It was six years ago this week that playwright Lanford Wilson passed away. Wilson, among many other pieces, wrote The Rimers of Eldritch, a play I have had the privilege of performing during my senior year of high school.
This is my story about Wilson’s story.
In an extremely condensed nutshell, Rimers is a play about faith, trust, and relationships set in a small Bible-Belt community. I was cast as the role of Skelly Mannor, the town recluse who is harassed by the other town-folk who help spread the rumor that he has had…ahem…relations with sheep.
Skelly was an exciting and challenging role because I had to attempt to transform my gawky teen self into an aged, husky, and broken man. The voice was the easy part, but it was a struggle to capture the right amount of shuffle in his walk and bend to my back to give the effect of someone who was both defiant of and beaten by the community around him.
Another challenge to this role comes in Act Two when Skelly delivers a monologue that is about ten minutes in length. I remember spending hours secluded in a back room at my house desperately trying to commit this soliloquy to memory.
Rimers was our high school’s Fall production and it was performed in November of 1985. Below I have attached two photos from that year’s yearbook. The first is the full cast photo. I, being the town loner, am off in the far right corner. I’m the one in the overalls. Based on the portrayal of Skelly in the text of the play, I have no idea why my character is even looking toward, let alone smiling at, the character of the priest on the far left.
Below is a close-up (I’m ready, Mr. DeMille!) of myself and the actress who plays the character of Cora (who we’ll call Joylyn because that’s her name). While it seems odd that my loner character would smile in this photo, the character of Cora is one of the few (only?) people in town who is nice to Skelly.
And here is a cropped shot of me putting on my makeup before our final dress rehearsal.
Hey…SPOILER ALERT coming up!
Then again, the play premiered in 1967 so I do believe the statute of limitations is up.
At the end of the play, the character of Nelly Windrod is faced with a choice between shooting Skelly and another man based on who she thinks she has caught in the act of assaulting another woman. Nelly points her shotgun at Skelly and pulls the trigger. The end of our production has me fall backward, dead, onto a set risers that is then filled in by the rest of the town’s population. They sing hymns while covering me from view.
I always thought it was a great visual to end the play.
This 1985 production was not my last encounter with Wilson’s Rimers. During my freshman year at Northwestern University, I saw that a local theater company affiliated with the university would be staging a performance of this play. I bought a ticket not only because I wanted to see this play again, but I also wanted to see how another group of actors would interpret that characters my fellow thespians and I had inhabited. Here is the cover of the program from that performance plus my ticket.
Ah, Sunday matinees.
Plus, in addition to the above, I really wanted to see how Skelly in particular would be portrayed.
As I recall, the actor who played Skelly Mannor highlighted the “crazy” aspect of the character in the first act making him appear more of a loner lunatic than a person to sympathize with. From that performance, you could understand why the townsfolk would not be too kind to this vagrant. However, in Act Two – and with a wonderful interpretation of the long monologue – this actor turns Skelly into a real person. This portrayal makes the audience feel compassion for this character and understands what Skelly has been up against…and makes the ending more poignant.
In an interesting twist in this production at Northwestern, when Nelly shoots Skelly, there is only person on the stage for her to shoot. She never has to make a choice between the innocent Skelly and the real perpetrator. This is what makes seeing the same show with different actors quite fascinating. Different choices were made leaving the audience with a different reading of Nelly’s actions.
Oh, and who played Skelly? Well, here’s the cast list from that program.
Yeah, the same guy who went on to fame and fortune as Ross from Friends, the voice of Melman in the Madagascar series of animated movies, and Tommy on Feed the Beast (just to name a few according to his IMDB page), David Schwimmer, played Skelly Mannor.
My brush with greatness.
That’s my story about Wilson’s story.
P.S. I was the member of our drama troupe tasked with finding the location for our photo shoot. The drama of that seemingly simple task is a story for another day.