My father, Chris Weis, is an amazingly talented man.
I guess it’s something I’ve known all along. I credit him for both my love of the dramatic arts and my relationship with the Monroe Theater Guild, among a great many other things. But up until recently, it’s nothing I’ve been able to appreciate as clearly as I did this past weekend.
I went to see Dad in the local theater guild’s production of The Drawer Boy. I had never heard of the show before, nor did I have much of an idea what it entailed. Dad had told me he played a mentally-challenged Canadian farmer with no short-term memory, and I wasn’t wrong in assuming the comedic potential of the character was ripe. But I certainly didn’t walk into the Monroe Arts Center expecting to be moved nearly to tears.
I’ve seen him in a number of dramatic productions before, but The Drawer Boy was different. Certainly it helps that I’ve reached adulthood, and my vision is no longer limited by the blinders of childhood egocentrism. I know Dad as a person now, not just as an authority figure, and so it was all the more striking to watch the transformation that took place on stage Friday night.
But it wasn’t just because I’ve stopped turning to Dad for praise and discipline that I was able to comprehend the depth of his skill as an actor. Quite the opposite, if I had stopped to think that it was my father on stage, I think the feelings his performance evoked in me would have been somewhat dulled.
Instead, I was fully immersed in the story that unfolded, alternately overcome with pity for the aged, well-intentioned yet dangerously aloof farmer, and fist-clenching anger at the men who mistreated him, albeit with the best of intentions. Dad later told me this was the most difficult role he’s ever undertaken, and with more productions than I could count in an evening under his belt, that’s saying something. But he made it look effortless. Every breath he drew was taken in character, every step he took was executed with the ginger care of a man in his sixties (Dad’s fifty), and he carried himself with the unblinking good nature of the simple man he was portraying.
I wasn’t watching my father on stage. I was watching "Angus," a person with broken dreams and all the accompanying baggage just beyond his shattered mind’s feeble grasp, trundle about his kitchen in the midst of his day-to-day affairs. And when he cried out in anguish, I wanted nothing more than to comfort him. Instead, the rest of the audience and I sat uncomfortably in the dark, gawking like outsiders at the spectacle of one mind’s tragic self-destruction.
It was, simply put, an inspired performance by the entire cast and crew. But Friday night, I realized for the first time not only that I’m proud of my Dad, but that I always have been.