The play takes place on a nearly empty stage, unencumbered by scenery or props, except for a row of shiny black folding chairs and a toilet seat that the actor holds in front of his face as he enters, after emitting the sound of vomiting from backstage. And to illuminate the scene, there is light from a narrow-focused metal cone manipulated by an unnamed stagehand who flashes it around from time to time.
But when the actor, James Cox, appears and begins to bellow the story of his life, the audience is riveted for an hour by the range of emotional turmoil he reveals. The performance which he has written, produced, and acts in is called “Love, Madness, and Somewhere In Between” and it is currently being presented at the Hudson Guild Theatre as a two-week encore to its previous run at the recent Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Referring to himself in the third person, “Jimmy” tells of his birth in Massapequa, a small village at the southeastern edge of Long Island that was once the home of Alec Baldwin and his brothers, Neil Diamond, Marvin Hamlisch, and Jerry Seinfeld. Jimmy’s birth, however, was not so illustrious. Even the nurses in the hospital noted that Jimmy and his mother “lacked chemistry.”
His father, on the other hand, was a brutal drunk who beat and terrorized him through his childhood. And at 11 Jimmy fell in love for the first time with a girl who was indifferent to his hesitant declaration. That same year, while serving as an altar boy, he was “buggered” by the parish priest, Father Chuck, who introduced the activity as “wrestling.” It was a soul-shattering experience for Jimmy, but he still implored Father Chuck to remain his friend. And later, when he grew up, he would tell people, “I was 11 before I dated my first priest.”
As grim as all this sounds, there were some compensations: he took his stories and his sense of humor onstage and became a “stand-up comic”—a role he still considers his own. And there were his student years at Schenectady College and his 20 years in the Navy, during which he served in Iraq, and then there were the later years when he became a committed drunk, like his father.
But somehow he survived it all: the angry, dysfunctional family, the loneliness, the yearning for acceptance and love, the ministrations of Father Chuck…and channeled it into an acting career on the stage, in the movies, and on TV. He has appeared in many prestigious stage productions including The Crucible, as Reverend Parris, and a play called Spindle City-The Lizzie Borden Musical. In addition, he has written a short film, “Coffee Diaries,” and a play called “Discontent,” as well as a novel and a screenplay.
In the end, he has come to a certain peace and healing as a dedicated volunteer in the pediatric cancer ward at Los Angeles’ Children’s Hospital. To tell about it, he choreographed a typical scene with the children that could break your heart. He played with them tirelessly, tickling them with furry hand puppets, and listening quietly to their hopes and fears. The love they exchanged was obviously as therapeutic for him as it was for them, enabling him to come to terms with the grievous cruelty he had encountered as a child and to forgive those who had perpetrated it. He even dedicated this play to his father, Walter, and paid a last emotional visit to Father Chuck.
Aiding him in this grueling performance is his director, Trace Oakley, who has had a long career directing some 50 productions from L.A. to New York and co-founding the Proof Doubt Closer Theatre Company which is now in its fourth year.
And to finish Jimmy’s story on a very happy note: he is currently living in Pasadena with his wife, Bien, and a cat named Claudius.
“Love, Madness and Somewhere In Between” will continue at the Hudson Guild Theatre at 6539
Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles on Friday, July 12, at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 14 at 5 p.m. Tickets can be ordered at www.onstage411.com/lovemadness.