Civil Rights march on Washington in 1963 and the Vietnam war protests.

When Danny walked through the door at Ascension, the idea that he would be spending the next eight years of his life there, never really entered his head. He knew it, but he had no notion of its impact. He hadn’t even been to kindergarten. Everybody else had.

It was the fall of 1957, and he would not leave until the spring of 1965.

The kindergartners were in a classroom on ground level alongside the gym, but when you walked into the school from the courtyard or the other side of the building, you had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the first floor, then, second, and third. Grammar school, grades first through eighth.

You came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs and there was a door on the left that went to the kindergarten, and a door on the right that went into the gym, and the whole class would troop down those stairs when it was time for gym, and the other kids were always talking about remember this or remember that from when they’d been in kindergarten together, and Danny just wanted to get to the gym.

The descent down those stairs was always a good time to try to beat the shit out of somebody. Class changes in general were like that.

Danny managed to avoid most of it. He was Mick. He could run, he could play, he was short but he was tough, he’d been in the Silver Gloves and won his bout. He had beaten up a couple guys who pushed things too far on the playground. He could punch and he could move, and, best of all, he could punch and run away, run the hell away!

Eight years of nuns. Eight years of these women with their faces in white frames, hair hooded, and their bodies in billowy black, so all you could see of their skin was their face and hands, the rest of them shapeless beneath their habits.

In eighth grade they were changing classes when Freddie Railsbeck elbowed Dan a wicked shot in the mouth and one of his canines stabbed a deep well into his lip that quickly filled up with blood that he had to keep swallowing so no one would know, vowing revenge against Railsbeck, who had preceded his violence by remarking that Danny’s brother was probably going to get killed over there in Vietnam because the gooks like to shoot down helicopters. They’re good at it.

LBJ said they were living in a Great Society. It was great enough to reach across the world into southeast Asia to help people out. No, by championing Civil Rights. No, because you’ll get bricks thrown at you in Cicero.

Far, far beyond their village, the largest village in the world, there were gooks, who were akin to chinks and japs, to be added to the list of despised races, which amounted to all that were not white.

Nine grades in one building. Kids who were six and kids who were 14 and all the kids between.

Your best bet would be to join up before you got drafted, or go to officer training school and join as an officer. You didn’t want to go in as a a buck private, and you didn’t want to serve in the infantry because those guys got shot, and you didn’t want to drive a tank because somebody could drop a grenade in there and blow you up, and you didn’t want to fly a plane because those things get shot down. What you wanted was to stay home, but maybe what Ciaran wanted was to do his patriotic duty, maybe it was a test of his manhood.

You could burn your draft card and go to prison in noble protest, or worm your way out of it in a half-ass protest like Arlo Guthrie because you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

When he turned 18 he’d be eligible for the draft, but he’d be in college and he’d have a student deferment, and what were the chances the war would last for four more years? It had been going on since he was in grade school. All he was really worried about was holding onto Patty Dooley’s ass, which was the first steady piece of ass he’d ever gotten, as well as the first piece of ass he’d ever gotten and he was loathe to give it up just to go to college. She let him touch her bare ass in the back seat of his Corvair at the drive-in. They had been making out for weeks, and when they decided to go to the drive-in, they both knew it meant only one thing, and it wasn’t seeing the movie. Climbing into the back seat increased the possibilities horizontally, and she was lying on top of him, and he reached behind her and ever so slowly, so that she could stop him whenever she liked, so that if she allowed him to keep going it must be because she liked it, because he liked her and it was genuine, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, he didn’t want to make her cry, and he would gladly settle for whatever he could get away with, along with the promise that there would be more where that came from, if he were polite and waited, and now suddenly the waiting was over and he was touching her actual ass, her bare bottom beneath his very fingers, so smooth, so soft and firm at once, and his finger traced down to the crack, and she whispered, “That tickles” and she stuck her tongue in his ear.

Ciaran went to war. He was a second lieutenant in the Marines, a helicopter pilot. A helicopter pilot was not someone who dropped bombs on people. A helicopter dropped you off somewhere in the jungle where no plane could land, or a helicopter saved your ass when it dropped down and got you out of a tough spot, retrieved wounded. Ciaran was no war monger, but he was a sharpshooter, had a sharpshooting medal.

So did Oswald.

Ciaran didn’t go over there to shoot anybody.

So why’d Railsbeck make that crack and elbow Dan in the mouth?

Ciaran would rise to the rank of Captain. If you were a Captain in the Marines, you were the true gen of Not to be Fucked with.

Something Dan had known all along.

Too bad about the Lane game.

The incident must have happened in the winter of 1959 going into 60, and Ciaran was wearing his letterman’s jacket with the big F on it, and Danny was nine years old and in the third grade, and his big brother, a senior in high school, was walking him home from school. It was a few weeks after the Friars had been crushed in the snow by Lane Tech 19-0.

Patty Viglione lived in Melrose Park, also known as Pizza Park because all the dagos lived there. Patty Vigline was a slender, dark-haired, luscious-lipped Italian babe, and she went to Trinity, Fenwick’s sister school for girls in affluent River Forest.

A fortiori

Danny slipped in the snow and ice and some kids on the other side of the street laughed, and Danny’s books and papers were scattered in the snow and Ciaran was helping him collect them all, and the kids had stopped just to laugh at them. They were teenagers, high school kids, three guys from Oak Park High who thought they could say whatever they wanted because there were three of them, and, besides, they were all the way across the street, so one of them shouted: Too bad about the Lane game.

Ciaran looked up and then he took off, sprinting straight for the hecklers, who paused fatally before attempting to scatter.

Most people when they run curl their hands into a loose fist that tightens slightly with speed and adds force to the pumping of their arms, which helps lift their feet and thereby run, but not Ciaran, who ran with his fingers extended straight out and his hands became axe blades that cleaved the air with an amazing rapidity that produced speed. Ciaran tackled one of the guys and rubbed his face in the snow and then he stood back up, brushed the snow off his pants, and walked with sure steps back across the street to where Danny was watching and holding his books.

You ok?

You’re asking me?

Let’s go home.

And so they did, or maybe it never happened. Maybe Dan just made it up, a story he could tell about Ciaran to ward off bullies.

But it was bullshit, and that was why Railsbeck had elbowed him in the mouth.

Buckley’s theatricality struck a nerve in Dan, just as the priests celebrating mass did, and Kirk Douglass playing Spartacus, Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe All-American, and, above all, James Bond. Dan didn’t want to be Bond, which would have scared the shit out of him as much as Moby Dick did, but acting, pretending, that seemed to be right up his alley. The beauty of it was that it could happen almost entirely within your own mind, sometimes with the aid of a mirror or glass you could see yourself in, sometimes with a pencil, drawing, or with a pen, writing a story, or, more commonly, writing endless lists, inventing fictional players to play in fictional leagues with fictional standings and statistics and imaginary games, all of which he would doodle at during class.

Pretending, making up shit, lying, faking, deceiving, disappointing and disappearing, that’s what he was good at, he had a real gift for it.

You could step on the el and be downtown in 21 minutes and you would have effectively disappeared, and in the crowds you were anonymous. You were no one, walking amid thousands of other no ones.

Dan could pretend to be a hero, but he would be much more believable as a schmuck. He was no Sean Connery, let alone Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster, while his brother Ciaran lived in reality a Hollywood action pic, and, in ‘69, followed up his stint in Vietnam, where he flew over 700 combat missions, by joining the FBI.

War hero becomes FBI agent. Beat that.

There was nothing to beat. There was no way to beat it anyway, any more than there was of Dan sticking a harpoon in Moby Dick.

It wasn’t about supporting the war, it was about doing your duty.

So you put the question of supporting the war or protesting the war out of your head.

Ours is not to reason why.

Ours is but to do and die.

Vietnam was turning into the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Besides, no one was asking Dan to support the war or protest it. The whole thing couldn’t touch him till he turned 18, and by then it would probably be over, and even if it wasn’t, he’d be in college with a deferment till he graduated four years later, and surely the war would be over by then. If Ciaran wanted to go wading into battle, that was his business.

Your brother’s over there.

There had been articles in the papers about Ciaran, our Men in Vietnam, about his combat missions and air medals and purple heart.

He’d been shot?

No one knew until he got home.



Where do you think? He’s flying a helicopter. It’s like he’s sitting on top of the enemy.

Not just in the Oak Leaves, but in the Chicago Tribune.

You could also get killed protesting the war.

Or killed or just die for no reason at all, by accident, by hazard.

In their sophomore year, the students at Fenwick took a retreat. They got on buses and traveled to Lisle, Illinois and stayed in dorm rooms, one student per room, to enhance the solitary nature of the quest, and Dan had managed to smuggle inside his dufflebag his paperback copy of The Magus, and so he spent his hours of meditation perusing sex and atheistic pacifistic truth on a Greek island, and on the cover was a scene from the recently released film with Candace Bergen kissing Michael Caine and wrapping her leg around his, atop a white cliff overlooking the Agean. At a glance his mother had asked sharply: What are you reading?

It’s just a book.

Let me see it.

For crysakes.

I don’t know about this.

No one knew about it. Except Gas-man. The hardcover edition of The Magus was behind glass in Gas-man bookcase. On the cover of the hardcover was a painting like something out of Bosch, another bit of culture that Dan might otherwise have skipped over like a puddle had not Gas-man indirectly turned him onto it, and then, he found that you do not dip a toe into surrealism. It’s all or nothing.

