The trick, 10-year-old Jimmy says, is to get sufficient lift on your ball so it clears the tombstone with the guitar carved into the red marble, but not so much that it sails over the fence into the pig sty, where a mean old sow and a litter of piglets form a hazard rarely seen on other golf courses.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! All you worshipers in the temple of the theater, shout “Hallelujah!” After engagements in New York and Chicago, storyteller-actor-writer Jim Loucks is lighting up one corner of the Fringe Festival with his solo show, Cemetery Golf — 75 minutes of fresh, amusing, often moving recollections of a North Georgia childhood.
Young Jimmy’s father, a charismatic, hellfire-and-damnation preacher on Sundays, is a golf nut the rest of the week. He has laid out a three-hole course in the cemetery behind his rural church, a fact that he keeps secret from congregation members who’d likely consider it a sacrilege. He plays the course with a single club, a 9-iron, sometimes slicing into a tombstone, occasionally tripping into the pig sty’s mud, often banking shots off the church’s tin roof. Jimmy caddies, mostly just to spend time with his father. He loves the man fiercely, but lives in terror of his ferocious, believe-or-burn religion.
The golf course is only one of a dozen recollections that Loucks interweaves, completing pictures of a dozen unique characters with interlocked lives. A rest stop dustup between the preacher, King James Bible in hand, and a saffron-robed Hare Krishna is at once revealing and alarming.
Loucks has the master storyteller’s art locked. He can etch a memorable character out of six words, a single gesture, an altered stance and a slight change in vocal quality. Young Jimmy is rounded shoulders, a boy’s treble and hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans. His father is a straight-up-and-down tower of rant and rage. Jimmy’s mother emerges from a particular tilt of his head, right hand on hip and a slightly lighter tone. He makes a quarter-turn and there’s the mother standing there — a living, breathing woman, never a caricature.
Loucks also leaps nimbly from character to character with grace and little apparent effort, never letting the audience wonder who’s speaking, often carrying on two-party and three-party conversations with himself. It’s a high art, somewhat different from conventional acting, often best exhibited when, as in this case, the actor is also the writer.
Young Jimmy spends much of his childhood confused and terrified by the threat of eternal damnation that is the core of his parent’s religion. But, there is no anger to Cemetery Golf. Nor satire. When the father’s terrorizing ultimately fails, Jimmy is filled with sadness, not hatred.
Opening night was a virtual sellout of the 40-seat Media Bridges space. By the end of the Fringe Festival, the trick is going to be getting tickets to Cemetery Golf.
Performed at Media Bridges through June 6. See performance dates and preview here.