[Michael Sparough, SJ holds the title flag, I prepare to hold Bill Cain, SJ, and Michael Moynahan, SJ holds his breath in Bill's hilarious mime piece "The Blind Knifethrower." Colorado Springs, Summer 1972]
During the summer of 1972, I was making only my second foray into the maze that is the L.A. freeway tangle. I was bent on driving south in a station wagon filled with stage props, three other Jesuits, a dog, a duck, and some doves for a magic act. Two of the Jesuits, Bill Cain and Mike Sparough, were in the backseat with their heads buried in an ancient manuscript from the comic stage, Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s On First” routine. They were memorizing it. Out loud. Over and over the nonsense-sense about “Who” and “What” and “Tomorrow” bounced back and forth about where “Who” was when all I cared about was where I-405 was. In essence, they were driving.
To be fair, it was during that distracted trip that I learned something about Shakespeare. Bill and Mike were too enthusiastically hitting the trigger words, the goofy names that set-up the questions in the routine. That gave the punches away. Years later I discovered that a similar mistake can be made in the performance of the Bard’s rhymed lines. If you come down too hard on the end-rhymes, say in “Romeo and Juliet,” you give away the chimed magic of the poetry and what is otherwise enchanting becomes creamed corn.
Now Mike is a priest and poet giving spiritual direction in Chicago; and Bill is a nationally known playwright and screenwriter based sometimes in Manhattan and sometimes in L.A. So what did I know? Bill recently got me to New York to finally catch up with his ingeniously crafted play on Shakespeare, the Jesuits, the reign of James I, and the Gunpowder Plot, “Equivocation.” Last Saturday, Bill got himself to Louisville, Kentucky, to receive the American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play Award. Stay tuned. This isn’t the first prestigious award the play has received and many of us think it is not the last.
Back in 1972, I knew where “Who” was because of the routine’s title. I didn’t exactly know where Bill’s character was in the sketch. Now I know, because he has come in to home plate.