Dan skated right past the riots at the convention. None of it touched him. Heads were being busted in Lincoln Park and along Michigan Avenue, but Dan was safe, with his short hair and his Fenwick blazer, white-collared shirt, tie, dark trousers, with a belt, and cuffs, 21 minutes away from the Loop by el, in Oak Park, beyond the cul-de-sacs along Austin Boulevard. But Father Farrell was going down there, down into the inner-city to save souls, like that priest in that movie where the ship was sinking or the building was on fire and people were trapped and doomed and there was no getting them out or rescuing them, and somebody tried to stop the priest from rushing headlong right the hell in there, because he wasn’t going to save anybody’s life, they were all going to die, but he was going the hell in there anyway because he was going to baptize people before they died so their souls could go to heaven.

Don’t go in there, father! For the Love of God, don’t go in there!

For the Love of God, I am going in there.

Now there was one selfless act.

Selfless and saintly and stupid.

Michael Caine was not alone in thinking that The Magus was one of the worst movies ever made. Nobody could figure out what the damn thing was about.

The movie was merely forgettable and fortunately only resembled the book in that Michael Caine and Candace Bergen might have been well-suited to their roles had they made a movie that more closely resembled the book.

In the book, the narrator, Nicholas Urfe, learns through bitter, beautifully and mystifying experience just what Gas-man had held all along, that life is all that matters. Nicholas is presented a series of inescapable choices, for which all probable outcomes are bad, so no matter what he chooses, he loses, so that the challenge of the game is to figure out that it’s rigged.

It’s a page-turner, and Gas-man had turned Dan on to it, so he lay on his cot in the narrow dorm, and Nicholas Urfe took over, with a name like Franklin Bobb, easy to make fun of, and he was a cynic, a nihilist, but he hadn’t yet discovered the repercussions of being such. First, he had to discover love. Then it had to be snatched away. And then there he was in Greece, the white stone, the blue water, the ancient mythology coming alive, the dream life merging with reality.


A line was being drawn, a distinction was being made, that was neither clear nor permanent, between thought and action, mind and body, books and sports, Athens and Sparta.

Shadow play. Black and white.

Gas-man was the gate-keeper who didn’t give a damn and thus provided an entrance for Dan into the secular world, where you could see Jane Fonda’s tits directed by Roger Vadim.

There were prayers and discussions and sitting in a circle and Father Farrell was the moderator and they tried to make Jesus their friend, and it was all instantly forgettable, as were most of his classmates, in truth, just guys who either smarter than Dan in general or only smarter than Dan in math, which was setting the bar pretty low, considering Dan’s approach to solving any math problem had devolved to Make Your Best Guess. What Dan took from the retreat was the reading of The Magus.

Dan had no more idea what The Magus meant than the movie-makers, but that didn’t stop it from enthralling him, of being on that Greek island and seeing the myths animated and have a weapon forced into your hands and be ordered to kill someone to save your own life, the kind of question that you might by analogy have to answer, to be forced to execute someone or die yourself, so that if you allowed that analogy to work on you, if you followed it through, the existential crisis was happening every moment, and that was why he felt like he was getting nowhere, even when he was crashing his car at 70 mph down East Avenue.

Patty Dooley, Cindy Reick, and Linda Yeksegian, were the girlfriends respectfully of Dan, Davo, and John White. Cooney didn’t date.

What’s up with that?

Who knows?

Guys who ran cross-country didn’t need to explain to each other why they liked being alone. Aside, from drinking, which only Dan and Davo indulged in, and girls, which excluded Cooney, the four friends hung out together all the time.

One thing that had to be said about John Fowles and Ingmar Bergman and just about every other cultural icon, with the curious exception of Buckley, was that they were not Americans, and even Buckley affected an accent that was not American. Buckley would argue, eloquently no doubt, that it was not an affectation, but it was undeniable that no one else in the fucking world talked that way. It was a foreign tongue, and in fact there was nothing particularly American about conservatism. The roots were in Scotland with Adam Smith and in England with Thomas Burke.

Ed Fenwick left the USA just as it was getting started, ostensibly, to seek European enlightenment.

This could not have been the way the world looked to Dan’s mother, because she was the mother of a son in combat, and on the front door of the brick house on the corner of Euclid and Van Buren, by which all must pass on their way to church, hung the the emblem and star that meant a soldier came from here.

My Lai revealed that some of the soldiers had been transformed into baby killers, and the logic of the war was laid bare in the explanation: “We had to destroy the village in order order to save it.”

That was either a perfect statement of nihilism, or patently absurd, or both.

Learning nothing and getting nowhere, and it’s one, two, three, what’re we fightin for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.

Sports, family, movies, Oak Park, Chicago, racism, nuns, priests, religion, Ascension, Fenwick, music, TV, radio, weather, seasons, newspapers, Hemingway, Buckley.

Mother, father, big bro, sis, lil bro, Gene, Mary Jewel, Roger Reynolds, David Decleene, Charlie McCallister, Franklin Bobb, Mayor Richard J. Daley, Miss Parelli, Mother Lios, Mother Francis Therese, Mrs. Cannon, Beth Tieman, Nancy Nappesrstack, Charlie Clover, Barbara Cartner, Norine Sloan, Patty Viglione, Patty Dooley, Jimbo Wilkinson, Jimbo Kidd, Danny and Ed McTigue, Tom and Gerry Keating, Dan Roe, Kenny Gretz, Chester, Paul Gearen, Gump, John Duff, Tony Tiano, Gas-Man, Jack Leper, Tony Lawless, Coach P.

Brinkerhoffs, Gerber’s Hardware.

You could burn your draft card.

Hell no, we won’t go.


Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

While he might have been discovering himself or the world around him, Dan was preoccupied with finding the right sport or art that he might practice with natural affinity such that he might distinguish himself, and instead he found nothing but his natural inclinations, his esteem for the body, his own and others’, with the Greek ideal of perfection, so that you would measure yourself against the best, where he would never measure up. Same thing went for the mind. He was lost.

So he’s dealing with these polar opposites, these extremes every day and night without escape. When he’s scared, he can turn to his mother, maybe to his father, but probably not to either of them, because they wouldn’t understand, and, besides, everybody’s on one side or the other, with God and the angles or down with the devil, who, frankly, seemed to have the better argument. It’s the devil who argues against God, finds holes in God’s argument, holes that Aquinas tried to patch with a coat of Aristotle.

Gas-man sat in his bedroom by himself and played a Bob Newhart comedy album, and then he stole a long bit that Newhart did and presented it as a skit and recruited a cast and began rehearsing it to be performed on stage in the Pine Room for the annual Talent Show. Everything except the cynical tone of it was entirely out of character for Gas-man, who was going to be the star of the play, Uncle Freddie, in a satire of children’s television called “The Uncle Freddie Show”.

They met at Charlie McCallister’s house, where there was plenty of room to rehearse, and Mrs. McCallister was always so nice and made snacks for everyone, Gas-man, Charlie, Kenny Gretz, Paulie Wagner, and Dan. They rehearsed for a couple of weeks, more than they needed to, because the snacks were so good. And then, at the very last moment, just before they were to step on stage, Gas-man put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and said, “Charlie, we’re not gonna use you.”

The look on Charlie McCallister’s face was one of disbelief, dumb shock, and on Dan’s one not quite of bewilderment, but of wonder, and he wondered whether maybe that moment was what Gas-man had been aiming for all along. Why was another question, but Dan had to admit it was just like Gas-man, he was back in character. And so, on with the show.

Charllie’s mom was so nice.

Gas-man must’ve had it in his mind from the beginning. That must’ve been why he cast Charlie – for his house, for his mom.

Gas-man would trick-fuck you.

John White’s father was a doctor and the Whites were rich and they lived in north Oak Park and they were members of the Riverside Country Club.

Greasers versus Preps.

Lake Taho.

Mexico City.

The blue Adidas.

Dan was fat and out of shape now, and Cooney and John White were going to run the six miles to the country club in Riverside and jump in the pool, and it was the middle of summer and hot as hell, so Dan told them he would meet them at the club, he’d drive his Corvair there, he was over this running shit. So when the two runners arrived, long after Dan, and found him floating on his back in the pool, he looked up at them, and they were flush from six hard miles in the summer sun, and he said, “You guys must be nuts.” They jumped in, went under, came up, and they were floating on their backs too when Cooney said: “Maybe so, but this feels a hell of a lot better to us than it does to you.”

And Dan had made the run, the summer before, and jumped in the pool, so he knew it was true, and he suddenly wondered if it would ever feel that good again.

It wouldn’t.

Studs Lonigan.

Dan lived with polarities, one brother older and heroic, one brother younger and feeble-minded. Was he his brother’s keeper? His younger brother did not follow the family footprints and matriculate with the nuns at Ascension and the priests at Fenwick. The nuns and priests could not care for him, so he went the secular route. The irony was not lost on Dan, who listened to Gas-man when he extolled the virtues of Oak Park High, where he might be taking courses in film studies in a classroom  he would share with pretty girls, not that Dan had ever seen Gas-man so much as talk to a girl ever. Gas-man made it seem as though he’d be sitting in the darkened classroom studying the jump-cuts of Jean Luc-Godard with a bevy of Playboy bunnies.

No, Dan was not his younger brother’s keeper. He looked to the state for that. It was equipped with special ed teachers.

There was nothing whatsoever in the words and actions of Jesus that indicated the desire or need for priests and nuns to perpetuate his religion. The mass was a ritual that presented itself as a kind of magic, a miracle, Jesus entering your body, and it could only be performed by this one magical, miraculous man.

