By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The stage lights brighten, illuminating two irregular groupings of styrofoam blocks arranged like rock formations on a beach. A stagehand adds the sound of waves breaking on the shore, and then...nothing.
"Uh, when the lights come up, that means the play is supposed to start," shouts director Jimy Murphy from his seat several rows up at Evergreen's Centre Stage theatre. Embarrassed offstage giggles escape from behind the curtains. Murphy laughs, too -- this is just a rehearsal -- and again calls for action.
This time he gets it, as a middle-aged actor bounds on stage, playing the part of a jogger. The jogger trots in circles until his "running partner" appears, out of breath, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and attempts to light one -- butt first. He doesn't smoke, the first runner points out.
"Gotta start," the smoker wheezes. "Boss smokes."
"So, is everybody at work sucking on the teats of cancer?" the first jogger asks.
"Nah, just me. He loves me...I enable him."
So begins Heaven's a Nude Beach.
"It's about personal freedom and the different layers of illusion we wrap around ourselves," Murphy, who also wrote the play, explains. "And heaven and hell, and life and death...I've got it all."
He's got a bad case of nerves, too: Only one week until opening night, and some of his actors are still learning their lines. It doesn't help that Heaven's a Nude Beach, Murphy's first "adult" production, is following the very successful All in the Timing, which the Evergreen Players recently presented on this same stage -- and which earned the troupe a prestigious American Association of Community Theater regional championship that qualified it for a national competition this spring.
Just a few minutes earlier, Murphy had called his eight actors and actresses on stage for some last-minute pointers and encouragement. The cast includes several Evergreen Players as well as other actors from "down the hill" who responded to Murphy's open-audition call. But some were involved long before that, participating in early readings of the play last April when Murphy wanted feedback -- feedback that resulted in a rewrite of the entire second act.
Now there's no time to rewrite more than a line or two. So when the actors assembled on the stage, Murphy told them he wanted to run through both acts of the play without stopping. "I want you to stay in character -- and no calling for lines," he said. The actors should fully explore the "conflicts" between the characters in the play, he continued, "their relationship to each other and to the beach, which is also a character." They were not to think too much, but to have fun, all the while remembering that it will be up to them to "create the beach for the audience."
That said, Murphy sent his cast offstage to focus before calling for the lights, wave noises...and actors.
Five minutes into the scene with the joggers, Murphy forgets his pledge not to interrupt. "Hold on," he shouts, leaving his seat and leaping up on the stage. He wants the first jogger to take bigger strides as he runs, to "look like you're working out." Murphy throws shadow punches, executes a few jumping jacks and races around the stage to demonstrate.
"I was a little concerned about bigger strides. This is a small stage," the actor explains meekly. But Murphy has already turned his attention to the second jogger. He wants "more gasping" upon entrance, moreexhaustion. And both actors, he says, are to "go into the alpha-male thing" as they spy the nude females on the beach. "Puff out your chest," Murphy says, puffing out his own.
As he gasps, puffs and prances, it's easy to see the old energy that once made Murphy's band, the Kamikazi Klones, the hottest draw in Denver, with legitimate hopes of a major record deal. But that was twenty years ago. For the past dozen years, Murphy's musical aspirations have played second fiddle to his family, a children's theater group called the Kamikazi Kids, and the charter school Murphy helped found -- one based on "experiential" learning for kids who, like Murphy, don't fit into traditional schools. Today his trademark braid is streaked with gray, and his boyish features are lined with the tracks of middle age. Although the Klones still get together occasionally (the band has had more farewell tours than KISS), these days it's just for fun. Sometimes bittersweet fun, since one of the original bandmembers died in 1998.
But now Murphy thinks he's ready for another run at the bigtime, on a larger stage. He believes he has something to say, and this play, in this place, is the beginning.
Murphy's maternal grandfather, Beth King, discovered the town of Evergreen while he was playing with a traveling jazz band in the 1930s. King was a restless sort, according to his grandson, and "he might go out to work one day and disappear for four years." But after he found Evergreen, he began taking his wife and kids there to "escape the heat in Oklahoma." One day he decided to stay for good. He moved the family to Colorado permanently and opened King Hardware in a building that still stands downtown.