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      WALKING AROUND IN SOMEONE ELSE'S SHOES by Barbara Biddison

       

      tbi190He talks about this often, Thomas Putnam does.  He reminds all of us who act or want to act that one of the gifts for actors is found here, the opportunity to walk around in someone else's shoes.  (Or skin, someone else's skin, as Atticus Finch, in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, says, "You never really understand a person...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.")  Putnam played Atticus Finch in Hamilton-Gibson's 2007 production.  Now he is one of the STRAY CATS.  In one monologue he's a vain, aging poet speaking at the Poem Writers' Guild luncheon.  In the other he's a younger hurting jilted guy talking to a support group.  Someone else's shoes, for sure.
      Let's look back at two of Putnam's one-man shows, as long as we're talking about monologues here.  There's the first run of UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL in 2008.  Thomas had found this play, he was very interested in the LIBRARIAN, and he was looking at memorizing about an hour and a half's worth of lines....all his.  I heard about this and told him I'd be glad to help with lines if he wished.  And then I forgot about it. And then that February morning in 2008 I fell on the only icy sidewalk in town, while walking my dog, and broke both wrists.  Yes both, at the same time. Within a couple days there came a call from Thomas asking, "Are you still interested in helping me with lines?" and I, of course, sad yes to the man who was offering me something that I could actually do in my 3-month-long handicapped state.  It was one of the most rewarding things I have done in my long life.  Thomas explored the text, he designed the costume that he would wear for that full play, he figured out how to gray his hair, he grew a beard, and he filled the stage with all the things the Librarian would need.  He asked tech-genius Bill Scott to serve in that capacity.  Bill also is big on exploring text, and so am I,and sometimes the three of us would sit for an hour doing just that.  LINTEL played first in 2008 in the space where The Fifth Season would later set up shop, in Blossburg for a Library Benefit in 2009, alternating with SEVEN STORIES in 2010 for the first season in the Warehouse Theatre, and at least one other time in Western PA.  The librarian "from Hoofddorp, that's Holland," carried his stamper ("It contains every date there ever was".) and  the "Baedeker's travel guide, in deplorable condition."  And Thomas kept those lines and that character going for all those years.  He still has the Baedeker's.
      EVERY BRILLIANT THING is a more recent one-man show.  Once again I held a script while he learned the part.  A whole different thing!  A brilliant thing.  We began in mid-April, and opening night was September 13, a very lucky Friday the13th, 2019.  The speaker for this show does not have a name.  But he certainly has a presence.  And part of what he talks about is depression and suicide.  It turned out that the local Methodist Church was engaged in discussions about suicide for the month of September, and representatives from that church  joined Hamilton-Gibson at every performance and for talkbacks after every show.  It's connections like that, connections that pull us all together, that Thomas seeks and usually finds.  The talkbacks were wonderful, meaningful, needed.  The play itself was often very funny.  And it continued on and on with the list of every brilliant thing, beginning with #1. Ice cream and ending with 1,000,000.  Part of the line-learning was to learn the number and the brilliant thing attached to it, such as 2000  "Coffee" and 777,777  "The prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler.".  The tricky part was that Thomas would say the number and an audience member would read the brilliant thing from a piece of paper handed out upon being seated.  Now that's memorizing.  The sound/tech guy in the booth was Griffin Brown, and he was required to pay serious attention at all times, which he did, and every once in a while Thomas would call out to him  with "What's the next number, Griff? and Griff would know.  Maybe my favorite part of the show was based upon the piano in the kitchen where the family gathered round and sang soul songs.  This is when Thomas went to the real upright piano on the set and sat down to sing and play for a bit.  The man whose name we never knew came to life for an hour and a half.   That's walking around in someone else's shoes.
       
      Now, STRAY CATS.  Bring on the clueless fellow who seems to be "I guess"-ing his way through explanations of his behavior.  And find the old poet whose exaggerated opinion of his own writing is sometimes maddeningly funny.  And then in the final scene he's there leaning on a no-parking sign in a misty rain seeing the sax player "turn into a Pollock, spraying notes everywhere."  
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