Only miraculous for the moment and for that purpose, however, because when the sermons took a liberal turn or ventured into current affairs, the offending cleric would be met with general opprobrium by the conservative parishioners like Dan’s dad.

The troops were being exposed to Agent Orange, which would not only give them cancer, but would also causes diseases and disorders in their spouses and children.

What’s her name?

Patty Dooley.

She’s nice.

You mean she’s cute.

Cute and nice.

She was a redhead. It was no bullshit. She had dark red hair, and she was short, just a couple inches over five feet, with a body like a gymnast, compact and round-muscled, and the dark redness of her hair distinguished her from the bright red-haired or orange-haired redheads with pale skin and freckles. Her skin was not pale, but that of a healthy and robust girl. Dan was smitten. Neither Betty nor Veronica. There was a third option. How many options could there be?


Types of girls.

Types? How about the brainy type.

Never occurred to him. A girl you could talk to? That was different. A girl who would laugh at his jokes. If a girl thought you were funny, you maybe had a chance.

Uncle Lou was fishing in his pocket for a big nickel, which was the agreed upon term for a quarter.

Every so often his younger brother would have a seizure. His eyes would glaze over and his limbs would stiffen and he’d rock against the first impediment he met, and there was nothing to be done about it, just wait it out.

Are the drugs doing him any good?

It was raining, but not that hard, so Dan was going out in the alley to shoot hoops, and as he shot, he had the Beatles’ song in his head: “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads, they might as well be dead,” and the ball splashed into a puddle. Why was he playing basketball?

What? That had to be the dumbest question ever asked, premised on the assumption that he should be doing something that had some meaning.

But there was no meaning. He just liked to play. It was fun. You would go to a court or somebody’s hoop in the alley and shoot and listen for the sound of another ball bouncing, someone coming to play.

Dan put on the yellow shirt with blue lettering he’d been issued by Coach Crowley. It was not the sleeveless jersey that the Ascension team wore for regular season games. This was something of an exhibition game, something less apparently than a full-fledged game that bore the emblem of the blue and gold jerseys and gold-piped satin blue shorts. Dan even had on his regular old blue cotton gym shorts, and he was sitting on the bench, where he would spend the entire game.

Baseball – the Village championship. Pinners. Softball at Fox Park and Carroll Playground and Maple Park and South Park. Cubs. Go-go Sox.

Basketball – alley ball, playgrounds, Jack Leper’s court, Schweez, 1968 Friars, Mikan, NBA, Loyola national champs. Sitting the bench at Ascension.

You think maybe running in weather like this might be bad for your lungs?

I duno. Maybe. What is it, like four below?

Eight. And the wind chill.

N’gimme any wind chill shit. This Chicago, there’s wind.

Superman Zika ran in his white gym shorts and t-shirt and that was it. He didn’t even wear a jock. He said it made him feel freer. He was fucking Superman. He’d put on a wool cap if it was below zero. Superman had his wool cap on.

Superman just smiled. He didn’t talk much.

Dan was going to follow Gas-man to Northern Illinois.

Are you following me?


Then why are you going there?

It’s a good school.

It’s a shit school.

Then why are you going there?

Path of least resistance.

Vietnam was such a total disaster that it killed the draft. It was too embarrassing, dispiriting, to go to war and have the soldiers refuse to participate, burn their draft cards or run away.

Bill Ayers was going to fight it and run away.

His dad was way up there at Com Ed. Mr. Ayers.

The Lost Ring and Cantiflas.

Dan was a junior, but he hung out with the seniors, Billy, Tinkus, George Metzler.

Dan was a senior, but he hung out with the juniors, Davo, Cooney, and John White.

Dan remained steadfast in his belief that the war could not touch him, and, besides, he wouldn’t even have to worry about it for at least the next four years because he’d be a student, 2-S. He didn’t thank God for it, providential as it may seem, he might thank his lucky stars because there was evidence, true evidence, that September of 1951 was a lucky time to be born, it slid neatly between the Korean War and Vietnam to make its generation free from military service.

Deprived of the chance to be a soldier.

Dan could live with that. He had not distinguished himself in his lone position of leadership, and he was a coward. Other than that, he’d make a fine soldier, utterly expendable.

Fortunately he was lucky.

Luckily he was fortunate.

Football: The Center Sneak, the game at Ridgeland Commons, St. Edmund v St. Eulailia, freshman football. Watching Dougdale get tackled after missing his block. That was the last game he ever played.

The freshman wore green jerseys and tan pants. No explanation. The school colors were black and white.

It made you feel like you weren’t really on the team.

You had to survive freshman football, and most guys didn’t. Then you had to show up for weight training during the winter in the annex at the back of the gym. Then there was spring football, and Dan would never make it that far. After a few weight workouts, he quit. These guys were stronger than he was, and as a team they proven they weren’t even that good. What was the point?

Apparently Gas-man’s grades weren’t all that hot. He would never discuss grades, and he and Dan were only in a couple of classes together, French and English. Maybe he didn’t test well. Math was as much a problem for Gas-man as it was for Dan.

The two of them were heading for the cornfields of Dekalb because Dekalb would have them.

Northern was where you went if you couldn’t get in anywhere else. That’s what Gas-man said.

But Dan didn’t even try to get in anywhere else. He didn’t even think about college, even though his older brother and then his sister had both gone off to college. When his older brother went to a college that didn’t even have a football team, college lost its luster. And then Dan quit the football team himself, it just didn’t seem to matter.

Dan hated school, but he was condemned to it, like Sisyphus. He hated school, he was the whining schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school, because there was nowhere else to go. School was too much like work. But it wasn’t a job, because no one was paying you.

Don’t you want to get paid?

Don’t you want a bunch of money?

Not particularly.

Dan Fitzpatrick, the sardonic wit, standing at Kennedy’s grave-site in Arlington National Cemetery along with the other patrol boys, quipped: “Let’s blow out the eternal flame.”

Tee-ball. Guy’s whack the hell out of the tee, miss the ball altogether, and the ball would dribble off the tee and the ump would yell “In play!” and Eddie Sullivan, the pitcher, would gobble it up and throw to first for the out. But not this time.

Several Sides of Seven Sides

Shakes Pitch

Crew Kinnard All of it so good! Shamrock’s work incorporating the most profound of foundations: Shakespeare. Shamrock sharing his life with us, showing the arc of a life, really quite intimate. And such a magnificent space and such moving works of art. I am honored to have been included. Bravo Sir!! Here’s to what more will come.

Wendy Thornton Amazing performance! So much energy – a combination of true life stories and the magic of Shakespeare.

George Steven O’Brien An Intimate evening with one of my personal heroes. It doesn’t get better than that. Being that close to a master at work, is both humbling and inspiring. He invited us deep within his being and shared his world and workings with us. A mechanism whose design baffles and amazes. Shamrock is the Captain of the ship. No doubt about it! Bravo!!!! Dear Sir. Shakespeare never sounded so good or made more sense. Watch out for those witches. Their eyes peer from every corner and take on every shape. I will never look at Macbeth the same again. That whole world was just cracked wide open because of you
Sir Shamrock!

Wendy: Not everybody can do the Bard justice.

I chided Wendy: Not everybody? I doubt that there are a dozen actors in the country who could do what I did. First you have to act in all seven of the plays, and do all of them justice, before you get around to fitting them all together.

At any given moment, someone acting a role is no longer acting. At any given moment it doesn’t matter whether someone is acting a role or not. There is a difference between pretending to be something and really being that thing, but if, in a moment, the line could be crossed, and they could be the same, a unity of opposites, being and pretending, what then?

God or nature permitting, what I had planned would be a night like no other, a magical night.

The Plan

The First Act will take place in the garden. Acts Two and Three will take place in the studio.

Act One in the garden, using nature to illustrate the Queen Mab speech and Oberon’s narrative, and Malvolio’s discovery of the note.

Use Anna for Titania.

Use Mandy for Olivia.

Use All for Miranda.

Use the statue for Puck.

Use the Air for Ariel.

I used Leda in a painting with a swan.

I used Anthony’s swing just as Sid Homan had used a swing in As You Like It to introduce Jaques.

It has been suggested that 7 Sides play the ART or the AW or the GCP or the Hipp or UF or the IB Program at Eastside or the Cambridge Program at GHS or the Library.

What you saw was immensely augmented, first, by the garden and the admirable architecture of the studio, and then, once inside, by the acoustics and the grandeur of the studio’s simple majesty, rising to the balcony and cupola.

But there was nothing else. No lighting effects. No props. No music.  No sound design, not even a bell to invite Macbeth to murder Duncan.

Now think what this play might be if you added all of that with a team of artists and real production values.

Seven Sides of Shakespeare is my one-man show, like Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight, which is told by Mark Twain as an old man, so there’s old man Holbrook still doing his show in his 80s. Seven Sides tells the story of my life, so it should hold true at least until I’m dead.

There are no royalties to pay.

It’s not just Shakespeare.

It’s not as if I just walk out there with the Complete Works of Shakespeare and read a bunch of passages. My sides for this play total 35 pages. Shakespeare occupies 22 pages. I wrote the other 13, with the goal of making the transitions so smooth that you would only gradually realize that you were hearing Shakespeare and not Shamrock. Now, come on, that’s pretty darn good, and I actually pulled it off a couple of times.

I also flubbed a couple of my favorite lines, including “and that same dew which sometime on the buds was wont to swell like round and orient pearls stood now within the pretty floweret’s eyes like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.” Shit!

No one knew. Sid Homan would’ve known. It’s one of his favorite lines too.

I also accidentally cut a whole beat about the war of the theatres.

