Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jonathan Frid discusses readers theater, 1988

"Vampire" trades in cape for stage readings
By John Wall
Assistant Lifestyle Editor
The Altoona Mirror, Monday, January 25, 1988

Though he has long since traded in the cape and fangs of "Dark Shadows" character Barnabas Collins, actor Jonathan Frid plans to sink his teeth into some meaty parts Tuesday at his one-man show "Fools and Fiends" at Perm State Altoona's Harry E. Slep Student Center.

"I still love to go around scaring the bejesus out of everyone," Frid said in a telephone interview, "but this show is just me with a stool and a music stand. There are none of the tired conventions of the Theatuh.' This is just plain, raw, gut theater — rotgut theater."

"It's really just a potpourri of short stories and poetry, some spookers, but some not. If you think about it there isn't a story that's been written that doesn't have a fool or a fiend in it." he said, describing the content of the production, Frid added that he is making a kind of all-Pennsylvania tour with the show, appearing at several Penn State University branch campuses this week.

Ironically, the Canadian-born actor is returning to a scene of personal triumph, as he remembered the glowing notices he received in a production of Shakespeare's "Richard III" at University Park in the early 1960s.

"I always think of Richard III as the zenith of my artistic career and we opened the show at Penn State. In fact, the Altoona Mirror reviewed the show and the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator, my home town news, quoted from the reviews," he remembered. "I never forget praise."

Frid said the idea for his one-man show began more than a decade ago when he made appearances at "Dark Shadows" fan club conventions. "I was tired of answering the same questions and I decided to let the fans know that after all, I was an actor not a vampire."

Frid said he began by performing readings from Shakespeare and other plays as well as pieces written by fans of the soap classic.

"I could have read the telephone book as far as they were concerned and one thing led to another and I began to look for some things that would appeal to a larger audience," he said. Frid began to entertain various ideas for his show, such as all-Shakespeare or all-horror readings, but suggestions gleaned while entertaining friends at his New York apartment began to shape the show to a workable conception.

"I had considered some rather pretentious themes, like how we were all such victims of fate and my friends said 'Oh come on Frid, that's terribly pompous,'" he laughed, "So I began to just put together stories I liked and naturally, knowing which side my bread is buttered on, put some horror stuff in there."

The stories Frid came up with are as varied as the daytime television listings. Some of his favorite readings include "Dead Call," a suspense thriller by William F. Nolan, "The Man who Loved Flowers," by Stephen King and "The Girls in their Summer Dresses," by Irwin Shaw. Of the latter choice Frid said, "No one expects to see it as a horror tale, but that's my view of it." Such choices garnered at least one review from a source close to home, Frid added. "My mother, who died just a few months ago, saw the show and said 'What is Jon doing?,' and she thought it was just appalling and depressing, but I think — and audiences have told me — it's funny, scary and very entertaining."

Frid believes that such a stark, scare-oriented show reflects the times somewhat, especially as the content reflects society today. "We're just not as romantic as we once were," he said with a note of regret, "Some of those old chestnut movies are now so impossibly syrupy and when I was a kid we accepted that as real life," he added.

Frid hopes "Fools and Fiends" will give him an acting vehicle for years to come. Like such shows as Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain," Frid would like to have a play designed specifically with his talents in mind to keep his acting talents honed.

"I'm trying to devote most of this year to this enterprise, because 1 want to get this thing rolling in order to work on a few other ideas for one-man productions," he said, "I don't just want to sit on my fanny doing just one thing."

Jonathan Frid and Larry Storch in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, 1987.
In the past year, Frid has been anything but dormant as he has performed "Fools and Fiends" at various  cities and toured extensively as Jonathan-Brewster in the successful revival road company of "Arsenic and Old Lace." He believes such work has helped make the media and the public realize the he is known for something other than "Dark Shadows'" suave bloodsucker.

"You know, I've never felt Barnabas was typecasting," he laughed. "He was all kinds of things, he was a lover, he was a killer, a vulnerable person and an aggressor. He had all the multiple characteristics of Shakespearean heroes."

"Some of the media reported that I had escaped to Mexico to get away from this dreadful curse of Barnabas, which I found hilarious," he continued, "but it's better to have some kind of reputation than no reputation at all and (the role of Barnabas Collins) has stood me in good stead for many, many years."

In fact, Frid says his show, what he calls "readers theater," is his favorite form of acting — no small admission from a man who has worked successfully in film, television and theater.

"It reduces acting to its very essence," he admitted, "I love getting a roomful of bored kids or whatever and looking right in their eyes to get their imagination going."

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