ON BORROWED TIME... 1987
I had worked on stage with Jim Jewell many times before I was fortunate to be directed by him for several shows. He epitomized my concept of a great director, and I have employed many of his techniques when I've had the good fortune to direct. He was always "in the moment" and his concentration was on his cast and every move we made. Instead of keeping his eyes on the script, he was always on his feet, circulating around the room viewing each scene from every angle, and listening to the delivery of every word. By keeping one eye on the happenings on stage, and one eye on him, he would be gesturing to move you a step closer, stop for a moment, or quicken the pace. He rarely wrote notes to be delivered after rehearsal, but could always be counted on to give precise clues that helped bring a performance into focus. He was the best audience for his shows, and was thoroughly entertained, no matter how much we were probably letting him down, messing up, or not fulfilling his vision. He never became impatient or upset but gently suggested what to try... always ready with a new idea if that one didn't quite hit the mark.
It was because of these techniques that we were well beyond struggling through the last few rehearsals, and felt comfortable with what we were doing... so we would give him one "up for grabs" rehearsal where we turned everything sideways, and presented him a once in a lifetime comedy of errors and pure fun. I'm sure he would have preferred to see a serious rehearsal, but he went along with the joke and laughed harder than any of us.
He submitted "On Borrowed Time" because he had played the boy, nicknamed "Pud" when he was very young at a hometown theater in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and had never forgotten the magical effect it had on him. The Comedy/Drama is the mystical story of an old man, Julian (Gramps) Northrup... my role, who with his sickly wife (Pauline Hammerick), must raise their grandson after his parents are killed in an accident. After Death comes to take his wife, Aunt Demetria (Teesie Vallero) plots to take the boy to live with her, and Julian is determined to live long enough to prevent this from happening. One day he tells Pud (Keith Coughlin) that if anyone climbs their tree to pick an apple, Gramps has the power to keep them there until he gives them permission to come down. When "Death" (Dave Peterson) comes to take Julian, he tricks this personification of doom in human form into climbing the tree to pick him one last apple before he dies. And Death is trapped and helpless to leave the tree.
Everyone in the community begins to wonder if Gramps has gone crazy, since he is the only one besides the audience who can see or hear Death in the tree. The towns people are soon convinced that these conversations with the tree are just the proof they need to put him in the loony bin. But strange things begin to happen all over the world, and no person or creature can die, even those so sick that death would be welcomed. No one could even kill a fly.
Although five people die during the show, it is as funny as it is serious about the subject, and the story draws you in and demands a total suspension of disbelief, as it stresses the value of faith and the power of believing It was a little known gem that became a great show.
...This was Scot Smigel's first time on a 212 stage.