The three-act structure gives the play a clear beginning, middle, and end. It could, at 75 minutes, be presented without intermission, not to mention expanding it with more Shakespeare, more Shamrock, and the filigree of Shakespearean glosses that could be presented with projections.

Observe the way Steven Butler and the Actors’ Warehouse really got behind Stan Richardson to make a hit out of Satchmo at the Waldorf.

As Anthony and I arranged the chairs, he asked me how many people I thought were coming. I told him that 15 had confirmed that they were coming, but we might have a couple more. I also told him that every play I have ever appeared in, I thought more people were going to come. As it turned out, 12 people came.

The play moves from the tragedy of Mercutio, in which the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet forms the background, and links it to something tragic in the life not of Mercutio, but the actor playing Mercutio.

Welcome to meta-theatre.

The connecting themes are dreams, the unconscious, and nature.

The poet David Maas was there, and I was hoping he would be, because I’d told him what I was going for in the transitions. Afterward, he told me he’d been looking and listening for them. At first it would take a moment for him to realize that what he had just heard was Shakespeare, but then, after a while, he stopped even thinking about it and it all became one.

Perfect. That was exactly what I was going for.

The obverse observation came form Anthony, who said he felt just the opposite – as if the Shakespeare stuff never arrived. None of it sounded like Shakespeare to Anthony because it all made sense, was so plainly comprehensible that it turned into someone telling you something that you both understood, that it was genuine, dramatic without being theatrical, seemingly without being acted. “When you got excited, it wasn’t like a stage direction, it was spontaneous.”

To make it as if the words were being said for the first time.

It was much too hot of course.

It will be much cooler in October, and Anthony has said he’d like to host another go at it.

The guests bore up gamely under the the heat, but they were mostly anxious to get the hell out of there when it was over.

I sweated like a pig. It was about equivalent to running a 10K. It felt good. I like it when stage actors sweat. I like it when you can see their spittle flying. Makes it look like they’re working.

We didn’t account for the sunset. The setting sun would’ve been right in the eyes of the audience had they sat in the best viewing spot at the top of the stairs, so the audience voluntarily spread themselves in a semi-circle in the shade. The whole thing would’ve worked better at 8pm than 7pm.

“Theatre always starts at 8, fucken rube.”  – Roy Cohen in Angels in America

Michael Bobbitt’s review of the Expressions rough draft show

Shamrock McShane has written and stars in a one-man show called Seven Sides of Shakespeare wherein he blends monologues from seven Shakespeare plays with an autobiographical narrative of his time learning, teaching, and performing the great plays on stages from Chicago to Key West to Gainesville. Full disclosure: One-person shows are unbearably dull to me. No matter how great the actor or story, I typically try to avoid them at all costs. But Shamrock McShane is so much more than just a great actor, and the combined story of his life in the theater set against the backdrop of the characters he has inhabited quickly overcame my bias against the format.

I have only ever known Mr. McShane as an elder statesman in the theater community– someone who has forgotten more about theater than I could ever hope to learn. Imagine my surprise when he took an interest in my own playwrighting a few years back. Shakespeare had a habit of writing characters for the actors he intended to play them. After my first opportunity to have Mr. McShane star in one of my plays, I have seldom dared to write another without his spirit infiltrating the characters I create. As an actor he has a way of commanding a room, a scene, a place– without overtaking it. As a lay-scholar of Shakespeare, his grip on the material is as rooted in everyday life as it is in high-minded analysis of the text. He digs his hands into the guts of a play like a hunter field dressing a buck. If Sid Homan is the preeminent Shakespeare scholar of our university community and our time, then certainly Shamrock McShane is our battle-hardened sergeant, marching headlong into the meatiest of roles, trampling artifice as he goes.

In Seven Sides of Shakespeare, we first hear a tale of a 23-year-old McShane playing the role of Romeo’s best friend Mercucio, who faces death with the misguided honor of youth. This was McShane’s first Shakespeare role and he had no idea what he was doing. Neither did Mercucio, so it worked out. As McShane aged, his characters did so as well. He made a go at the professional theater scene in Chicago, mingling with William H. Macy at the Steppenwolf. McShane’s trajectory there was less meteoric than he wanted but higher than yours or mine or anyone we know. He rambled down to Key West for 7 years, found refuge in Oberon during a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and felt himself slipping off the planet on those tiny islands before heading north. Macbeth, drunk with ambition, haunted McShane’s day job teaching public school and standing still. Prospero, infected with the low-calling of vengeance, stirred up his own personal Tempest of existential dread in Hoggetown. This bold new play takes us from infancy through the seven stages of a man’s life– McShane’s own with a few yet to unfold– as we feel the deep truths of the great stories in a way that is as familiar as our own lives.

That’s a hell of a thing, even for my theater hero.

A room of disparate people, ranging from a self-aggrandizing Libertarian to a 10-year-old boy, all sat rapt in the palm of Mr. McShane’s hand, laughing and marveling at stories they didn’t know they knew so well. From Mercucio to Prospero by way of Chicago, MacBeth via Key West and and now a powerful amalgam of so many great characters living here among us in the swamp– Shamrock McShane is a treasure.

Lucky me, he’s also my friend.

If Seven Sides of Shakespeare goes up again, do your self a favor and make a way to be in the audience. You won’t regret it.

Notes on the Expressions Rough Draft Show:

It works. My collaborator, the renown playwright and poet Will Shakespeare, and I have penned a play that people like. It’s called Seven Sides of Shakespeare, and in it I play Mercutio, Oberon, Malvolio, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Jaques, and Prospero.

Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream are among Shakespeare’s early plays, written either concurrently or back to back in 1595 or 1596. He wrote Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, in that order, between 1599 and 1600, and they are, respectively, my fifth, sixth, and third characters. Macbeth, the centerpiece of my Seven Sides, was written in 1606. The Tempest was written in 1611.

In re-creating the roles and studying the plays, I found our 1997 Everyday Theater production of Macbeth newly validated. We got it so right.

There is no villain in Macbeth. Instead there are three protagonists: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Evil.

So, Seven Sides encompasses Shakespeare’s entire career, beginning, middle, and end, and it makes chronological sense, for the plays, playwright, characters, and me. My performances stretch from 1974 to 2011, a period of 37 years, from age 23 to 60.

It was like finding a vintage car in a junkyard – and just happening to be an expert mechanic.

To put Seven Sides together actually took 37 years, plus an additional seven years to think of it, for a total of 44 years, so what you see is just the tip of the iceberg.

Practicing my one-man show by myself on my side porch made me feel at times like the Dude’s landlord in The Big Lebowski.

For the separate speeches to have any validity, a full production has to lie behind it. And I’ve got that. I have played each these parts all the way through with a company of actors in front of a paying audience for a full run.

You’ll learn about Shakespeare and how his plays and characters continue to shape and augment and affect our lives, and mine in particular, as a writer, an actor, a teacher, and a human being. It’s funny, it’s tragic, it’s unpredictable, and beautifully poetic (Will’s bits especially).

The rehearsal period was 37 days, straight, the company worked on the play every single day, cast and director, but, considering my familiarity with the material going back years and years, and the fact that Will made his lines learnable in the most ingenious ways, I ended up knowing this play as well as anything ever, maybe better.

But you don’t know for sure until you try it in front of an audience.

Now I know I know.

The attendees were: Michael Bobbitt, Laura Jackson, Andrew Jean, Scot Davis, Cheryl Valantis, Chantarelle Davis, Crew Kinnard, Derek Wohlust and his son Fox, noble and enlightened cognoscenti all, assembled on short notice after my grand plans for a premiere on Shakespeare’s Birthday in an artist’s studio downtown fell through less than 48 hours before curtain.

I wanted to do the show on Shakespeare’s birthday, and thankfully, Scot Davis, the dean of the school of drama at Expressions Learning Arts Academy, was able to open the doors of Expressions for me and Shakespeare.

(That studio downtown is still a wonderful venue for Seven Sides, it is a little cathedral to art, visually stunning, and the acoustics are unparalleled, and I hope we can make a gathering or two happen there in the future.)

This is my Shakespeare play,  my Seven Sides of Shakespeare, comprised of seven sides of my being, as well as Will’s, my growth, my beginning, middle, and, dare I say, end, so be it, I’ll have my say, well, Will and I will. But it only makes sense if I say it. It’s a one-man show, and I’m the man.

Seven Sides of Shakespeare is available for bookings.

Anthony Ackrill, artist

Seven Sides of Shakespeare

Seven Sides of Shakespeare

Ladies and Gentlemen, William Shakespeare couldn’t be here tonight. So he’s sent me.

I act in plays.

In plays I act.

In real life I do nothing.

So, here are Seven Sides of Shakespeare, seven parts I’ve played in seven Shakespeare plays, seven characters, seven points of view, Seven Ages of Man – and they travel through history – mine.

Back in time, back in time. The year is 1974 and the scene is Old Town in Chicago, the Gill Theatre, 1429 North Wells Street, and I am 23 years old, and I am Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.

Mercutio is Romeeo’s best friend. He loves him. So, when Romeo falls in love with Rosalyn, before he ever meets Juliet, Mercutio is jealous, and he makes fun of Romeo for being in love.

Mercutio is a young man who is doomed. Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, is going to kill him, and it will break Romeo’s heart, and he’ll kill Tybalt in revenge, and thus the wheels of tragedy are set in motion.

Here they are on their way to crash the Capulets’ party, where Romeo will discover Juliet, and it will be love at first sight, true love, but before they get there, we get this sweet little diversion.

