As jet-set Hollywood actor Doug Olear hops from one coast to the other – whether baking bread in his Beverly Hills apartment or breaking bread with old friends in Crabtown – people recognize him and say, “Hey, aren’t you’re that guy?”
And then they mention The Wire and make a funny symbol with their hands, one possibly not included in the dictionary of American Sign Language.
The gesture represents one parked car facing north while a second car idles parallel to the first, headlights south. In this way the drivers – Dominic West as Baltimore homicide detective Jimmy McNulty and Olear playing FBI agent Terrence Fitzhugh – spoke to each other about bad guys and dumb bosses through rolled down windows.
“That’s me,” said Olear when he was approached a couple of weeks ago at the South Coast Repertory production of the play Between Us Chickens in Costa Mesa, California.
Earlier in the day, Olear – a disciple of the noir dialogue in the 1948 Jules Dassin film Naked City – lunched with filmmaker Charley Allen at a fast-food sushi joint near LAX called Asaya.
It was late March 2011 and I was in the Land of Simmering Desperation to see Chickens, written by my youngest daughter Sofia and starring my oldest daughter Amelia.
I joined Doug and Charley as they discussed Allen’s new short film, Rude Awakening.
Eight optimistic minutes about the meaning of life – including a song and dance number in a doctor’s office — Rude Awakening is the work of Allen, a native of the Pelican State, and writer/director Max Faugno a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School.
[Allen, who grew up in New Orleans, is something of a Baltimore-ophile, noting that both cities are somewhat indestructible while sharing “snow-balls, absolute characters and lots of crazy relatives who love seafood.”]
“Charley took a shoestring budget, two fine actors and very little dialogue to tell a simple story with perky music,” said Olear, spooning miso into a smile that survived the actor’s youthful career as a Golden Gloves boxer.
Olear, with a handful of life’s lessons to go with his headshot, related to the film’s theme of unexpected rejuvenation.
“I sometimes feel like my own life is on auto-pilot and suddenly I have moments of clarity – as insane as they might seem – that ignites something.”
Allen, a former production coordinator on Criss Angel’s Mindfreak show, said: “We proved that you can tell a good story on HD video for under $250. We made this film with the barter system and the generosity and passion of talented friends.”
[Barter included painting the offices of a film editor in exchange for post-production work. Allen pointed to the particular contributions of choreographer Ken Roht and composers O-Lan Jones and John Ballinger ]
The story begins, as Muddy Waters once declared, at the break of day.
A package arrives at the door of an elderly couple played by Bob Larkin (who appeared in the 1955 Oscar-winning short film Third Avenue El and the 1969 classic Putney Swope) and Anita Khanzadian, a long-time theater director.
The pair get along well enough but seem to be going through the paces.
In the parcel: an oil painting of a rooster. This is the “igniting moment” of which Olear spoke. Over the course of the film, the rooster heralds a simple rebirth.
[After a first cut, the team decided they needed a real rooster to up the ante on the “wake up” theme and wrangled one from the wilds of Tinseltown.]
This is not an epic, DeMille awakening on a mountaintop but the sort that occurs to some folks who realize – walking down the street or waiting for an elevator – that they can be as happy as they choose to be.
“It’s good plain fun with a deeper message,” said Olear, who made a similarly themed short film with Baltimore native Jackie Julio in 2008 called Hold On.
Bob is rejuvenated in ways he could not have fathomed when he awoke that morning to a feisty bantam at his door. After years of phoning it in, he finds it a bit unsettling.
In the examining room he asks his physician: “What’s wrong with me?”
And the good doctor responds: “You’re alive …”
That night in bed — side-by-side like a honeymoon couple that know surprises await — Bob and Anita break into a rendition of the Depression-era Hoagy Carmichael chestnut Two Sleepy People.
They don’t want to close their eyes for fear they will miss something beautiful.
Rafael Alvarez can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org