He Lit Up the Stage
It was pretty simple to us, 30+ years ago. Don’t judge, but it was kind of tribal. You were an athlete, or you were other. Others included front-row/never-get-in-trouble kids, burn-outs (who we called “rampers”, since they congregated at this ramp at Rye High that’s no longer there)… and theater kids. We had a newly renovated auditorium, and the school tried to emphasize theatrical participation. Whatever. We barely noticed when there was a play, and certainly never even considered actually being in one. But then one day during our senior year, Jimbo discovered that there was to be an RHS production of the Odd Couple, and he told us all that he was going to audition. Stunning. Little did any of us know how well it would work out. Jimbo either went for, or was assigned the role of Murray the Cop. It was perfect. He didn’t have to have too many lines. His primary contribution to the scenes he was in? He had to sit at a card table, smoking a cigar, and deal poker (yea you read that right). The casting was genius, and he knew it. Not surprisingly, he was great. Sure it was a supporting role and all, but we lost our minds when he did his curtain call – got more applause than the leads by a mile. Giving him a role of any kind was a good call by whoever was in charge, because he was a draw. Not kidding. Attendance was at least double what the program was used to getting. Many of us who had only gone to the aud when there was a mandatory assembly or something made it to every performance of the Odd Couple. I think a bunch of our parents went too, when they heard Jimbo was in the lineup. But his performance as Murray the Cop wasn’t the only time he shined on stage. “Stage” is technically the wrong term. More of a temporary platform set up in the cafeteria. That’s where a couple of “coffeehouses” were held. There were only maybe two of these things, if I recall correctly. The coffeehouses were basically half-baked variety shows held at night, and totally student-run. So to us, they didn’t count as theater and naturally we were game. Some of the acts were clever and well thought out. But most barely even had a concept. (Like I said, it was student-run). So improv was common, and typically funny. Boisterous crowd participation was part of the fun. At one of the coffeehouses, Jimbo was totally the star. Literally the star too, since he played the Sun. The act in question was emblematic of how much thought & planning when into these coffeehouse bits. Here was the concept. It started out as a bad day at the beach. Up near the front of the “stage”, six or eight guys were laying around dejected, because it was a cloudy depressing day. To dramatize this condition – we had fitted a guy named Denis Hurley (good dude, but morose in nature) with a dark cloud costume. Not so much a costume but a big cloud shaped thing made out of thick cardboard, painted grey. It was fitted tight around his face, like from chin to hairline, and it was maybe 3 ft high x 4 ft wide. As the guys lay around lamenting that it was such a crap day, Denis the bummer cloud loomed over them. The crowd was not kind to this act at first. And then came Jimbo. We had made a Sun thing for Jimbo, which was even better than Hurley’s cloud. Big, yellow, with pointy rays. Imagine the big man’s face, peeking out of the Raisin Bran logo and you’ll get the idea. After the cast had established that it was a dreary bummed out day for a while… Jimbo the Sun came wandering onto the high, back part of the stage with a guitar in hand, walked up to the could, whacked him on the shoulder and gave him the “beat it” thumb gesture. As the cloud hung his head and shuffled off stage, the Beach Boys’ Surfin Safari came blasting through the PA, Jimbo the Sun started grooving and fake-paying his guitar, and all the boys on the beach sprung up and surfed their asses off on their imaginary surfboards. That was the whole concept. And thanks to Jimbo, it killed. The place went crazy for him. I’m positive that some of you were there. But it doesn’t matter. Whether you knew Jimbo back in the day, or met him at some point beyond his time in Rye, you should know this: his time as the coffeehouse Sun was an allegory for the life he lived, and the effect he had on everyone around him. He came on any stage with a sparkle and presence that just made everything work, made everything funny, and made everything better. Missing the Big Man.