Queen Mab transports us into the world of dreams. At 23 I was a few years older than Mercutio. Yet here Mercutio dashes off a sally that’s a Freudian feast.

This speech has stayed with me all these years, and every time I say it I’m 23 again, wondering how Mercutio could be so much smarter than me, and still swagger so stupidly into death at the hands of Tybalt. Even Romeo can’t believe it. Come on, man, Romeo says.  “The hurt cannot be much.” “No,” Mercutio says, “Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but twill serve.”

The themes in this Queen Mab speech flow all the way through to The Tempest. They grow and expand with the characters and plots.

One of the things these two best friends like best about each other is their wit. They finish each other’s sentences, they top each other in their comebacks, and so Romeo says:

I dreamed a dream tonight.

And so did I.

Well, what was yours?

That dreamers often lie.

In bed asleep, where they do dreams things true.


Then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife

And comes in shape no bigger than an agate stone

On the forefinger of an alderman,

Drawn by a team of atomies

Athwart men’s noses

As they lie asleep.
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,

The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,

The traces of the smallest spider’s web,

The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams.

Her whip of cricket’s bone,

The lash of film,

Her waggoner a small gray-coated gnat

Not half so big as a round little worm

Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid.

Her chariot is an empty hazel nut,

Made by the joiner squirrel

Or old grub,

Time out a mind,

The fairies’ coachmakers.


In this state,

She gallops

Night by night

Through lovers’ brains,

And then they dream of love.

O’er courtiers’ knees

That dream on courtsies straight,

O’er lawyers’ fingers

Who straight dream on fees,

O’er ladies’ lips

Who straight on kisses dream,

Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues

Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.

Sometimes she gallops

O’er a courtier’s nose

And then dreams he

Of smelling out a suit.

And sometimes come she

With a tithe’s pig’s tail

Tickling a parson’s nose

As a lies asleep.

Then dreams he

Of another benefice.


She driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,

And then dreams he

Of cutting foreign throats,

Of breaches,


Of healths five fathom deep

And then anon drums in his ear

At which he starts and wakes

And being thus frighted

swears a prayer or two

And sleeps again.

This is that very Mab

That plats the manes of horses

In the night

And bakes the elflocks

In foul sluttish hairs

Which once untangled

Much misfortune bodes.

This is the hag,

When maids lie on their backs

That presses them and learns them first to bear,

Making them

Women of Good Carriage.

This is she –

Peace, Mercutio, peace,

Thou talkst of nothing.


I talk of dreams,

Which are the children of an idle brain,

Begot of nothing,

But vain fantasy,

Which is as thin of substance

As the  air,

And more inconstant than the wind,

Who woos even now

The frozen bosom of the north,

and, being angered,

Puffs away from thence,

And turns his face to the dew-dripping south.

The dew-dripping south, the dew-dripping south.

I was doomed, just like Mercutio. He didn’t know it, and neither did I.

If I’d stayed in Chicago, if I’d gone to New York . . .

But instead I headed for the dew-dripping south, to Key West, where I would spend the next seven years of my life. The Florida Keys are a string of pearls dangling in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but there’s no knot on the end of the string and people tend to slip away.

Enter Shakespeare.

Plot, character, thought, diction, sound, spectacle, this play’s got it all. It starts with me, 23 years old, in Chicago, then it jump-cuts to me in my 40’s, in Hogtown,  my shot at the big-time is long dead and I am a public school teacher, but in my secret life I am Oberon, King of the Fairies.

It had been 20 years since I’d played Shakespeare last, since I was Mercutio, but I plunged instantly back into the world of dreams and the psyche and the unconscious, where I discovered I ruled. I was Mercutio in the afterlife, I was Oberon, King of the Fairies.

Oberon and his Queen, Titania, are at war over a page, a boy, for whom they both have an ambiguous sexually-charged interest. The King and Queen being at war, the fairy kingdom is been likewise divided into warring camps. Oberon and his chief minion, the mischievous Puck, devise a plan to make Titania surrender the boy.

My gentle Puck,

Come hither.

Thou remembrest

Since once I sat upon a promontory

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres

To hear the sea maid’s music?

That very time I saw,

But thou couldst not,


between the cold moon and the earth,

Cupid, all armed.

A certain aim he took

At a fair vestal

Throned by the west,

And loosed his love-shaft smartly

From his bow,

As it should pierce

A hundred thousand hearts.

But I might see young Cupid’s firey shaft


in the chaste beams

of the watery moon,

And the imperial votress passed on,

In maiden meditation,

Fancy free.


Marked I

Where the bolt of Cupid fell.

It fell upon a little western flower,

Before milk white,

Now purple

With love’s wound,

And maiden’s call it

Love in Idleness.

Fetch me that flower,

The herb I showed thee once.

The juice of it

On any sleeping eyelids laid

Will make or man or woman

Madly dote upon

The next live creature

That it sees.

Fetch me this herb,

And be here again

Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

Having once this juice

I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep,

And drop the liquor of it

In her eyes.

The next thing then she waking looks upon –

Be it lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,

On meddling monkey or on busy ape –

she shall pursue it with the soul of love.

And ere I take this charm from off her sight

As I can take it 

with another herb

I’ll make her render up her page to me.

Welcome wanderer,

Hast thou the flower there?

I pray thee, give it me.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses

And with eglantine.

There sleeps Titania sometimes of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight,

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed-wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,

And make her full of hateful fantasies.

What thou seest

When thou dost wake,

Do it for thy true love take.

Love and languish

For his sake, be it ounce or cat or bear,

Pard or boar with bristled hair.

In thy eye that shall appear,

When thou wakest,

It is thy dear.

Wake when some vile thing is near.

She does. She falls madly in love with Bottom. Who is an ass, at least he has an ass’s head.

Seest thou this sweet sight?

Her dotage now I do begin to pity.

For meeting her of late behind the wood,

Seeking sweet favors from this hateful fool,

I did upbraid her and fall out with her.

For she his hairy temples then

Had rounded

With coronet

Of fresh and fragrant flowers.

And that same dew,

Which sometime on the buds

Was wont to swell

Like round and orient pearls,

Stood now within the pretty floweret’s eyes

Like tears

That did their own disgrace bewail.

And when I had,

At my pleasure,

taunted her,

And she in mild terms

Begged my patience,

I then did ask of her her changeling boy,

Which straight she gave me.

And now I have the boy.

I will undo this hateful imperfection

of her eyes.

Come, my Queen,

Take hands with me,

And rock the ground

Whereon these sleepers be.

What next? What You Will. Or The Twelfth Night. Our production of Twelfth Night was a farce. No, literally, it was a farce. There was no director. The director got canned halfway through rehearsals, and we just kept going without one. What the hell. That’s the way Shakespeare’s company did it.

Our friend Joe Argenio was the director and cast the play. He wanted to do the complete Folio text, no cuts, and he got cut instead.  Joe would have been a player in Shakespeare’s company.He would have played Falstaff.  He had a vision of Twelfth Night when he cast it.

Scot Davis would play the Fool. I mean that was his part in the play.

I would play Malvolio.

As you might suspect of someone named Malvolio, this guy is bad news.

Malvolio is a supercilious, officious jerk, with delusions of grandeur. He serves as steward to the Lady Olivia, and he become the butt of a practical joke employed by Sir Toby Belch and his drinking partner Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who compose and forge a letter that Malvolio is bound to find and think it is to him from the Lady Olivia. Why would anyone play such a cruel trick? Because: Let’s say you’re all having a good time, and it’s two in the morning, and this guy shows up!

My masters,

Are you mad?

Or what are you?

Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty,

but to gable like tinkers

At this time of night?

Do ye make an alehouse

Of my lady’s house

That ye squeak out your cozier’s catches

Without any mitigation

Or remorse of voice?

Is there no respect

Of place, persons, nor time

in you?

Sir Toby,

I must be round with you.

My lady bade me tell you

That though she harbors you

As her kinsman

She’s nothing allied to your disorders.

If you can separate yourself

And your misdemeanors,

You are welcome to this house.

If not,

And it would please you

To take leave of her, 

She is very willing

To bid you farewell.

Mistress Mary,

If you prized my lady’s favor

At anything more than contempt,

you would not give means

For this uncivil rule.

She shall know of it.

By this hand.

To be Count Malvolio.

There is example for it.

The Lady of Strachy

Married the yeoman of the wardrobe.

Having been three months married to her,

Sitting in my state,

Calling my officers about me,

in my branched velvet gown,

having come from a daybed,

where I have left Olivia sleeping.

And then to have the humor of state

And after a demure travel of regard,

Telling them I know my place

As I would

They should do theirs,

To ask for my kinsman, Toby.

Seven of my people,

with an obedient start,

make out for him.

I frown the while,

And perchance wind up my watch,

Or play with my –

Some rich jewel.

Toby approaches,

curtsies there to me.

I extend my hand to him thus,

Quenching my familiar smile

With an austere regard of control,


Cousin Toby,

My fortunes having cast me on your niece

give me this prerogative of speech:

You must amend your drunkenness!

What employment have we here?

By my life,

This is my lady’s hand.

These be her very c’s,

Her u’s,

And her t’s,

And thus makes she her great P’s

It is in contempt of question hers.

“To the unknown beloved,


And my good wishes.”

Her very phrases.

By your leave, wax.


And the impressure

Her Lucrece,

With which she uses to seal!

T’is my lady.

To whom should this be?

“God knows I love,

But who?

Lips, do not move.

No man must know.

No man must know.”

What follows?

The number’s altered.

“No man must know.”

If this should be thee, Malvolio?

