In October of 2002, I was doing an Off-Broadway play called Burning Blue, a melodrama about gays in the military. Specifically, navy fighter pilots stationed on an aircraft carrier who may or may not be playing ‘stealth bomber’ in the bunks.
For a change, I got cast as one of the few straight characters in the play (straight? Was I losing my looks?) and got the feeling, early on, that THIS was the role that was going to launch my career. It seemed custom fit for me. My character, Boner, was a hayseed from Arkansas who never took shit too seriously, and loved, loved, loved swinging his hickory stick and romancing the ladies. It was Matthew McConaghey with a flysuit, a buzz cut, and deeper drawl.
In the midst of the hurly-burly of the tortured gayness within the play, I played the much-needed comic relief and, in turn, got some of the most glowing reviews of the Off-Broadway season.
However, and not surprisingly, the play got hammered in the press. The predominant grievance of the critics was the overly dramatic writing and the hackneyed subject matter. When the play was written in 1994, the controversial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy instituted by William Jefferson Clinton was (probably) a great centrifuge for the debate spinning this drama into action. But in Fall 2002, just a year after the attack on the Towers, the issue seemed quaint. “Oh, how cute, gays and their rights. Remember that?”
The feeling amongst the arguably deluded director and producers was ‘Hey, this gem worked in London, it must be the cast’s fault.’ Subsequentially, everyone got micromanaging notes about their performances, because GOD FORBID it was the fault of a mediocre play or an emotionally unstable director going through a divorce… nah, couldn’t be. So, despite getting my peestick sucked by every reviewer in town for my work, I was similarly henpecked and hampered by insubstantial and often pointless notes.
The flap of the butterfly wing that started me off as a comic was the following:
During the run of the play, I noticed that there was a line that never seemed to work. When a military investigator asks my Arkansas hayseed character if one of his shipmates is gay, my character’s ostensibly funny retort is “Well, he never copped my knob.”
I’ve always been pretty thorough as an actor, so my accent was spot-on. It wasn’t southern, it was Arkansan. One of the things Arkansans DON’T do is aspirate, or ‘pop,’ the ‘T’ sound in a word like ‘copped.’ For example, a British guy or, I don’t know, an asshole, would pronounce it ‘cop’t,’ which is technically the correct pronunciation. Trailer trash from Arkansan Ozarks would never hit that ‘t’ sound. Furthermore, the line seemed like a mixed metaphor. Whatever the case, it just never really got the laugh the playwright clearly wanted, ‘t’ sound or no ‘t’ sound, and I never felt comfortable with the consonant conundrum. In short, ‘copped my knob’ sucked donkey dick.
Immediately after saying that line (which got feeble chuckles), the investigator asks my character if he has ‘ever had sexual relations with a member of the communist party, the same sex, or a small animal?’ Boner, a consummate sensualist and self-avowed cow fucker, takes a lengthy beat and says, “Define small?”
Huge laugh. Aaaaaaaand end of scene. The lights quickly go black, which serves to redouble the laugh – almost like a theatrical rimshot.