Something to Learn

Risky casting in Bas Bleu's A Lesson From Aloes creates an imbalance.

Enter Earlie Thomas, as Steven, in the second act, and everything jolts up a notch. Thomas isn't a regular actor, either. He's an ex-football player (New York Jets and Denver Broncos) and the current Director of Environmental Health Services at Colorado State University, but the program does say that he studied drama in high school. Thomas has charisma, energy and presence to spare. Is he a good actor? The term almost seems too small to encompass his performance. He has a resonant voice (he also deploys an effective South African accent), expressive features and a way of moving that's gangly in a strangely graceful way. Sometimes, as when he describes a fishing expedition he took as a boy with his father, he fills the theater with joyous excitement. At other times, I thought, "Oh, he's going over the top," but somehow his work was so exhilarating, I didn't really care.

The play ends on a high dramatic note, as Gladys reveals the trauma she's suffered. Ishii delivers this monologue beautifully and with deep feeling, and yet I found myself resisting tears. Perhaps it was because Ishii had played the entire role too much on one note -- though that might have been the fault of the playwright. Perhaps she was pushing too hard. Or perhaps, in contrast to Sutherland, she just seemed to be.

Earlie Thomas, Tom Sutherland and Wendy Ishii in 
A Lesson From Aloes.
William Cotton
Earlie Thomas, Tom Sutherland and Wendy Ishii in A Lesson From Aloes.

It's an odd thing: We all know it takes years of training and dedication to play the tuba, say, or dance on pointe, but most people secretly think they can act. This is a mistake. People who are intensely interesting in life aren't necessarily so on the stage. Yet if Bas Bleu's miscalculation damaged Aloes, Thomas's performance remains one of the riskiest and most vital I've seen on a local stage.

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