“I may command where I adore,

But silence,

Like a Lucrece knife,

With bloodless stroke

My heart doth gore;

MOAI doth sway my life.”

“MOAI doth sway my life.”


But first let me see,

Let me see,

Let me see.

“I may command where I adore.”

Why, she commands me.

I serve her.

She is my Lady.

Why, this is evident

To any formal capacity.

There is no obstruction in this.

And the end.

What should that alphabetical position portend?

If I could make that resemble something

In me?



M, Malvolio, M.


That begins my name.


But there is no consonancy

In the sequel

That suffers under probation.

A should follow, but O does.


This simulation is not as the former,

and yet to crush this a little,

it would bow to me,

for every one of these letters

are in my name.


Here follows prose.

“If this fall into thy hand,


In my stars,

I am above thee.

But be not afraid of greatness.

Some are born great,

Some achieve greatness,

And some have greatness

Thrust upon em.

Thy fates open their hands,

Let thy blood and spirit embrace them.

And to inure thy self

To what thou art like to be,

Cast thy humble slough

And appear fresh,

Be opposite with a kinsman,

Surly with servants,

Let thy tongue tang arguments of state,

Put thyself into the trick of singularity.

She thus advises thee who sighs for thee.

Remember who commended thy yellow stockings

And wished to see thee ever coss-gartered.

I say remember,

Go to,

Thou art made

If thou desirest to be so:

If not, let me see thee a steward still,,

And not worthy to touch Fortune’s Fingers.


She that would alter services with thee,

The Fortunate Unhappy,

Daylight and Champion

Discovers not more:

This is open.

I will be proud.

I will read politic authors,

I will baffle Sir Toby,

I will wash off gross acquaintance,

I will be Point Devise,

The very Man.

I do not now fool  myself

To let imagination jade me;

For every reason excites to this,

That my lady loves me.

She did commend my yellow stockings of late.

She did praise my leg being cross-gartered,

And in this she manifests herself to my love,

And with a kind of injunction drives me

To these habits of her liking.

I thank my stars.

I am happy.

I will be



In yellow stockings

And cross-gartered

Even with the swiftness of putting on.

God and my stars be praised.

Here is yet a postscript:

“Thou can’t not choose but know who I am.

If thou entertainest my love,

Let it appear in thy smiling.

Thy smiles become thee well.

There in my presence,

Still smile,

Dearo, my sweet,

I prithee.”

God, I thank thee.

I will smile.

Naturally, everyone thinks he’s crazy. He searches for allies.


There was never a man

So notoriously abused.

I am as well in my wits,


As thou art.

(Then you are mad indeed,

If you be no better

in your wits

Than a fool.)

He searches for answers.


Pray you,

Peruse that letter.

You must not now
deny it is your hand,

Say tis not your seal,

Not your invention.

You can say none of this.


Grant it then.

And tell me,

In the modesty of honor,

Why you have given me

Such clear lights of favor,

Bade me come smiling and cross-gartered

To you,

To put on yellow stockings


To frown upon Sir Toby

And the lighter people,


Acting this in an obedient hope,

Why have you suffered me

To be imprisoned

In a dark house,

Visited by the priest,

And made the most notorious

Geck and gull

That ere invention played on?

Tell me why!

Macbeth is where the dream turns into pure nightmare.

Macbeth is cursed, the play and the man. I directed the play. I played the title role. I produced the play myself.

Macbeth was ambitious, I was ambitious. Macbeth killed the king, I killed the king.

Macbeth is cursed. What the witches do is curse him. What Macbeth learns is being King is a curse.

Macbeth is bad luck.Everyone in the theatre knows that. You can’t even say the name of the play, you’re supposed to call it the Scottish play, and if you do, by chance, happen to say the name, you’re supposed to exit the theatre, turn round three times, and then spit in a direction away from the theatre. (Pitui!)

The thing of it  is you cannot put on a play without enacting the drama in real life. You discover this only after having put on play after play, and every time you enter rehearsal with the same intention, planning a smooth, calm, orderly, untroubled, predictable, unemotional, pleasurable experience, and inevitably something entirely different than what you had planned takes place. Your unconscious enacts the play in reality. You not only dream about it, you find analogous situations in your life and impose the plot of the play on them.That’s what makes Macbeth the most dangerous play in the world.

The artistic director of the theatre liked to play dangerous games offstage. He enjoyed what was termed rough trade. Directing a play was the perfect vehicle for meeting new and interesting people, while at the same time establishing his credentials as a serious artist, mounting Shakespeare no less.

I was Shakespeare – metaphorically speaking. At least I thought so, and this was our Globe. Marcel was the artistic director, and I was playwright-in-residence, as well as the company’s leading Shakespearean actor.

In the war of the theatres we were the interloper, the invader, the usurper, attempting to lure audiences away from both the Equity house in town and the community playhouse with our serious edgy dramas compared to their musical comedy fluff.

Our radicalism was our advantage, while the other theatres were locked into the depressing pattern with their numbing repetition of the summer musical, then the Halloween play, followed by the Christmas play. We, on the other hand, were going to subvert the traditional seasonal expectations and exploit them to our own ends, we decided for Halloween to stage the most dangerous play in the world.

Marcel would direct, and I would play Macbeth. Then Marcel fell in love and gave the part to somebody else. Marcel was never in love with me. We were business partners. Besides, I was married. I was married to a witch. That’s a lie, a feeble, misogynistic, lame-ass excuse, but it’s all I’ve got. I loved her, and we decided to kill the king.

Act One Considering murder.

Macbeth, a soldier, a warrior, a commander of troops as well as a nobleman and property-owner, has chanced to encounter three witches, who claim to predict the future. One of their predictions has already come true: King Duncan has named Macbeth Thane of Cawdor after winning a battle against that traitor Macdonwald, thus increasing Macbeth’s power,  stoking his ambition. The witches’ second prediction is that Macbeth will be King.

What is he willing to do to make that happen?

Two truths are told,

As happy prologues to

The swelling act

Of the imperial theme.

This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill;

Cannot be good.

If ill, why hath it given me

Earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth?

If good,

Why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image

Doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart

Knock at my ribs

Against the use of nature?

Present fears are less

Than horrible imagings.

My thought,

Whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man

That function is smothered in surmise,

And nothing is

But what is not.

If chance will have me king,

Why, chance may crown me

Without my stir.

We discovered that Marcel had been diverting the box office cash to other ends, namely his midnight revels, and so we outed him, like gutting a pig, to the long dormant board of directors, which promptly banished him under threat of criminal prosecution, and I became the artistic director. I. I would direct Macbeth and I would play Macbeth. I. I. I was on the biggest ego trip of all time.

I wanted to take the theatre to another level, and to that end I would cast a professional actress to play Lady Macbeth.

By now I had created enough enemies at the theatre to reach critical mass. The whole production was seen as the power trip it was, and the board of directors threw me out.

But that didn’t stop me. We would just do the play somewhere else. We would do the play outdoors, on the community plaza. We would perform for the people!

Acting like I was Orson Welles or something, I cast the play. The professional actress agreed to play Lady Macbeth and seek an Equity waiver. Everybody still wanted to do it, because it  has such great parts. There are fights. We had a fight choreographer. We had swords. There are witches.

Act Two Indecision

Lady Macbeth wants him to be king, and he is willing to do anything to please her. He loves her. He does it all out of love. They love each other. You can look at all 36 plays and the most happily married couple of all is the Macbeths. At one point he refers to her as “my dearest chuck”.

Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see

My black and deep desires;

The eye wink at the hand;

Yet let that be

Which the eye fears

When it is done

To see.

If it were done

When tis done

Then twere well

It were done quickly.

If the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence

And catch with surcease success;

That but this blow

Might be the be all and end all here,

But here,

Upon this bank and shoal of time

We’d jump the life to come.

But in these cases

We still have judgment here;

That we but teach bloody instructions,

Which, being taught,

Return to plague the inventor.

This even-handed justice

Commends the ingredients

Of our poisoned chalice

To our own lips.

He’s here in double-trust.

First, as I am his kinsman

And his subject,

Strong both against the deed;

Then as his host,

Who should against his murderer

Shut the door,

Not bear the knife myself.

Besides, this Duncan

Hath borne his faculties so meek,

Hath been so clear in his great office,

That his virtues will plead

Like angles,


Against the deep damnation of his taking off;

And pity,

Like a naked new-born babe,

Striding the blast,

Or heaven’s cherubim,

Horsed upon the sightless couriers

Of the air,

Shall blow the horrid deed

In every eye

That tears shall drown the wind.

I have no spur

to prick the sides

of my intent,

but only vaulting ambition,

which o’re leaps itself

and falls on the other.

Shakespeare’s company put on all his plays with an ensemble of ten or twelve players, by doubling parts. We decided to use the three Witches for all the doubling, and by doing that we stumbled onto the secret of the play, hidden in plain sight.

The Witches inhabit these other characters who surround Macbeth, they morph into them, they are evil incarnate, and they advance the plot in fulfillment of their own prophecies,

This turned the Witches into not just good parts to play, but great parts, because the audience could watch you transform from one character into another, chameleon-like, from bloody soldier on the battlefield to drunken gatekeeper to cunning assassin. And then one of the Three Witches suddenly became the greatest of all.

Act Three

Is this a dagger

Which I see before me

The handle toward my hand?


Let me clutch thee.

I have thee not,

And yet I see thee still.

Art thou not,

Fatal vision,

Sensible to feeling

As to sight?

Or art thou

But a dagger of the mind,

A false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

I see thee yet,

In form as palpable as this,

Which I now draw.

