Rialto Round-Up: Adieu to the One and Only Larry Coen
To be with Larry was to be part of his family. If you passed muster, you were friends for life. And Larry had a LOT of friends….
By Davis Robinson
A few things you need to know about Larry. A lot has been written about what a great performer he was and what a savvy and sassy writer. I want to focus on what it was like to be around him day to day. To be with Larry was to be part of his family. If you passed muster, you were friends for life. And Larry had a LOT of friends….
He was the BEST person ever to have in a dressing room.
He was the BEST person to go out with after a show and have a glass of wine and laugh and talk into the wee hours of the night with.
He was the BEST person to welcome a new company member into a show and fill them in on all the backstage traditions, the company lore (real or imagined), and help a young actor find their place in the family.
He was the BEST person to have kick off a rehearsal with a thirty minute monologue/rant about current events or social injustices before getting started.
He was the BEST person to be friends with on Facebook with amazing posts of risqué male cowboy photos in shorty bathrobes, horrible jello mold recipes from the 1950’s, gossip about theater legends or backstage trivia, and sad and heartfelt character studies of an encounter he had on the Green line with a stranger on his way home from rehearsal.
He was the BEST person to share Boston trivia with. The city was in his blood, and his plays were full of references that dramaturges of the future will have a hard time de-coding.
He was a private person, but you could often tell from his posts what he was up to. A couple of weeks ago he posted a story about Elia Kazan saying anyone giving up on writing a script usually stopped at page 25. Larry wrote:
“I think of Kazan every time I reach page 25 of a script I am writing… and I cry “mush” to the dog-teams of writing! Adding, “I’ve come this far, I refuse to turn back! Mush!”
I hope to read that script someday.
E-mail was another platform for his wit. He loved to turn his replies into little plays. In 2012 I wrote to the Beau Jest actors to schedule rehearsal for our next show. Larry wrote back:
“On the 16th I’ll be in rehearsals for CHINGLISH, but I’ll check out what our schedule is for that day.
On January 2 I’ll be starting rehearsals for DIVINE SISTER. (pause)
In KEY WEST!!!!!! (dances) Oh, yeah…. you know it… the time has
come to… (unfortunate twirl) (a crash) (pause) …I gotta go…
(footsteps) (door slam) (muffled weeping)”
Sometimes they were in dialogue form. When Trump was going to Davos last month, Larry posted this little scene on Facebook:
“Davos” sounds like the name of a Friend’s cat that you can never manage to pronounce to the Friend’s satisfaction.
YOU: (greeting cat) “Hello, Davos…”
FRIEND: (correcting) “It’s Davos.”
YOU: (repeating) “Davos…”
FRIEND: (getting heated) “Davos!”
YOU: (pause) (to cat) “Who’s a Good Boy…?”
FRIEND: “She’s a She!”
YOU: (to cat) “Who’s a Good Girl…?”
FRIEND: “Why must you diminish her gender with Girl as opposed to Woman, or Female?”
YOU: “If we don’t get-a-move-on, we’ll miss the Early-Bird-Specials.”
Larry LOVED to be a tourist. He loved Americana. He loved the funny retro-optimism of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Lost in Space, and advertisements in old magazines. He loved mini-golf, a slice of pie with a friend, local historical monuments, tours, and the people who gave those tours. And he was the BEST person ever to visit an amusement park with.
When you were on the road with him, everything became fodder for the on-going Larry show. If we saw a kitschy diner and stopped to eat, the waitress might become part of a new character study. The name of some local food would become a running gag, and by the end of the week we were all cracking up over fragments of reminders of those moments elevated by Larry, speaking in a language no one understood, laughing while imitating Larry saying “Corn Squirrel!” or “Soup spoon.” You had to be there.
On our way to Bethlehem PA with Krazy Kat in the 1990’s we came open a treasure. It was called Roadside America, and it was an enormous model of the entire country built by an eccentric local over decades. It looked like a tourist trap, so of course we went in. It was amazing. You walk around the entire warehouse perimeter of the model on a wooden boardwalk looking at all the details, the cities, the farms, the image of the country frozen somewhere around 1940. As we were about to leave, the funny little lady who ran the place (the builder’s daughter? His granddaughter?) announced over an old microphone that the pageant was about to begin. Go to the central viewing area. What was this? We were the only people in the building. A pageant for us? The woman hit a switch, and gradually the lights in the room began to dim, a sunset started to play across the country, and thousands of tiny lights came on in all the buildings and vehicles while a huge American flag was projected on the wall and the scratchy soundtrack from the 1950’s played the national anthem. Larry was in heaven.
I knew Larry was due to go to New Orleans soon to appear in 5 To 9 with Ryan Landry. Yes, we had to share Larry; and even though we felt he was ours, I think the Gold Dust Orphans, Commonwealth Shakespeare Co, City Stage, The Lyric Theater, and the Boston Children’s Museum all felt the same way. Not to mention his actual family and world of friends outside of theater. Such was Larry’s power.
I sent out my usual note to Beau Jest to set up a date this February to plan our next show, no choices made yet so let’s brainstorm over beers. I heard back from most of the cast, but not Larry. I assumed he was already in New Orleans with Ryan and would soon post funny palm tree photos with Gronk and umbrella drinks saying he couldn’t write back until the Cabana Boy brought him a new pen and that I would see him upon his return. Instead I got an FB message Wednesday from Ryan saying “kitty has passed.” I was confused, because Ryan had been staying in our apartment while working with Gold Dust and I knew he had a dog, but I didn’t know he had a cat and I didn’t understand why he had to tell me it died. Two minutes later I realized that he was talking about Larry, using his Gold Dust name. When we spoke by phone a few minutes later and Ryan told me what details he had, I don’t think either of us spoke actual words. It was mostly just blubbering and tears on both our parts, but we understood…a giant was gone (lights fade).
So I met with the company at Thornton’s Grille Saturday and we drank glasses of Chardonnay in Larry’s honor (his go-to drink). We read scenes from some of his unpublished work, and we now KNOW what Beau Jest’s next show will be (time and theater TBD). It’s called Journey To The Center Of The Stage by mister Larry Coen, a delightful back-stage romp full of inside theater jokes, larger-than-life characters, and a deep and abiding love for all of the people he considers part of his family: theater people.
Thanks Larry, for helping us decide our next show, and for all the other inspired choices you’ve helped us with throughout the years. We know it’s going to be a great journey, and your presence on the trip will be both permanently surrounding and sorely missed.
Davis Robinson is founder and artistic director of the Beau Jest Moving Theater and professor of theater at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He is author of The Physical Comedy Handbook and A Practical Guide To Ensemble Devising. He studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq and in the United States with Tony Montanaro at the Celebration Barn Theater, where he teaches ensemble devising, improvisation, and physical comedy every summer.