By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
From John Leguizamo's Freak to Julia Sweeney's God Said Ha!, confessional solo shows have been generating quite a bit of ink in theater pages over the last couple of years. Veteran actor John Davies is so aware of this that he has included in the promotional materials for his self-penned saga Beem! the promise that it's "Not Just Another Trite, Confessional Solo Show: With This One You Get Art."
Roughly translated, this means that Davies has the good manners to fictionalize autobiographical material where it's most needed and to serve as his own finger-wagging taskmaster onstage when the undiluted truth comes pouring out. Beem! is the story of a Kansas City restaurant manager who thinks his life is so funny that he hires a writer to streamline his anecdotes into a stand-up act. The writer wants to create something closer to a traditional, beginning-middle-end story (and closer to art, if he can manage it). Meanwhile, the actor hired to play the restaurant manager has his own ideas of how this life should be rendered. The play climaxes with a showdown between competing visions; Davies, of course, plays all three parts, and a few supporting ones too.
"Yes, it's show-offy," Davies admits with a laugh. "But I hope it has enough fun and energy so it doesn't just come across as a metaphysical treatise on personality, although if you want it, there's that element too. I've always been fascinated when people characterize themselves as one kind of person. Most people I know, including myself, are every kind of person, depending on who we're dealing with."
The restaurant manager, the writer, and the actor are all different parts of Davies, he confirms. "Beem (the manager) is the part of me that doesn't give a shit, that just says go up on stage and take a chance. The writer is the pretentious part of me, who pursues art and uses big words. I think I'd have to say that the actor is the closest to an integrated me, the one who's challenged by dredging up another personality out of his own."
Davies is a veteran of Dallas theaters both large and small (his last major performance was at the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas two summers ago) as well as commercials, TV shows, and film. (He's been cast as the lead in three of Arlington auteur Andy Anderson's films, including Positive I.D. and the just-filmed, still-unsold Detention.) Davies recently spent some time in Los Angeles "to see if anybody wanted a 45-year-old character actor." He went on endless auditions, got a few bites, and staged Beem! for four weekends at Theatre Unlimited in Los Angeles. Much L.A. theater, he admits, consists of slapped-together showcases for actors to attract the eye of TV and movie casting agents. His intentions weren't entirely pure, either, but Los Angeles reactions to the piece and successful workshop readings here in Dallas convinced Davies and Ground Zero Theatre Company, a local producing entity, that the show "stands on its own as theater." The hardest part of rehearsing Beem! with director Kimberlyn Crowe, he says, is keeping Davies the performer separate from Davies the writer.
"I've done so many revisions of this script on the computer, I can't keep them all straight," he notes. "How do you draw the line between writing and acting when the play is yours? In some ways, I know the material too well. There's a tendency for me to go off into flights of fancy, because they're my words, and I might want to add to them at that moment onstage. Kim [Crowe] has been great at saying, 'John, what you wrote is better. Stick to it.' She doesn't let me get away with that arrogant 'But I'm the writer!' shit."