Thou marshals me

The way I was going;

And such an instrument

I was to use.

Mine eyes are made the fools

Of the other senses,

Or else worth all the rest.

I see thee still,

and on thy blade

Gouts of blood,

Which was not so before.

There’s no such thing.

It is the bloody business

Which informs thus to mine eyes.

Now o’er the one half-world

Nature seems dead,

And wicked dreams

Abuse the curtained sleep;

Witchcraft celebrates

Pale Hecate’s offerings,

And withered murder,

Alarumed by his sentinel,

The wolf,

Whose howl’s his watch,

Thus with his stealthy pace,

With Tarquin’s ravishing strides,

Toward his design

Moves like a ghost.

Thou sure and firm-set earth,

Hear not my steps,

Which way they walk,

For fear the very stones

Prate of my whereabout,

And take the present horror

From the time,

which now suits with it.

Whiles I threat,

He lives;

Words to the heat of deeds

Too cool breath gives.

I go,

And it is done.

The bell invites me.

Hear it not, Duncan;

For it is a knell

That summons thee

To heaven or to hell.

Evil is a force we deal with in life. It confronts us, as the Witches do Macbeth, but, further, as his own wife does.

Our whole production threatened to collapse when the professional actress got cold feet. She suddenly asked herself: What the hell am I doing? It’s Macbeth – it’s cursed!

It was cursed, born of ill will, but the deed was done. There was no turning back now. The play was booked,  rehearsals had begun.

Necessity is a motherfucker of invention. I double-cast one of the witches as lady Macbeth, and suddenly it all made sense. She was possessed by a witch too, the bewitching Manna Marie Kirkpatrick. She wants him to be king. He loves her, so he’ll do anything for her, even kill the king. Which leads to her madness and suicide, but, more than that, leaves Macbeth looking straight into the abyss.

Act Four After the Deed

Methought I heard a voice cry

‘Sleep no more.

Macbeth hath murdered sleep.’

The innocent sleep.

Sleep that knits up

The raveled sleeve

of care,

the death of each day’s life,

sore labors bath,

balm of hurt minds.

Macbeth hath murdered sleep

And therefore

Macbeth shall sleep no more.

What hands are here?

Ha, they pluck out mine eyes.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean

Wash this blood clean

From my hand?


This my hand will rather

The multitudinous sea


Making the green one red.

Had I but lived an hour before this chance,

I had lived a blessed time,

for from this instant,

there’s nothing serious in mortality,

all is but toys.

The wine of life is drawn/

We have scotch’d the snake,

Not killed it.

She’ll close and be herself,

Whilst our poor malice

Remains in danger of her former tooth.

But let the frame of things disjoint,

Both the worlds suffer,

Ere we will eat our meal in fear

And sleep in the affliction

Of these terrible dreams

That shake us nightly:

Better be with the dead.

Whom we, to gain our peace,

have sent to peace

Than on the torture of the mind

To lie in restless ecstasy.


In his grave,

after life’s fitful fever,

He sleeps well.

Treason has done his worst.

Nor steel, nor poison,

Nothing can touch him further.

Be innocent of the knowledge,

Dearest chuck,

Till thou applaud the deed.

Come, sealing night,

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;

And with thy bloody and invisible hand

Cancel and tear to pieces

That great bond which keeps me pale!

Light thickens,

And the crow makes wing

To the rooky wood.

Good things of day

Begin to droop and drowse

While night’s black agents

To their prey

Do rouse.

I have lived long enough.

My way of life

Is fallen into the sear,

The yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honor, love, obedience,

Troops of friends,

I must not look to have,

But, in their stead,

Curses not loud but deep.


I’ll fight

Till from my bones

My flesh be hacked.

Next thing I knew, my wife divorced me.

Act Five Madness and Death of the Queen

In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board. She can move any number of squares in any direction. You may wonder: why isn’t the king the most powerful piece? Because even though the king and the state may exist without the queen, when the king has lost his queen it is as though he has lost everything.

Canst thou not minister

To a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory

A rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles

Of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuffed bosom

Of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

I have supped full of horrors.


Familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,

Cannot tart me now.

The Queen is dead.

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.


And tomorrow

And tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace

From day to day

To the last syllable

Of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays

Have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.



Brief candle.

Life’s but a walking shadow,

A poor player

That struts and frets

His hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.

It is a tale told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Every curse is a blessing.

Every blessing is a curse.

As Stoppard says: “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.”

I killed Julius Caesar. I mean, I killed the part. I crushed it. I had to. The curse had ended. They let me back into the theatre, and I returned, with my tail between my legs. When my wife left me after 20 years of married life, I felt as if my life was over, and although it wasn’t true, I felt as if I were unafraid of dying, a feeling you can ride like a wave of confidence, and I did. That was the way I entered rehearsals for Julius Caesar, and I did it with the only certainty any actor ever gets – I learned my lines, and when that became apparent halfway through the read-through, Malcolm Sanford, who was playing one of my assassins, leaned in and said: I want to kill him already.

Caesar has been warned that on the Ides of March something bad is going to happen. His wife Calpurnia has had a bad dream about it and she tries to get him to stay home, but Caesar is determined to go to the Capitol and tell the senators he’s going to do whatever the hell he wants. He has his suspicions about some of them.

Let me have men about me that are fat.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.

He thinks too much.

Such men are dangerous.

Would he were fatter.

But I fear him not.

Yet if my name were liable to fear

I do not know the man I should avoid

so soon as that spare Cassius.

He reads much.

He looks quite through the deeds of men.

He loves no plays

As thou dost, Antony.

He hears no music.

Seldom he smiles,

And smiles in such a sort

As if he mocked himself,

And scorned his spirit

That could be moved to smile

At anything.

But I rather tell thee what is to be feared

Than what I fear;

For always I am Caesar.

Caesar shall forth.

The things that threatened me,

Ne’er looked but on my back.

When they shall see the face of Caesar,

They are vanished.

What can be avoided

Whose end is purposed

By the mighty gods?

Yet Caesar shall go forth.

These predictions

Are to the world in general

As to Caesar.

Cowards die many times

before their death.

The valiant never taste of death

But once.

Of all the wonders

That I have yet heard,

It seems to me most strange

That men should fear,

Seeing that death,

A necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

Danger knows full well

That Caesar is more dangerous

Than he.

We are two lions littered in one day,

And I the elder.

The Ides of March are come.

These couchings and these lowly courtesies

Might fire the blood of ordinary men.

I could be well moved

If I were as you.

If I could be moved to pray,

Prayers would move me.

But I am constant as the northern star

Of whose true-fixed

And resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks.

They are all fire

And every one doth shine,

But there’s but one in all

Doth hold his place.

So in the world:

Tis furnished well with men,

And men are flesh and blood,

And apprehensive.

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank,

Unshaked of motion,

And that I am he.

Let me a little show it.

As You Like It was my second Shakespeare play under the direction of the great Shakespearean scholar Sidney Homan. Acting in a Shakespeare play directed by Sid was like taking a graduate level seminar in Shakespeare, but who cares about that? The best part about acting in a play directed by Sid was that Sid is s a true Stratfordian – not just a believer that  the man from Stratford, the glover’s son, Will Shakespeare, the actor, wrote those plays, but acting on that belief and staging the plays to see just how they play, so every moment became a discovery of This Must Be How They Did It!

When I played Jacques, the first thing Sid told me was that it’s pronounced Jakes, not Jacques, because that was one of Shakespeare’s jokes – Jakes was the street name for the outhouse, so Shakespeare names this guy Jakes who gives everybody shit.

More, I prithee, more.

I can suck melancholy

Out of a song

As a weasel sucks eggs.

A fool, a fool.

I met a fool in the forest,

A motley fool

Who laid him down

And basked him int the sun

And railed on Lady Fortune

In good terms.

Good morrow, fool,

Quoth I.

No, sir,

Quoth he,

Call me not fool

Till heaven hath sent me fortune.

And then he says very wisely,

It is ten o’clock.

Thus may we see,

Quoth he,

How the world wags.

T’is but an hour ago

Since it was nine,

And after one hour more

T’will be eleven,

And so on, from hour to hour,

We ripe and ripe,

And then, from hour to hour

We rot and rot.

And thereby hangs a tale.

When I did hear the motley fool

Thus moral on the time,

My lungs began to crow

Like chanticleer

That fools

Should be

So deep


And I did laugh

Sans intermission

An hour by his dial.

O worthy fool.

O noble fool.

Motley’s the only wear.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women

Merely players.

They have their exits

And their entrances,

And one man,

In his time

Plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

At first,

The infant,

Mewling and puking

In the nurse’s arms.

And then,

The whining schoolboy,

With his satchel

And shining morning face,

Creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace,

With a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.


A soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor,

Sudden and quick

In quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then

The justice

In fair round belly

With good capon lined,

With eyes severe

And beard of formal cut,

Full wise

Of saws

And modern instances,

And so he plays his part.

The sixth age


Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose

And pouch on side,

His youthful hose – well saved –

A world too wide

For his shrunk shank,

And his big manly voice

Turning again

Toward childish treble,

Pipes and whistles

In his sound.

Last scene of all,

that ends this strange, eventful history,


second childishness


mere oblivion –

sans teeth,

sans eyes,

sans everything.

That wasn’t really the Last Scene of All. This is. It’s always calmest just before the storm. The Tempest. Maybe it’s not the last play Shakespeare ever wrote, but I like to think that it is, that it was Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre. And I think of the whole folio being on a continuous loop.

