We were both students at Valparaiso University, in Indiana, in the late ’60s. Through Valparaiso University’s theater department, we and several other students went to Coventry Cathedral in England to be part of the cathedral’s theater program and, over the course of a year, we put on a range of shows, from a production of “Prometheus Bound And Unbound” in the cathedral to an original play in the style of Commedia dell’ Arte called “The Divine Fool,” with characters based on the traditional players from the 16th century, to doing sketch comedy in a local workingman’s pub, The Heath Hotel. Ken and john’s first encounter was being cast in a production called Circus Maximus, held in the Valparaiso University Chapel.
Circus Maximus cast photo.
Coventry Cathedral International Studies Program (COVAL), Coventry, England.
Valparaiso U. and Coventry Cathedral held an overseas program. Additional classes were held at the Lanchester Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design. Ken was on the teaching faculty and John was in charge of the Youth Theater, and the Indian & Pakistani Theater Program.
Prometheus Bound and Unbound
Produced in Coventry Cathedral
Rehearsal in Coventry Cathedral
Archy and Mehitabel, Lanchester Polytechnic Faculty of Art & Design
The Divine Fool, Coventry Cathedral
Wellman’s Bridge VU Theater
After returning from Coventry, both Ken and John were hired as professional actors at Wellman’s Bridge VU Theater in Valparaiso, Indiana. Ken was featured in The Boyfriend, and John played Oscar in The Odd Couple, as well as Tobias in A Delicate Balance.
A True Story About One Performance of The Odd Couple
The cast of The Odd Couple included; John Szostek as Oscar Madison, Jim Lampl as Felix Ungar, Dan Calhoun as Speed, Rusty Steiger as Murray, Scott Smith as Roy, Jobe Cerny as Vinnie, Nancy Hamm as Gwendolyn Pigeon, and Julie Campbell as Cecily Pigeon.
Wellman’s Bridge VU Dinner Theater was a large rectangular room. The audience space was the dining room. There were two tiers, the lower one near the stage and the upper one at the back. Dinner was served prior to the show, although drinks were served throughout the performance. By the time the show started, the audience was already deep in their cups. Good for comedy.
Act I, Scene I, takes place in Oscar’s flat. It’s card night, so all the men are present, sitting at a long table so that all are facing out toward the audience. Oscar is in the kitchen. The stage directions call for Oscar to enter with a can of beer which he opens and sprays the card players. John, as Oscar, took it one step further. Prior to the scene, he ran his can of beer through the dishwasher of the restaurant. When he entered, he opened the can and sprayed the audience, much to their delight.
Jobe Cerny as Vinnie sat stage-right at the end of the table. Oscar, talking on the phone, now stood down-right of Vinnie. Now Jobe was the master of the double-breasted gesture; that is, his right and left hands and arms did the same movements, perfectly balanced. In this scene, Vinnie is giving Oscar some unwelcome advice gesturing at him while holding a large dill pickle in his right hand. Oscar, irritated, goes to him and slaps the underside of Vinnie’s right hand, the one holding the pickle. Every night Jobe holds the pickle after being slapped. Not this night. This night Oscar slaps Vinnie’s hand, and the pickle separates from Vinnie’s hand and flies up, turning like a baton, and disappears into the ceiling. For a moment, there is complete silence and a suspension of thinking. Then the actors, in silence, think about what to do and when to break the mood. The audience sits amazed, was this planned? If so, how cool? If not, what happened? John timed the break in the flow, and when he felt the suspension was enough, he went on with the scene.
The play goes on with plenty of laughs; we are on a roll. Act III, the last act, arrives. The scene is set exactly like Act I, Scene I, with all the guys together to play cards and all sitting in the same seats. Vinnie is talking to Oscar, who is standing, again, down-right of him. Oscar is looking at Vinnie, telling him that he threw Felix out of the apartment and now Felix might commit suicide. Oscar says, “…Let it be on my head.” Jobe makes one of his double-breasted gestures ending with both hands palm up, saying, “Let what be on your head?” At that moment, the pickle falls from the ceiling, tumbling end over end as if in slow motion, and lands in Vinnie’s right hand, which is in the exact location it was in Act I. Everyone is stunned! Shocked really. The actors froze, mouths open, all staring at the pickle. The audience leaned back in their seats, amazed and staring wide-eyed at the pickle. After three seconds, the audience exploded into laughter and applause. If this was planned, we were geniuses. If it was an accident, we all witnessed a miracle. The laughter went on for a full forty-five seconds. The actors held motionlessly, not wanting to break the laugh. When the laugh peaked and just began to subside, John did a Jack Benny. He slowly turned his face to the audience as if to say, “Your guess is as good as mine as to what is happening.” The audience laughed even more because now it was a mystery. When the time was right, John “killed the laugh,” that is, cut it off so that some of the energy would carry over into the resumed scene. This is the stuff of Theater.
While in Coventry, we learned mask, mime, and Commedia with Geoff Buckley, a well-known performer and theater consultant, who showed us character walks and mask use. He later came to Chicago for a summer to perform Commedia shows with us at Otto’s Beer House and Garden Club on Halsted St.
Geoffrey Buckley’s Stratford Upon Avon Show
Geoffrey Buckley Performance Photos
Geoffrey Buckley Brochure-Inside
Geoff Saunders was a faculty member at the Lanchester Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design. An artist in his own right, he taught classes in Surrealism and Dadaism. He was an artistic influence in the future development of The Lump Brothers.
The Art of Geoff Saunders
All Geoff Saunders’ art is copyright protected.
The Heath Hotel
The Heath Hotel, Coventry-Around the back was the Rainbow Lounge with a small stage. Ken, John, Karl Raack, Roger Purdy, and Bill Glanting (Wizard) were hired to perform comedy sketches in exchange for beer. There was an ordinance that said only two people could be on stage at a time. There was wing space on either side where one person could be “off stage.” When we had five or six actors it became a game of how to get only two people on stage at a time. The small stage had a day-glow backdrop of the City of Chicago with a sign above saying, “Sid’s Place.”