Lauren’s Sundae Hat, Therese’s Sturdy Legs, & A Coat Hanger AngelTuesday, December 23, 2008
Guest Christmas Blog by John Lekich
There is a thick blanket of snow on the ground the day Alex and I are set to meet Bernard Cuffling – the veteran Vancouver-based actor who plays Clarence the angel in the Arts Club production of It’s a Wonderful Life. Since I walk with a cane, snow has a tendency to make me a little grumpy. In my boyhood, seasoned gentleman used to tackle their sidewalks with homemade wooden shovels inspired by the business end of a snowplow. But old-school shoveling etiquette has fallen on hard times. Some people shovel and some people don’t - which makes for very uneven progress when you’re working with a personal ambulatory system that mimics one of Alex’s vintage tripods. My eyes are constantly fixed on the ground, watching for sudden changes in terrain. My legs stiffen up in anticipation of a sneaky patch of ice. It has a way of taking all the wonder out of gently falling snow.
Still, the afternoon proves to have a few unexpected compensations. On the way to our interview, Alex makes a side trip to pick up his two granddaughters from school. While we wait for Rebecca’s class to return from an ice-skating expedition, Lauren chats away in the back seat. She is wearing a wool hat with a pom-pom that makes her head look like the top of a strawberry sundae. The pom-pom moves from side to side as she tries to remember the French word for chicken. She moves on to politely explain why she likes grape Jello better than lime. I ask her – rather non-committally – if she has played in the snow. “Yes!” she says, drawing out the word so that it ends with a sizzle of excitement.
When we arrive backstage at the Arts Club on Granville Island, we get a nice surprise. “Look who I found!” says Alex. It’s Therese – a former Railway Club bartender whose easygoing charm never failed to delight us over many a long-lost Thursday lunch. Every once in a while, she would wear a tastefully abbreviated kilt over dancer’s leotards. Instantly melting the heart of the most callous barfly every time she ventured from behind the beer taps. In the middle of an icy winter, I would often envy the artful sturdiness of her legs. Alas, Therese Hartwig has long since abandoned mixology to wholeheartedly immerse herself in the more pragmatic aspects of theatrical life. When she throws her arms around my down-filled parka in greeting, she is wearing the kind of efficiently drab jumpsuit favoured by garage mechanics. Nevertheless, I find myself wishing that I was wearing a much thinner coat.
My joy at seeing Therese again is matched only by meeting the gentlemanly Bernard Cuffling for the first time. I have been watching him in a long string of plays – starting with his 1975 debut in the Arts Club production of My Fat Friend. Originally from England, Cuffling has the kind of face that would look perfectly at home merrily toasting a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. As Alex takes Cuffling’s portrait, the actor is still wearing Clarence’s downy pair of angel wings. He will keep wearing then until the end of the play’s unreservedly successful run on January 3rd. I ask how it feels to wear the wings and he explains that they are held to his shoulders by a simple arrangement of coat hangers. “Do they stay on?” I ask. “Oh, yes,” he assures me. “We tried a lot of experiments. But it’s the only thing that really works.”
For some reason, I find this coat hanger idea both comforting and inspiring. If something you find in an ordinary closet can successfully support such a wholly celestial concept as angel wings, any number of small miracles are possible. It’s a thought I cling to as I make my way to Alex’s car without incident. On the way home, the snow is lit by streetlamp. It streaks by in an endless ribbon - the dazzling white of an angel’s wing.