When Prospero says, “Be collected,” that’s Shakespeare talking to himself about his plays, it’s Shakespeare talking to his plays, telling them to be collected in the first folio. And then he’s telling the world, “No more amazement,” because he’s retiring form the amazing business. And, besides, there’s been no harm done – it’s only a play, and it’s only been his life, and mine, and yours, bless your piteous heart.

The Tempest is a storm that Prospero has caused in order to bring his enemies, chiefly his own brother, to the shores of his magical island, where he intends to get revenge.

His daughter Miranda is coming of age. Prospero has raised her by himself, after being set adrift with her, by his treacherous brother.  Fortunately, he managed to smuggle his books on board, a compendium of knowledge he has completely mastered and thereby acquired a rough magic that he now intends to use to get his revenge. Now he’s got to tell Miranda about it.

Be collected.

No more amazement.

Tell your piteous heart

There’s no harm done.

No harm.

I have done nothing

But in care of thee,

Of thee, my dear one,

Thee, may daughter,

Who art ignorant

of what thou art,

naught knowing

of whence I am, nor than I am

more better

than Prospero,

master of a full poor cell,

and thy no greater father.

‘Tis time

I should inform thee


Lend thy hand

And pluck my magic garment from me.


Lie there my art.

Have comfort.

The direful spectacle

Of the wrack,

Which touched the very virtue

Of compassion

In thee,

I have

With such provision

In mine art,

So safely ordered

That there is no soul,


Not so much perdition

As an hair

Betide to any creature

In the vessel

Which thou heardest cry,

Which thou sawest sink.

Sit down.

For thou must now know farther.

And so he tells her how he has come to rule the island with knowledge, how he freed the airy spirit Ariel to be his Puck, and tamed the terrible Caliban and forced him into service, and now all that remains is to persuade, cajole, well, bully Ariel into fitting the last pieces of the puzzle in place.

How now, Ariel?



What is it thou canst demand?

Thy liberty?

Before the time be out?

Dost thou forget

From what a torment

I did free thee?

Thou dost.

Hast thou forgot the foul witch Sycorax,

Who with age and envy

Was grown into a hoop?

Thou hast?

Where was she born?


Tell me.


Oh, was she so.

I must once in a month

Recount what thou hast been,

Which thou forgetest.

his damned witch,

For mischiefs manifold


Sorceries terrible

To enter human hearing, from Argier,

Thou knowst,

Was banished.

For on thing she did,

They would not take her life.

This blue-eyed hag

Was hither brought with child,

And here was left

By the sailors.

Thou, my slave,

As thou reportest thyself,

Was then her servant,


For thou wast a spirit too delicate

To act her earthy and abhorred commands,

Refusing her grand hests,

She did confine thee,

By help

Of her most potent ministers,


In her most unmitigabble rage,

Into a cloven pine,

Within which rift,

Thou didst painfully remain

A dozen years,

Within which space,

She died

And left thee there.

Thou best knowst

What torment I did find thee in.

Thy groans did make wolves howl


Penetrate the breast of ever-angry bears.

It was a torment to lay upon the damned,

Which Sycorax could not again undo.

It was mine art,

When I arrived and heard thee,

That made gape the pine

And let thee out.

If thou more murmmurest

I will rend an oak

And peg thee in his knotty entrails

Till thou has howled away twelve winters.

Now, do as I say,

And in two days,

I will discharge thee.

And so he will, as soon as he gains his sweet revenge. And finally the time has come. Prospero’s enemies are at his mercy.

Now does my project gather to a head.

My charms crack not,

My spirits obey,

And time goes upright in his chariot.


How’s the day?

Hast thou, Ariel,

Which art but air,

A touch,

A feeling,

Of their afflictions?

And shall not myself,

One of their kind,

Who relish all as sharply,

Passion as they,

Be not kindlier moved

Than thou art?

Though with their high crimes

I am strook

To the quick,

Yet, with my nobler reason

‘gainst my fury

Do I take part.

The rarer action is in virtue

Than in vengeance.

They, being penitent,

The sole drift of my purpose

Doth extend not a frown further.

Go, release them, Ariel.

My charms I’ll break.

Their senses I’ll restore,

And they shall be themselves.

Ye elves

Of hills,


Standing lakes

And groves,

And ye

That on the sands with printless foot

Do chasing the ebbing nature

And do fly him

When he comes back,

You demi-puppets

That by moonshine

Do the green sour ringlets make

Whereof the ewe not bites

And you

Whose pastime

Is to make

The midnight mushrumps

That rejoice to hear the solemn curfew

By whose air,

Weak masters though ye be,

I have bedimmed

The noontide sun,

Called forth the mutinous winds,

and twixt the green sea

and the azured vault

set roaring war.

To the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire

And rifted Jove’s stout oak

With his own bolt.

The strong-based promontory

Have I made shake

And by the spurs

Plucked up the pines and cedar.


At my command

Have waked their sleepers,


And let em forth

By my so potent art.

But this rough magic

I here abjure,


When I have required

Some heavenly music,

Which even now I do,

To work mine end

Upon their senses

That this airy charm is for,

I’ll break my staff,

bury it certain fathoms in the earth,

and deeper than did ever plummet sound

I’ll drown my book.

And thus my personal journey through Will Shakespeare’s canon and out its mouth concludes. Was it all a dream? Can I walk out that door now onto Wells Street, into Old Town. Has nearly half a century really passed? Mercutio? Oberon? Malvolio? Macbeth? Caesar? Jaques? Prospero? Where have you gone? Look at me! I’m an old man now

My charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength

I have’s mine own,’

Which is most faint,

Now tis true.

I must be here confined

By you.

As you from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this and all is mended,

That you have but slumbered here

While these visions did appear.

Our revels now are ended.

These our actors

As I foretold you

Were all spirits,

And are melted into air,

Into thin air,


Like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers,

The gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples,

The great globe itself,


All which it inherit,

Shall dissolve,


Like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on,

And little life is rounded with a sleep.



Romeo and Juliet (1595)

Directed by Patrick O’Gara

Gill Theatre

1429 N Wells Street, Chicago

Spring, 1974



A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)

Directed by Andrew Toutain

Acrosstown Repertory Theatre

Gainesville, Florida

Spring, 1995



Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1602)


Spring, 1997



Macbeth (1606)

Directed by Shamrock McShane

Everyday Theater

Gainesville, Florida

Fall, 1997


Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Directed by Sidney Homan





As You Like It (1599)

Directed by Sidney Homan





The Tempest (1611)

Directed by Michael Cormier




Satchmo at the Waldorf by Terry Teachout

Directed by Steven Butler

Starring E. Stanley Richardson

at the Actors’ Warehouse

There’s a small bar, there’s a small couch, a coffee table, there’s a dressing table with a mirror framed in light bulbs, photos in black and white on the wall of showbiz stars, and into the dressing room ambles Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, the world’s greatest trumpeter. From the moment the door opens E. Stanley Richardson is the man.

Instantly there is the rubber face we know so well, puffed full of feeling and life, only now wheezing and coughing, and damned if Richardson doesn’t do that real-sounding too. It’s gut-wrenching. He needs a blast of oxygen. This is Satchmo near the end of his days, playing out the end of his song, speaking what needs noting into a tape recorder, re-playing his best riffs, and telling us the truth of it all.

“Hello, Dolly” is a piece of shit. Dwight Eisenhower was a motherfucker.

A wonderful mimic, Richardson has captured Armstrong’s mannerisms, inflections, speech patterns, and best of all makes that distinctive Armstrong guttural rasp flow like rough silk, wrapping it specially around specific spots in Satchmo’s vocabulary, to say “world” or “music”. He’s going to tell us his story and we will see how we fit in, because it is America’s story too.

It is the story of jazz, an American art form and its finest artists, and their inevitable exploitation by capitalism, embodied in the machinations of Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, and with a shift in lighting, Richardson is Glaser, a ghost now, who will haunt Satchmo to the end, his feelings toward the powerful white man who shaped his destiny shifting with each recollection, but he still wears the Star of David around his neck out of reverence to something higher that he wants to believe in.

The Louis Armstrong who sang and played “St. James Infirmary” had entered the pantheon of jazz, but for Glaser that was only the beginning, only a point of departure. What he dreamed of was success so grand that Satchmo wouldn’t even have to play the trumpet, while the man himself proclaimed: I just wanna play my horn.

No one ever played the horn more purely than Armstrong’s young rival, Miles Davis, the Michelangelo to Satchmo’s Leonardo, who brought to his art rage where Satchmo brought joy, which Miles then misread as playing Uncle Tom. Cuts don’t dig any deeper, and Richardson cuts to the quick in playing Miles Davis, locating his cool, so the rage turns an ice blue. Miles is Satchmo’s mirror-image, his doppelganger, his Malcolm to Satchmo’s MLK, his Ali, to Satchmo’s Frazier.

Satchmo never had any doubt about his blackness. Jelly Roll Morton down in New Orleans might have called himself French, but not Satchmo.

It becomes apparent as the night wears on that what Richardson is doing is processing an entire dialectic for us, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. At one point he flashes back and forth between characters with the rapidity of a light being switched on and off.

For us, Glaser’s dream has some benefit, in that although we never see Satchmo play his trumpet, we do see Richardson fingering it fondly while cleaning it and putting it away, and, sublimely, hitting “play” on the tape recording and telling us what we’re hearing, and how the sounds transport the soul.

He’s not explaining what jazz is. He’s telling us how an artist paints a masterpiece. As the man said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

Satchmo at the Waldorf plays through July 6 at the Actors’ Warehouse